The Hollywood Theater just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania began showing pictures in 1925. It’s one of the oldest movie theaters in the US and was one of the 52 theaters in all of North America to host a showing of Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale. The movie, a continuation of the A-1 Pictures anime based on the light novels by Reki Kawahara, brings new challenges to the cast of characters we’ve come to know over the course of 50 anime episodes and 18 books.
The theater was crowded but not completely packed, understandable for a show starting at 8:15 on a Thursday night in a sleepy western Pennsylvania suburb. The balcony seating and the towering screen that sits above a stage reminds you that the Hollywood Theater was built well before the modern cineplex. The grand lady didn’t show her age where it counted though with great projection and sound quality. A brief welcome by the theater manager reminded us that the Hollywood is a non-for-profit and really appreciated our patronage. He also conducted a quick raffle for some SAO Nedroids and the movie poster.
Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale
Introduction and Story
The story begins in a memory, partly for exposition and in part to set up an event at the end of the film. Kirito and Asuna are exploring the area around their cottage on the 22nd floor of Aincrad. The lovebirds lament the lack of stars in the skies of the floating castle as Kirito recounts the times spent stargazing near his home in the real world. We see a promise whispered and the plot moves on. We do get a brief recap of the events of the SAO incident and a glimpse of the ruins of ARGUS, the company that created SAO, and the abandoned Sword Art Online server, which featured a cameo by the IBM z13 mainframe.
The new adventure for our protagonists, a 20-year-old Kirito and 21-year-old Asuna, begins 6 years after the Aincrad arc began with the popularization of Augma, a next-generation wearable augmented reality device. Augma, as opposed to NervGear, allows the player to stay conscious as they play its most popular game “Ordinal Scale.” We soon learn the game isn’t simply a game at all. The first part of the film reminds us that Asuna is a badass. She excels at the new MMORPG called Ordinal Scale, a game where rank is gained by victory and rank means everything. The players participate in large-scale events where the company blocks off streets and visually transforms blocks and parks into the realms of Ordinal Scale and populate it with monsters. Kirito on the other hand doesn’t seem that into it. He seems to simply be going through the motions of the game (and getting winded doing it since you actually have to move in Ordinal Scale). We quickly find out that there is something sinister going on when the floor bosses of Aincrad begin to appear in Ordinal Scale and an illness begins to befall many of the SAO survivors who play OS. Did we mention there is an idol in this movie? Yes, an idol by the name of Yuna. The pale platinum blond shows up at these battles and sings songs to energize the players. We are dependent on Kirito’s detective work to unravel the mystery and connection between Ordinal Scale and Sword Art Online.
What We Liked About Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale
We liked a lot of things about Ordinal Scale. We have to admit off the bat we still get excited hearing the words “Link Start.” The story was different than what we expected by taking typically overpowered Kirito and knocking him down a peg. He may have been the black swordsman who cleared SAO and freed the remaining players, but in Ordinal Scale where real-world physics are applied he seems like a complete noob. The quality of the animation was on par with the series, and though some may criticize that, we think if the production value was drastically increased it wouldn’t fit visually with the series. We really liked the idea that some of the characters are still suffering from PTSD and may even be questioning their own reality years after the trauma. The story explores the idea that even when surrounded by tragedy there are memories and connections you never want to let go. We even loved that Silica, now at least 18 years old given that she was 13 at the start and this is 6 years later, still looks and acts like she’s in her mid-teens. She is most certainly the comic relief of the film. Silica is still sweet on Kirito too, praying for the chance to go for a ride on his motorcycle where she can cuddle up close as they hit the road. We even liked the fan service in the battle royale of a finale. The fan service isn’t what we normally refer to as fan service, but the return of many characters from the course of the series definitely qualifies.
Discussion Time: Should you see Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale
We say yes, but don’t take our word for it.
I thought it was great. I only saw the first two seasons, but I thought the movie was really well done. I thought the references to the first two seasons helped me understand and my friend here filled me in on the rest.
- Mitchel Speeler
I thought it was really excellent. I was one of the people who fell in love with the first series, Aincrad. I fell out because I didn’t think the other series were as strong. But this movie totally brought me back. I thought it was a great continuation of the series and I really thought it was good.
- Kyle Prebeg
I loved everything about it. I love the cracking of the jokes. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at every single joke every single time. The love for the visual Easter eggs, like the two guys at the concert in the beginning are the two guys you meet crossdressing in the town of beginnings as SAO starts.
- Zachary Pyles
It was amazing! The fights were so awesome the big battle at the end was SO epic, like, oh my god, it was so crazy. I’m totally fangaziming out. I really loved seeing the characters continue to grow. I love spending time with these characters and any time I get to spend with them is a treat.
- Rebecca C.
My favorite part was the proposal at the end, it was really well done. It meant a lot to me to see that everyone struggled, actually. For a while, ever since the main series of SAO, it felt like everybody was super happy-go-lucky, especially Asuna. It was like she lost a lot of her depth and it seems like she got it back so it makes me happy.
- Sharyn Taylor
Reki Kawahara has created a wonderful world for us to enjoy. The movie, like the series, tries its best to straddle the delicate line between appropriate for teens and fun for all. We get to visit with old friends and share an adventure. You can see how some of them have changed, like the weary warrior Kirito, and how some haven’t changed like Silica still full of energy and sweetness. The resurgence of Asuna as a battle-hardened warrior was also an important part of the plot and equally important to the fan base. The evolution of technology was also a fun and a nice commentary on our times where our personal information -- right down to how much cake we eat -- is stored somewhere on the net. The story is a good bridge between the first three arcs of Aincrad, Elfhime, Phantom Bullet, and the fourth arc Project Alicization.
Oh, one more thing, it pays to sit through the credits. You see a set up for more SAO. Is it a series? Is it a film? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Author: Zeke Changuris
I’m a journalist, writer, photographer, video producer, social media manager and above all a storyteller. I’m located on the east coast of the United States but travel the world with the love of my life. I’ve been a nerd since birth with a love of history and science. I fell in love with anime, watching ROBOTECH and Venus Wars in the 80s when our only source was secondhand VHS dubs. A crazy new thing called the internet changed that, giving me access to new and amazing anime every day. I love to write for work and pleasure. I’m living the dream of every kid, getting paid to watch anime and loving every subtitled line.