The new Sword Art Online movie places itself after the events of Gun Gale Online (a.k.a. GGO) and introduces the audience to a Japan holding a heavy stigma against full-dive virtual reality helmets (basically a VR device that is heavily linked to your brain). As a result, Japan is now flooded with augmented reality devices known as Augma where everybody uses it: from viewing food data and simulating digital performance stages to playing games which overlay the physical properties of the world.
My biggest concern about this story, before going into the cinema, was the portrayal of the gravity of the situation. But after watching the movie, I feel this movie fixed the mistake that Sword Art Online‘s Gun Gale Online story arc went through: succeeding two emotionally loaded plots with a story less emotionally weighty. In some ways, I feel like this kind of movie was to make amends to the way Sword Art Online season 2 was produced.
THERE WILL BE SPOILERS AHEAD!
Before I get into anything about the plot of this movie, I want to say that Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale was a great watch. Yuki Kajiura comes back again to provide music with great synergy with the scenes. As an added nod to the first season, the popular track used in Sword Art Online (a.k.a. SAO) came back remixed to give the nostalgic feeling of facing a daunting foe. The movie also showcases great detail into the blossoming of explosions, making the AR scenery more dangerous than it looks. The added frames of movement help exaggerate the timing and the motion behind each of the spectacularly sequenced action scenes and storyboard. Digital elements of the world were perfectly portrayed to me: the 3D map of town using only neon orange wire frames, the inside of digital communication lines using elongated computer circuitry, the white translucent user interface that floats in the peripheral vision, and many others. My only qualm is the last boss fight in the movie was too compact with all the characters that were re-introduced.
Now for the plot-related stuff of the movie. Sword Art Online is a very character-focused series and I think its popularity is largely due to the characters and storytelling rather than the presented complexity of the story or its world (if it had any in the stories before Ordinal Scale). As I watched Ordinal Scale I came to a realization that there was a sensation of intrigue, mystery, romance, comedy and despair that felt familiar. In fact, I felt the same way when I watched Sword Art Online’s first season. In this movie the objective was clear, but more questions than answers appeared as the adventure forged onward. And like the first story arc, the problem became personal as the stress built upon dear friends. The troubles start when reports about SAO monsters start to show up in the popular new ARMMORPG, Ordinal Scale. Behind the scenes is actually a father who wants to immortalize his daughter through AI technology. To do so, he uses his popular AR machine, the Augma, in tandem with drones to extract memories of his dead daughter from SAO survivors. Why? Because his daughter died in SAO. And this father continues on his insane crusade to save his daughter (in more ways than one), even at the cost of people losing their memory or, even worse, dying. While it may seem like a step up from the first season of Sword Art Online, it still is a step up in all aspects of entertainment.
To forewarn people so they can raise their torches and pitchforks at me, I’ve never watched SAO season 2 (the Gun Gale Online arc); I did get a detailed synopsis from my friend about it to supplement. I’m not willing to watch Sword Art Online season 2 to fill in tiny blanks, but I do wish it wasn’t padded out for a television schedule. But If you’re disappointed about GGO’s production, watch this movie. It’ll feel like an adventure again. And funny thing too, I think that “feeling the adventure again” was intentional.