Over here in the UK, we’ve been extremely fortunate to have a constant stream of anime movies released in theatres not too long after the Japanese counterparts. Back in November of last year was the wonderful Your Name, and more recently were treated to the marvellous A Silent Voice. The treats haven’t stopped there! As I have just come back from a screening of… Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale. Something tells me this won’t be as widely well-regarded as the previous two. Despite that, I was still highly intrigued about it going in. I hadn’t watched anything Sword Art Online related since the end of the first season five years ago, so a revisit to this widely popular and polarising series was sure to be interesting.
Kirito and Asuna, looking like they’re about to drop the hottest mixtape of 2017
The main thing that stood out to me whilst watching was the strong directing all throughout the run-time. The director, Tomohiko Ito, is someone who I believe is capable of making some of the most visually engaging anime out there. Coming from a background of storyboarding and production rather than an animator, since the start of his career in anime his work has been all about finding the most interesting way to present a scene. This once again shines through in Ordinal Scale. Much of the camera work is minimalist in nature, but always knows how to exactly frame a scene. It knows when to get up close to a scene without being muddled, and when to step back and let a scene play out for itself. From the layouts to lighting, the movie is extremely visually captivating and there was never a dull moment in that regard. Tomohiko Ito’s work has garnered attention from both inside the industry and amongst anime fans, and it’s easy to see why.
Another aspect of the production would be the work of the animators themselves, who help bring it to life to a level I wasn’t expecting. Whilst SAO has always had praise for its animation, I can’t say that I’ve ever been as enthralled by it. During my original viewing of the first season, I found many of the fights to be rather uninteresting from an animation stand point. I felt they lacked a certain flair I could’ve got out of other shows at the time. This is completely the opposite in Ordinal Scale. The big and flashy battles are very much the same of what you’d see in the TV series, but that certain flair I was missing beforehand is to be found here. Why that is exactly is difficult for me to pin down, but what I do know is that the fights feel extremely weighty due to great effects work, 3D CGI blending in seamlessly, and of course the animators themselves for their extremely detailed frames. It’s not just the action scenes either, as the character acting animation is also a highlight. Whilst not as widely expressive as many other anime out there, it’s a movie that always feels like its on the move even outside of the action scenes, which I highly appreciated.
Despite this, I have to say that Ordinal Scale is a movie that’s extremely wonky in other areas. All the usual SAO staples that have become loathed amongst its detractors are here in full force. The writing, Kirito’s character etc. I could go into it here, but you’ve probably heard it all before. There are some things I do feel like are worth mentioning here however. The pacing and what the movie decides to focus on and give time to are rather misguided. Much of the first half of the film feels rather repetitive with not too much going on, which would be fine if it decided to be a slow burner, but then the second half delves head first into massive plots revolving around tragedy and conspiracies that were barely seen in the first half. It’s rather schizophrenic in nature and following along with it proved to be rather difficult at times. There also isn’t much in the way of character development throughout the movie. Whilst I did enjoy watching the characters, most have enough of a emotional core to not be seen as cardboard cut-outs per say, none are able to leave a major impact. It’s a shame, as I do believe that there were things to explore with these characters and how they interact with and are effected by the augmented reality technology, but not a lot of time is spent on that aspect.
Overall, if I had to sum up my experience with Ordinal Scale with one word, it’d be “exciting”. However this isn’t talking about just the action scenes. I left the theatre and thinking on the way home about just how engaging it was to watch parts of it, I definitely found a lot of things to enjoy about it. Even if I don’t come back to revisit Ordinal Scale, the directing and animation really stood out to me as something to be worthy of plenty of praise. I’m definitely excited to see what Ito, and the various other production members continue to serve up in the future.