I was no big fan of Sword Art Online world. Aside the fact that I generally prefers nuanced, “hipster” things, both seasons of SAO was so cheesy for my standard even if I did understand that these cheesy things makes it so popular in Indonesia. While I watched the both seasons (specifically, the first season was Malaysian language dubbed version), Kirito-Asuna relationship was just too bland and Kirito was too powerful for what it takes. But I admit Sword Art Online was enjoyable to watch and from what I saw, the novel was interesting to read.

The new Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale is a part of the effort to revive the franchise (including the possibility of 3rd season oncoming), while opening new opportunities overseas. For the first time since Stand By Me: Doraemon was shown, Ordinal Scale screening was prepared to give diehard fans a “premium” look and feel. While it was a step short from film première with the casts as in Japan, for a premium price (Rp450.000 / USD 33 for the first screening, Rp110.000 / USD 8 for the second) Indonesian fans got signed autograph, exclusive clear file, and some posters. So how will this new film be received by Indonesian fans?

Lazy Kirito with his sister Suguha, enjoying himself. © 2016 Reki Kawahara/Published by Kadokawa Corporation ASCII Media Works/SAO MOVIE Project

Welcome To The AR World, Kirito!

Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale started two and half years after Sword Art Online‘s ending. It was a calm time after the GGO incident and Japan was in fever with Augma, a brand-new augmented reality (AR) device. While virtual reality device (VR) like NerveGear transports its user to a different realm of imagination, Augma made it possible for users to interact in their daily lives. It was utilised by kids and elders and even used for brands to promote their products.

In this brave new future, a new popular game called Ordinal Scale was happening. Players can gather in a designated place, beat the monsters, and then receive rewards. However, lately the game featured some quests that closely resembles, if not the very same, boss monsters that was featured in Sword Art Online MMO. Then some strange things happened to players that were also survivors of Sword Art Online. Kirito, who wasn’t very fond of AR world, then got caught in an incident that made Asuna loss her Aincrad memories. Determined to return her memories, Kirito entered the Ordinal Scale game and meddled with it.

While still powerful, Kirito’s prowess isn’t like what we saw in the TV series. © 2016 Reki Kawahara/Published by Kadokawa Corporation ASCII Media Works/SAO MOVIE Project

Same Old, Proven Recipe With Improvements

A nostalgic yet fresh nuance was pronounced in the beginning. Viewers – some, including me – who have forgotten of how fun Kirito’s adventure, was reunited in a new world where it was (almost) completely fine (and boring) world. The pace was building a bit slow, without a good focus on the story as it was unveiled, making it a bit difficult to determine what is Kirito’s objective in this world.

Another surprisingly good thing was Kirito’s power is not so unbalanced. While in the middle to the end of the story Kirito is still the most important man, who single-handedly solved many mysteries, other characters shines more. Asuna, in fact, was the focus for the first half, as the Ordinal Scale’s world was revolved around her prowess to finish all the quests. Kirito’s disinterest to the AR world complemented with his moody behaviour, made him need to remember again the skill he had mastered in VR world, but to his shock, the AR world was not as responsive as he imagined.

While recent years saw the rising of anime with song (and songstress) as an important story driver (i.e. Macross Delta and the  highly successful Symphogear), it was surprising to see Yuna (Sayaka Kanda, with the singing voice of LiSA) here. Almost all important battles in Ordinal Scale realm happened with her presence. Seeing battles accompanied with song instantly reminded me to both anime mentioned above. However, the song (and music in general) in this anime is “just so” if not to say mediocre. But SAO‘s premise does not revolve around music and it was no dealbreaker.

Ordinal Scale however, is still composed with old things that made the TV series wildly popular in Indonesia: an easy-to understand premise, intimate relationship between Kirito and Asuna (in this film, it was amplified with Kirito and Asuna together on the top of bed scene), and white objective as in this website’s white background. It’s more interesting to see the battle itself, how it was animated, how viewers can enjoy Kirito’s swordsman skill (and to see the return of dual wielding in the end) and animation-wise, the battles themselves were very good.

Still the same Kirito and Asuna. © 2016 Reki Kawahara/Published by Kadokawa Corporation ASCII Media Works/SAO MOVIE Project

Love It Or Hate It

Some details will be wildly appreciated by diehard fans, but for those that avoid SAO from the beginning, it’s still the same old SAO things. However for general filmgoers, Ordinal Scale is easy enough to understand that almost anyone with slight interest in Japanese anime (and those who willing to accept some minor problems with subtitles) will find it enjoyable.

The Good

  • A good refreshment for a lovely franchise
  • Kirito’s prowess was a bit scaled back here (still imba in the end tho)
  • Battles are beautifully animated
  • The explanation of VR and AR world, coupled with simple premise, made this film easy to watch even for those who didn’t watch first two seasons

The Bad

  • As a major character with good screentime and important role (she’s an AR diva), Yuna felt forgettable
  • The lovebird couple (Asuna and Kirito’s) hardship feels like a pinnacle of cheesy moments of anime relationship

The Ugly

  • No matter how good the execution, this film won’t change opinion of people who hate SAO‘s very idea; perhaps it will amplify it

In Indonesia, Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale premiers from March 23 in CGV, Cinemaxx, and Platinum Cineplex theatres. It is distributed by Odex and CBI Pictures (Jive Entertainment) in Indonesia. 

The Indonesian Anime Times | by Kevin W

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