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Sword Art Online Ordinal Scale Limited Edition Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

As we’ve seen before, change is the only constant.

What They Say:
The NerveGear, the world’s first dedicated full-dive device developed by the genius programmer, Akihiko Kayaba in 2022…a revolutionary machine that opened up infinite possibilities for the world of VR (Virtual Reality). 4 years later…. A next-generation, wearable multi-device called the Augma has been released to compete with the NerveGear’s successor, the Amusphere. A cutting-edge machine boasting the ability to enhance AR (Augmented Reality) to the maximum, the Augma offers a safe, user-friendly experience, as it can be used while the player is awake, making it an instant hit. Its most popular title is an ARMMORPG developed exclusively for the Augma, “Ordinal Scale (a.k.a. OS).” Kirito is about to join Asuna and the others as an Ordinal Scale player, but they’re about to find out that it isn’t all fun and games…

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track and the English language dub with both of them done up in DTS-HD MA MA 5.1 form. This project has some strong action sequences to it spread out across the run and some nice immersive moments with the AR and VR as well and that plays well to putting you in the moment. The action plays to a few different things but largely sticks to the fantasy side so we get some good blade sounds and the monsters themselves amid everything else. The score is definitely a very good one in this film, if a bit understated in some scenes where it should be a bit more noticeable, but by and large it helps to elevate the mood well. The dialogue aspect is a bit simpler and more straightforward where it gets a mild workout from time to time but it’s generally right for the material and comes across clean and clear throughout, which is critical.

Originally in theaters in 2017, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Everything is on a single disc and the end result is strong. A-1 Pictures, in my mind, has done some great work with the TV series material and this takes all of that and adds the right elements to it to bring to a theatrical level without feeling radically different. The color palette is gorgeous throughout without being oversaturated, the details are strong and the use of the AR side is well-handled in standing out but not being a nuisance to the viewer. I love the character details and the layering of colors as needed within it but I also love just how smooth it flows in general and more so during the action scenes. The whole project just feels like every cost is on the screen and the encoding for it brings it to life beautifully on both small and large screens that really draws you into the story.

The limited edition packaging for this release just delights me across the board. The heavy chipboard box is really nicely done with the two main male characters getting their own panel, one blue and one purple, where with the material used it has a really wonderful feeling about it that just makes you realize the importance of texture sometimes. It’s all kept minimal to just the character artwork with no logos or other distractions. The set does come with an onsert that breaks down what’s included with the set as well as the cast and staff for it, though no summary because the assumption is that if you’re plunking down coin for it, you know what it is. We do get a solid breakdown of the technical side as well here.

Within the case we get a really nice digipak piece that also uses texture, a different kind, as it pairs Asuna and Kirito together in their Aincrad outfits with a fractured background in play. The back side of it uses the villains of the set with a darker design that does essentially paint them as Dark Kirito and Dark Asuna in a way. Within the digipak the back side under the discs is kept minimal with just some small widgets to add a little contrast to an otherwise blank piece. The big extra here, beyond the inclusion of the soundtrack CD, is the book included. The full-color piece has some background on the franchise as a whole before digging into the character designs, some “secret reports” along the way, little pieces of additional background, and a great section on various pieces of promotional artwork that have been released for it. The squarebound book is just fantastic and definitely a great addition to the set..

The menu design for the release keeps things moving nicely with some good animation and flow so that it’s definitely far more engaging than a static menu. While it opens on the still of the familiar key visual for the film, it shifts to the patterns where smaller clips move through it. These look good with lots of moving parts overall and character pieces that catch the eye and just adds to the flow overall in a good way. THe navigation along the bottom is a bit thin for my tastes to some degree but everything is easy to navigate and setup both as the main menu and as the pop-up menu during playback.

As is the case with most Japanese anime films there isn’t a lot in the way of extras here. We do get a nice collection of the commercials and promos but the big piece is the inclusion of the Offline chibi material, which runs in some cute and silly ways if you enjoy this material. Though not listed in the extras we do get an audio commentary from the Japanese side as well and that earns some serious points just because those can be very hard and time consuming to translate and time.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When anime properties dig into movies it can be a pretty messy situation for a lot of reasons. With a popular property like Sword Art Online that has two TV series under its belt now, some New Years special material, and a slew of books, spinoffs, and manga, there’s certainly some pressure there. While the easy approach would have been a compilation film to churn out or even a series of them to encompass what’s been produced for TV so far – and they’d look good on the big screen – the management of this property opted for something different. Rather than adapting from the books with one of the stories, original creator Reki Kawahara came on board to craft a standalone tales that expands and builds on what’s come before and offering some interesting ideas of what can be done moving forward as well.

Taking place a couple of years after the events of Sword Art Online, the film works a fairly straightforward concept that ties back to Aincrad in a way that makes a lot of sense. While our gang that we’ve grown to know is still together and playing in ALO and being the family that they are, the world of technology has changed and augmented reality is now the big thing. The game that’s capturing all of the attention is that of Ordinal Scale, which works some fun quests, prizes and rewards, and some creative opponents for players to battle out in the world together, both casual and hardcore alike. What’s starting to change suddenly though is that various bosses from the Sword Art Online world have started to appear and that’s a cause for concern by Kirito and Asuna considering their experiences. Considering that the company that owned SAO is long dead and the materials being off in the wilds as they are, it’s unsettling to see such things in the mix. Of course, using SAO materials means there’s a greater story behind all of this with some fairly nefarious aspects being played out, particularly with a young man going by the name of Eiji that’s out and about attacking Ordinal Scale players midfight and targeting old SAO survivors in particular.

What this storyline offers is one that serves well to tie back to the old SAO world nicely and I really appreciated the nod to it without making it a true focal point. One of the big concepts with the series is the sense of loss that comes from the two years that were spent in the game for many combined with the people that died from it. Add in the whole concept as to whether what they experienced in the game while trapped there could be counted as real definitely adds some welcome layers to it. The truth behind it has some strong ties back to Kayaba in an interesting way that I won’t spoil but at the same time I’m glad that this wasn’t just a retread of SAO. What Ordinal scale wants to do is to give us a tale rooted in what got all of this underway but to explore some new ideas and concepts that are partially based on the advancement of technology.

And that’s one of the two things that I really enjoyed in a big way about this film. First, the way things change with the AR over VR harkens back to any kind of disruptive change in technology that happens. Coming from an age where I initially started with pen and paper role playing gaming and being a huge advocate of the (in my mind) richer text based online gaming where it felt like more interactive storytelling, I fell out of that entire realm when it shifted to graphics based games like Warcraft and Diablo and the like as it didn’t appeal, removing the imagination part that the text based aspect that made it work for me. Here, with people able to participate without a full dive gear thanks to augmented reality, more people are playing (and more casually) while the VR side is seeing a huge drop in numbers. We get the nod about how ALO is canceling events due to lack of players show up. That’s disheartening to be sure but is part of the norm. Sadly, you cannot get back a certain kind of experience and you just have to accept when a certain thing is done and over with and this franchise touches on that regularly. The fact that Aincrad itself was largely ditched after the opening arc was a very big deal for me.

The other piece that appeals to me is just how much of these worlds should count as true experiences. While the subplot involving the effect of the Ordinal Scale game on the SAO players kind of bothers me as super sloppy science for obvious reasons, I do like that there’s still a big disconnect from non-SAO people to thinking about how that entire experience for the players was nothing but a horror. What I enjoyed with that first half season was that it really did explore that these characters lived in there for that period of time, made relationships, fell in love, grew and became more because of what they went through. Though it was a virtual world it helped to shape who they are. You can see how that’s part of what the AR experience will be like as well, one that will grow over time, but you also get the sense that it’s not anywhere near as immersive in the same way (hence more like phone games of casualness) and that those that play won’t get the same kind of truly rich and engaging experience.

In Summary:
Sword Art Online Ordinal Scale does something that I’ve found very few anime films to be able to do and that’s to entertain me. With far too many compilation films or projects that retell the story newly animated, the number of projects that are truly new on the anime side for existing properties are few and far between. And often when they do come about they’re pretty weak because they’re trying to not make waves against the existing manga and potential future TV seasons as well, or they just go all alternate storytelling. The team here did the right thing in expanding our view of the world, enhancing what we know and showing how things are moving forward, while touching upon those early moments of glory that drew in so many fans from the start.

Aniplex’s release is definitely something that fans will enjoy in its limited edition form because it does put the quality into it, including the soundtrack and putting together a great looking package, but the film itself is just spectacular looking with what it does as it delivers the visual quality in spades. In the end, I enjoyed the various stories that were told here, even if it all does shift back to Kirito being the one able to do anything and everything, because we’ve had so much goodwill built up and so many fun character connections and stories that another trip with them in a largely self contained way is spot on. Definitely a lot of fun.

Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Audio Commentary by creators and Japanese cast: Tomohiko Ito, Shingo Adachi, Reki Kawahara, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Haruka Tomatsu, and Sayaka Kanda, Special Short Animation: Sword Art OFFline -Ordinal Scale-.

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Aniplex USA
Release Date: December 19th, 2017
MSRP: $79.98
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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