Reviewby Theron Martin,
Sword Art Online the Movie: Ordinal Scale
In April of 2026 an alternative to the Amusphere called Augmented Reality (AR for short) is gaining traction in the market. Instead of being fully immersive, it merely overlaps virtual images onto real life, hence allowing users to avoid the biggest danger of using the Amusphere: not being aware of their body's surroundings. That also makes it ideal for things like exercise programs and sales promotions. Though Asuna, Rika, and Keiko have all gotten into playing Ordinal Scale, the AR's flagship game, Kirito has been more reluctant, as he prefers the fully immersive experience. What does eventually get his attention is floor bosses from Aincrad starting to show up around the city as special events, while Asuna's attention is captured by Eiji, Ordinal Scale's #2-ranked player, who was a former member of her guild in Aincrad. Things get more mysterious when SAO survivors start experiencing side effects during the boss battles and Kirito encounters a ghostly virtual girl who somewhat resembles Yuuna, a supposed virtual idol linked to Ordinal Scale. The lingering connections to Akihito Kayaba and the tragedy that was Sword Art Online are far from over, it seems.
Unlike previous animation for the franchise, Ordinal Scale is not even partially based on the source novels by Reki Kawahara. It is, instead, an original work penned by Kawahara specifically for this movie. As a result, it gets retrofitted into the franchise's timeline much more smoothly than most series-based movies do, filling a hole between the end of the Mother's Rosario arc in Sword Art Online 2 and the beginning of the yet-to-be-animated Alicization arc; it follows the former by about two weeks and precedes the latter by about two months. While this is a cramped time frame to insert in a story like this, the Mother's Rosario arc was stretched out on the timeline towards its end and didn't provide much detail about other events going on at the time, so AR emerging and the girls starting to get into Ordinal Scale prior to the end of Mother's Rosario isn't entirely unrealistic.
In many structural respects the movie resembles the A Certain Magical Index franchise movie The Miracle of Endymion: both focus on the main protagonists' interactions with newly-introduced characters, both feature shenanigans involving a songstress, and both make every effort to fit in at least a small cameo for just about every surviving character to appear in the franchise to date, especially in the climactic battles. (And yes, that means many of the GGO guys, too.) This one doesn't ultimately get some of the characters into outer space but does use technology highly reminiscent of Den-noh Coil, borrows a little inspiration from Key the Metal Idol in its late scenes, and has characters splitting time between the real, virtual, and augmented worlds. It also features battles which freely mix the swordplay of SAO with the projectile weaponry of GGO, which actually isn't as awkward in execution as it may sound.
Since this movie features a ton of action scenes and cameos, the plot isn't complicated. The fears I stated for the franchise in my review of the first Alicization novel come to life here: the overall story repeating itself by once again crafting a situation where players are being adversely affected by participation in a cutting-edge-tech game. Granted, the franchise wouldn't be what it is without something like that, but a fresher angle would be appreciated. At least this take on the concept is firmly rooted in the original game and the consequences thereof, and at least the motivations of the people who turn out to be the main villains are clearer and more fathomable. The movie also continues Kawahara's tradition of applying hard science but also skirting around its boundaries, as evidenced by the ghostlike character who appears to Kirito and the credibility-straining aspect of how the former SAO players are being affected.
But the plot of this roughly two hour long movie isn't where its real entertainment value lies. Some of that definitely comes from getting to see more of fan-favorite characters, such as the ongoing romance of Kirito and Asuna, the way Klein and his gang continue to behave dorky (but in a non-threatening way) around Asuna, and so forth. It's also about the action, with pitched battles against boss-level monsters, including Asuna getting to show off both the fighting skills and the strategic acumen which made her a guild sub-leader and driving force in the front line effort in Aincard. What the final boss is and how it's fought is one hell of a big bone to throw to dedicated franchise fans, and the spectacle of it definitely doesn't disappoint. The entertainment is also in the cameos, as nearly every floor boss which has appeared in the animation appears again here, the SAO equipment packages reappear, and I'm pretty sure that I saw Asuna fire off the Mother's Rosario attack she inherited from Yuuki at one crucial point. About the only thing missing is Sinon's Hecate rifle, but she has enough other cool weaponry that the omission is forgivable.
The other fun aspect is the updates to character designs. The Ordinal Scale clothing is new across the board but we also get to see characters both in the virtual setting and out dressed in ways that they haven't before, including occasional new hair styles for Asuna. The design of the virtual idol Yuuna is also fresh and appealing, and at least the appearance of new swordsman Eiji isn't entirely generic. Newly-appearing critters are also satisfyingly intimidating in both appearance and action. The animation effort in general is sharper than that of the TV series, to the point that clips used from the first series really stand out, though hardly top-of-the-line as movies go. Sadly, I can only estimate at how sharp the movie looks overall, as persistent technical problems at my theater affected the color (among other things!). Also watch for a cameo of the setting from the series Working!!
There is definitely no flaw with the soundtrack. Yuki Kajiura is back producing all of the soundtrack and some of the insert songs, most of which are sung by Sayaka Kanda, the seiyuu for Yuuna. Aside from the insert songs, the musical score lightly uses some classic franchise stand-bys but also mixes in new numbers in a somewhat subdued form of Kajiura's normal style. The quality ending theme is sung by LiSA.
The version viewed was subtitled only, but the Japanese cast does bring back all of the original performers and all are up to normal standards. Two of them – the seiyuu for Kirito and Asuna, respectively – give brief introductions at the beginning, as does LiSA. Presumably these will be included on the eventual hard copy release.
The last scenes and lines of the movie prior to the credits show the movie at its most poignant, though to say it gets genuinely emotional would be an overstatement. There's also a post-credits scene, too, which very strongly suggests that we will eventually see the Alicization arc animated. (Really, that scene couldn't mean anything else.) That's definitely something to look forward to, and this movie, while not a spectacular effort, should be appealing enough to franchise fans to tide them over until that happens.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Great boss fights, tons of franchise cameos, pleasing character interactions.
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