If you know The Sword Art Online (SAO) franchise, you either love it or hate it. Generally, we can agree that the SAO anime series was lackluster, clearly not living up to its hype. As the seasons progressed, story arcs tended to deviate from the main plot, many moments in ALO and GGO were cringeworthy, and character development remained extremely shallow.
The anime series has been a big letdown for me, especially since the concept had great potential. However, the combination of lazy writing and the above-mentioned flaws ruined what could it have been. It is not even an exaggeration to say that the soundtrack was the only good thing about it.
*May contain some spoilers*
So the main question again is, how does the SAO movie stacks up against its TV counterpart? Simply put, it exceeds my expectations. The movie runs a decent and straightforward story line, well-balanced with romance, action and comedy. Perhaps the greatly reduced time-frame for the movie helps keep the focus essential and the action snappy. Even when the plot gets confusing about halfway through, the movie does offer some plausible, if forced, rationale for what follows.
One thing that stands out is the stunning visuals and the beautifully choreographed combat sequences. The soundtrack is still highly appreciable, with both new and old themes such as “Swordland” playing at just the right moments.
However, the movie does have its flaws as well. The characters are still one-dimensional: it’s an ensemble cast with too many characters but not enough time for character development. Kirito, arguably still the protagonist, relies on deus ex machina resolutions, as he does on TV. Of course inevitably, Kirito’s harem-building is still evident, but fortunately not a significant enough plot point to undermine the tone of the show.
The one thing that may trigger us non-Japanese speaking movie watchers might be the subtitles, but they’re way better than listening to poorly-dubbed dialogue. Anyway, the cinema would probably be filled with a bunch of otaku.
I give the SAO movie a solid 8/10. The movie introduces the fresh concept of AR (Augma) over the VR full-diving immersion (NerveGear) and smoothly executes how Kirito and his gang work together to uncover the conspiracies hidden within the AR technology. The movie also does offer nostalgic value to viewers who miss the original SAO series.
All in all, it is a worthy watch for both SAO lovers — and haters. However, do not be fooled by the generally positive reviews and ratings given to the movie. They are all done by weeaboo (such as myself) who understand the SAO series really well. If you do not know SAO, DON’T WATCH THE SHOW BECAUSE YOU ARE ONLY GOING TO WASTE 2 HOURS OF YOUR LIFE.
The game mechanics and thought process shown in the movie are going to overwhelm you and you may soon find yourself leaving the cinema questioning why you just wasted $13/$15. And, yes, the ticket prices are twice as expensive because it is a premium movie that is exclusive only to Golden Village. Be warned!
p.s., By the time this review gets published, there would probably be no more screenings left anyway [Ed.: actually, there are]. You should then go online and watch it for free :p