Yeah, there’s a new game using augmented reality rather than virtual reality that Asuna and all of Kirito’s friends are into. But like every other game in this series it has just a little bit of a catch.
As you may have picked up from my series review of Sword Art Online yesterday, I am a fan of SAO. I am not oblivious to some of the faults with the story or the characters, but I genuinely get a lot of joy and fun from watching and rewatching the series. So I was super excited when I found out I’d be in a city with a cinema when SAO was still showing and it was showing in a cinema in the city I was going to be in. Given I only usually get to see a movie in the cinema every six months or so, this year has been pretty good to me in terms of my actually getting to see cinema releases. Still, SAO was my very first anime cinema experience and I’m really glad I had this experience.
That said, and as much as I really had a lot of fun, the movie is not good. Fans of SAO who are still fans despite all the rocks people throw at the series and despite some legitimate complaints about the plot will enjoy this movie but otherwise it just isn’t that good. Mostly this is because it does all the things anime movies tend to do that annoy people.
Firstly, every character of note from the previous four arcs is going to make an appearance. Doesn’t matter if they are relevant or not (or apparently whether they previously died or not), they are showing up. This is stretching run time for the sake of it and some of these characters just kind of pop in and out for no other reason than to say they were there. Realistically, this movie needed Kirito, Asuna, Klein, and maybe one other from the usual crew and the story would have not been altered in the slightest except there would be less clutter and we’d be able to just focus on the story rather than random cameos from characters who were mostly pointless. I get it is an SAO movie and you want all the fans to see their favourite character but are you pandering to fans or making a decent movie?
Secondly, because they are trying to introduce a new concept and villain and wrap it up in the length of a single movie, what we end up with is a lot of rushed exposition and a really poorly realised conflict. Seriously, none of the villains in this can be taken seriously. They either have the mentality of a six year old or they are simply going through the motions of duplicating the actions of previous characters and they haven’t actually thought through their actions in any realistic way. Not to mention, the final climax really just suddenly upped the stakes for no discernible reason other than the characters said it was suddenly going to be more dangerous (seriously from memory loss to permanent brain damage and no actual reason other than it was going to – they did babble an explanation at us but it boils down to we want a more dramatic climax and why haven’t they just stopped playing the game yet).
My third issue with the movie is just the usual one about characters being needlessly stupid for the sake of plot. Ghost girl is pointing. Gee, I wonder what’s over there. Wait, you seriously didn’t ask until the third time she did it? Great, now you can triangulate but why hadn’t you already asked?
In case that makes it sound dreadful, it isn’t. The final act is almost laugh out loud ironically bad but the build up is good SAO fun with some good fights, characters sassing one another for laughs, the introduction of interesting game concepts that make you think about games and life, and you do get to see all your favourite characters whether you want to or not. That might be detrimental to the plot but for fans it is kind of rewarding.
Not to mention, while the ending is bad from a narrative point of view, from a visual spectacle and awesome boss fight point of view it is a really riveting experience. Okay, there’s about a million holes you can poke in everything that happens in that final stadium fight, but switch your brain off and watch it. That is all kinds of awesome and when you compare the plot holes here to the plot holes left in most big action movies, they are kind of on par (I just expect better from my anime, even SAO, which is probably why I was laughing so hard).
Of course Kirito is still going to save the day because despite everyone else having more experience playing the game, Kirito is the protagonist and severly protected by plot armour at this point. In the first arc of SAO there was always the possibility he might actually die but since then it has become increasingly clear that Kirito is just going to be fine no matter what so let him do his thing. I’m positive he broke traffic laws as well as common sense laws during one sequence of fights where within a ten minute window he participated in multiple fights in multiple locations in the city. But you know, there are worse things that the movie could have thrown at us.
On that note, I did go to see the movie with a friend and after it ended (and we got the tease for yet another SAO story after the credits – this series never intends to just go quiet does it) we went to dinner and talked the movie over. He isn’t as big a fan of SAO as I am but he enjoyed the first arc and has watched the rest. Basically we came to the conclusion that everything else in the movie could be excused except the villain. He was so lame and his motive so ridiculous. Even if he had succeeded it was unclear what he intended to do next. More importantly, why can’t you copy the memories rather than wiping them out of people’s brains. Doesn’t that make more sense if you are digitally stealing memories in the first place?
So recommendation for this film is watch it if you are into SAO. You’ll enjoy it and have a bit of a laugh and you will certainly see some very cool fights and a game that you’ll definitely want in real life right now. Otherwise, this one is an entirely skippable experience. There’s really nothing here for non-fans.
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