Image Source: アニプレックス on YouTube

Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale picks up the story of our heroes a week and a half after the end of Sword Art Online II. In recent weeks, a new device has been sweeping the country: the Augma. Unlike the Nervegear and Amusphere, the Augma is an augmented reality device instead of a virtual reality one.

[This article contains spoilers about the general plot of Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale.]

Why [REDACTED] Is Alive in the Sword Art Online Games

Image Source: アニプレックス on YouTube

While a new product, the Augma has basically turned people’s everyday lives into a game–letting people earn rewards both virtually and in the real world based on what they do while wearing one. Playing a game of AR Pac-Man can net you a free dessert at your local restaurant. Using your Augma at a vending machine can get you a free drink.

But the most popular Augma app is the ARMMORPG “Ordinal Scale”–a game which turns Tokyo itself into a fantasy world filled with monsters to team up and defeat. Ordinal Scale is proving so popular, in fact, that like with the craze caused by Pokémon GO! in our world, hardcore gamers are flocking to the streets to play and up their rank–and reap the rewards for doing so.

While Asuna and the other characters are playing Ordinal Scale and enjoying it, Kirito has no interest in the AR game. That is until the day he hears a rumor that some nights, special raid-bosses spawn–bosses that once appeared in VR death game Sword Art Online that he and thousands of others were trapped playing for two years.

Image Source: アニプレックス on YouTube

The first third of the film is centered around Asuna. This part introduces the Augma, explains how it works, and follows Asuna’s adventures fighting the SAO bosses in the real world–as she quickly proves herself nearly as adept in the real world as she was inside the VR death game. However, after dying to a boss, she experiences a panic attack and, in its aftermath, finds that she is no longer able to remember anything that happened to her during her two years inside Sword Art Online–not the death game’s world, not how she changed while there, and not even her time with Kirito. And she is far from the only one affected.

The tension in Ordinal Scale comes from this revelation: Any SAO survivor who dies in Ordinal Scale loses their memories of Sword Art Online. Why this is happening–and how it connects to virtual idol Yuna, Ordinal Scale top player Eiji, and the creator of the Augma itself–likewise serves as the main mystery of the film.

Image Source: アニプレックス on YouTube

Thematically, however, Ordinal Scale is a introspective look at the nature of the self. While the death game was a traumatic experience to all involved, to some, it was also the most important experience of their lives. To Kirito and Asuna, it was a crucible that forged them into the strong young adults they have become. In the death game, they not only survived, but also found each other, a daughter, and friends that will last a lifetime.

With those memories gone, Asuna is forced to confront a terrifying thought: If she doesn’t remember the key events of her life, is she still herself? Will she still love Kirito if she doesn’t remember why she fell for him in the first place? Sure, she can remember her time in ALfheim Online–and even the recreated SAO world inside it–but is that enough for her to live on as a normal person, knowing that she has lost so much of herself? And worst of all, what if the memory loss continues to grow, eventually leaving her a shell and nothing more?

Asuna’s memory loss–and the massive amount of emotional pain it causes her–spurs Kirito into action. However, while among the best VRMMO swordsmen out there, in the real world, he faces one major limitation: his own body. Kirito is, simply put, not exactly a healthy individual. Naturally thin, he eats what he wants, when he wants. But “thin” does not mean “fit” or “in shape.” While his mind and muscle memory may know how to fight, his body just can’t keep up.

Image Source: アニプレックス on YouTube

Thus Eiji, the main antagonist of the film, serves as an “anti-Kirito” of sorts. An SAO survivor himself, he was largely inept inside the death game–being a threat to no one except maybe himself. However, in the real world, with a fast, powerful body and AR tools to aid him, Eiji is nearly unstoppable in his quest to watch the other SAO survivors fall to the floor bosses one after another.

The mystery of the game, Eiji’s strength, and Asuka’s pain force Kirito into a dark place–a place he hasn’t been since his frantic attempts to resurrect Sachi after her death in the early days of Sword Art Online. With reckless abandon, Kirito fights to raise through the ranks of Ordinal Scale, training his mind and body to work as one–to be a weapon capable of defeating Eiji.

Image Source: アニプレックス on YouTube

However, Kirito is not entirely alone. While most of his friends were with him in Sword Art Online–and thus would risk losing their own memories if they were to fight alongside him in Ordinal Scale–two were not: his partner in Gun Gale Online, Shinon and his sister, Leefa. Safe from any memory loss, Shinon is able to support Kirito when he is at his weakest physically and mentally–covering his weak points with her sniper rifle and giving him time to strengthen himself for the battles to come. Unfortunately, in a bit of contrived writing, Leefa–a.k.a. the actual real-world sword fighting champion who could likely beat Eiji in a fair fight–spends the vast majority of the film away from the action, able only to support her brother over FaceTime.

On the animation side, the film is easily the best Sword Art Online has ever looked. The battles and beautifully detailed and excellently choreographed with the final climatic battle setting a high watermark for the franchise as a whole. Likewise, the way that everyday AR (i.e., AR outside of the Ordinal Scale game) is handled visually in the film feels like a realistic snapshot of our near future.

Why There Is No Sword Art Online VRMMO Game and What the Future May Bring

Image Source: アニプレックス on YouTube

All in all, Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale is a welcome and necessary-feeling addition to the Sword Art Online franchise. It has all the action you’ve come to expect mixed with philosophical musings on the nature of self and memories. This in turn is wrapped in a story that further develops our heroes and strengthens their interpersonal relationships–preparing both Kirito and Asuna for the climatic trials still yet to come.

Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale was released in Japanese theaters on February 19, 2017. The film will be released in the US on March 9, 2017.

Comments (5)
  1. Wow, I’m really psyched to see the film when it airs here in Canada in March. This review has me extremely pumped to go to this and experience this next, anime original, chapter of the story.

  2. Will it be dub and sub or just sub when it hits theaters I’m super excited but I only watch english dub

    • According to the official US release page, it will be subbed in theaters (http://sao-movie.net/us/ticket/).

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