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2017 has been a pretty good year for anime films so far. One Piece Film Gold, Yu-gi-oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions, and re-releases of classics such as Ghost in the Shell and Sailor Moon, are just a few of the many anime films that have been releasing back to back since January. Of course, as an anime fan, it’s very encouraging to see movie posters for Logan right to posters with Luffy on the cover. It may very well be the next step in bringing anime back in front of a mainstream audience, and next in line on the anime movie list is the first film in the SAO franchise, Sword Art Online the Movie: Ordinal Scale!
So, with the massive success of Sword Art Online in the states ever since its Toonami debut, it certainly is no surprise that Aniplex would want to capitalize on that success by releasing this movie on the big screen as soon as possible. In an interesting turn of events, this film, (unlike previous films I’ve seen from Viz or Funimation), is being released twice with its first run being for the subtitled Japanese dub and the English dub releasing for a second run on April 22nd. For the sake of all of you however, we wanted to see this film and give our impressions on it as soon as possible, so for our viewing we saw the Japanese version.
But with all that said, what’s new with Kirito and the gang in their movie debut. Well unlike the first two seasons, this movie is not drawing from any source material in the SAO novels. Instead, Reki Kawahara, the creator of SAO, penned the script for this film basically making this film a canon piece of material within the SAO lore. This film takes place not too long after the Mother’s Rosario arc in Sword Art Online II. It’s April 2026 and a new piece of gaming tech, Augma or AR, has been growing in popularity, seemingly becoming the new replacement for VR. Unlike the other games before it, AR is basically augmented reality, giving the user the freedom to do things in the virtual world while still remaining conscious. The entire time I was watching this movie, I kept comparing it to Pokemon GO the mobile game and the official Pokemon games for Nintendo handhelds. While everyone is getting caught up in the craze for AR, Kirito isn’t exactly a fan. Being a big fan of the Pokemon games but not Pokemon GO I definitely can relate to what Kirito is going through. While VR leaves you with this light feeling of freedom and control, AR is more of a physical experience in which the user has to be in peek condition to be able to do all of the cool sword play and acrobatics we’ve seen from Kirito in his past endeavors. And Kirito, being the lazy bum that he is, prefers the “sit on the couch” approach to gaming as opposed to the more active approach; heh, my kind of man.
One of the cool aspects about this film, is that it makes sure to give the whole gang some time to shine either comically or in a big well animated action sequence. With Sinon from SAO II being one of my favorite characters not showing up in a big way in the beginning of the film, I was pleasantly surprised to see her get some fun time to shine towards the middle and all the way to the climax of the movie. And speaking of action, this movie does not disappoint in showing off some fun and thrilling action scenes on a different scale that the regular anime series. While SAO is already a pretty good looking series on the regular, this movie decides to only slightly step it up to meet film quality but to then really up the scale on how huge these battles are and by giving these fights some of the best choreography ever seen in the series. One of my favorite battles in the movie has to be the second to last final battle between Kirito and one of the big bads for this film. While I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler if you’ve seen the promotional material, I’ll try to be a bit vague here when it comes to the circumstances that lead into this fight. Still, this fight is probably the most satisfying in the way that it builds you up for it throughout the entire movie. While I’m all for an all-out battle royale, nothing is more satisfying that seeing two guys beat the crap out of each other and you can really feel every blow and you have this real sense of danger and adrenaline as the fight progresses. Given the buildup, however, I would have liked it to last a little bit longer but it’s satisfying enough to get the job done.
If you’re a fan of the romantic comedy/harem vibe of the series, there are plenty of fun bits in this film made for you as well. Kirito and Asuna’s relationship as usual is absolutely adorable and there is a bit more development in where that in particular is going, actually acting as driving motivation for Kirito throughout the movie. Though I’m sure that’s probably a shock to no one. Weirdly enough I was actually surprised this movie got me to laugh every once in a while, even our editor in chief, Mr. Saldamando who saw this film with me, got a few chuckles in and he hasn’t even seen the series! That isn’t to say that SAO as a whole is a drab show, nor is to say that these were laugh out loud moments, but SAO isn’t really a series you go into expecting to laugh. But I am glad there were moments like that to help balance out all of the drama and intrigue. There is also plenty of fan service for fans of the series in the form of cameos from some of the major characters from past story arcs. So whoever is your favorite character within the series, there is a good likelihood they will appear in this movie.
So ultimately what is my verdict on Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale? Well, even now I’m trying to think if I have anything negative to say about the film that would any real substance but I guess the only bad thing I can say is that it was… good. The reason I say that as a bad thing, is because while I like SAO I wouldn’t say I’m in love with it by any means and this movie while entertaining didn’t really do anything to change that. However, if you are a huge fan of SAO, then this is definitely a great movie you should definitely check out, sub or dub. One thing I didn’t touch on much is that the soundtrack for this movie is absolutely amazing. LiSA returns for the film’s ending theme, while Yuki Kajiura also returns to do the score and some of the insert songs, sung by the voice actor for Yuna, one of the main characters in the movie, Sayaka Kanda. Most of these songs all play for some of the major battles in this movie and all of them do a good job in matching the rhythm and setting the mood for all of these fun action sequences. Still at the end of the day, this movie definitely feels like a love letter to all of the loyal SAO fans that have grown to love this series over the years while also acting as this big event before returning for a third season which was hinted at after the end credits of the film. If you do have friends who have never seen SAO however or you were wondering if this movie is accommodating to people who have never seen it, speaking to Mr. Saldamando’s experience from when I went with him, I think you should be okay. I do think it would be wiser to go with a friend who is a fan personally in case you do get confused, but the movie itself is easy enough to get a grasp of even without prior knowledge of the series. However fans of the series are really the ones who will get the most out of this film. As of the time of this review, the subtitled Japanese dub is concluding its run but the English dub debut is fast approaching and whether you’re a big fan of Sword Art Online or just in the mood for a well animated action movie, this is definitely one worth checking out! However, this is not the end of our anime movie run, 2017 has only just begun and we still have plenty of reviews lined up in the future! So, for all of the best in tech, gaming, and virtual/augmented anime entertainment, keep it here on EMT!