Anime Review: Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale

By Drew Hurley 14.06.2018

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Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale (UK Rating: 15)

The Sword Art Online franchise has been producing all new stories for a long time now, but they have been coming in the form of tie-in games. The anime is getting something of resurgence this year with the spin-off of Gun Gale Alternative Online, delivering a surprisingly great series, and the anime adaptation of the fourth arc of the original series. In the meantime, Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale has finally reached the UK, coming courtesy of All the Anime on 28th May.

The Sword Art Online series has been dealing with Virtual Reality games for some time, but now - like Apple and Microsoft in the real world - it's trying out Augmented Reality. A new piece of tech is sweeping the world; a headset known as the Augma allows its users to interact with the world in a way that any AR fans would dream of. Able to chat in a floating hud, see AR creatures appear anywhere, and interact with them, have the world around them transformed into gothic landscapes to take part in MMO-style encounters, and so on. It's a future that gamers in the real world can only hope for. Not to mention the Augma has a worldwide ranking system and is tied in to numerous companies, for real life rewards.

Kirito isn't sold on it, though; he loves his VR, especially when he realises his ability in AR relies on his body to perform the feats his virtual body could pull off with ease. Being a hardcore gamer and spending most of his time in VR, even after Aincrad, he's hardly in top physical condition. Asuna, meanwhile, has kept very limber since getting into the real world and so is climbing the ranks of "Ordinal Scale" at high speed. This is the most popular game on the Augma, creating huge boss fights in set locations at specific times, where players can gather up and work together to take it down - much like the predecessors of Aincrad and ALfheim.

Just as the cast is getting into the game, things get a little dark. Bosses from SAO start appearing as special events around Tokyo, but there's a sinister reason for their appearance. It's not going to be a Sword Art title if there aren't some real life risks from the virtual game, but this time the risk isn't to the characters' lives, it's to their memories. A mysterious high ranked player has a grudge against the SAO players and a mysterious AI character idol who seems tied in to everything going on.

Anyone who has had issues with SAO will find the same issues here; there are the same character issues, the same sloppy writing, and missed opportunities, but this film isn't for those people. It's for fans of the original and those viewers will love this. It takes everything the original series did and does it better; it gives a true sequel to Aincrad at long last, which fans were denied with ALfheim, and delivers a truly interesting story that feels like a satisfying conclusion to everything that has come thus far.

This is without doubt the best SAO has ever looked. There are some absolutely stunning moments, with gorgeous animation, especially the big final battle that gives fans of the original a chance to glimpse something from SAO that was always hinted at in the original but was stolen away thanks to Kirito never reaching that final floor. One of the elements that has never been called into question is the soundtrack, with accomplished composer Yuki Kajiura delivering some superb tracks that really accentuate the dramatic action on-screen. She's back for this film once again and, once again, on absolutely top form.

On the bonus features front, this release comes with trailers for both the English and Japanese release, audio commentary from the creators and Japanese cast, and, finally, there's Sword Art Offline: Ordinal Scale, a 15-minute feature of horribly low quality that gives something of an introduction to the film, along with some background exposition. There is both the English and Japanese dub available, at least with both bringing back the classic VAs from the original series and both being great quality.

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10
Isekai has become one of the biggest genres of anime and, with such popularity, comes the hate. SAO has always been flawed, especially in its writing, but it's indisputable that the series has helped the industry and had some truly great moments. This film, Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale, is the culmination of all these moments, pulling on things from the original novels, the anime, the games, everything. This is best scene in the huge conclusion, stuffed with little Easter Eggs. A perfect send off for fans before the series begins its next chapter later this year.

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