I can’t say I enjoyed watching the Sword Art Online movie itself. I very much enjoyed the act of watching it, but that came down to making fun of it with a friend while a theater full of huge fans was cheering at every moment. The environment I was in made the movie-going experience incredibly fun, but the actual movie itself couldn’t live up to the fun I had in the theater. Funnily enough, I went in expecting it to be worse than it actually was. I was expecting to hate it, as I hate most of the show, but I came out thinking it was just pretty bad, maybe even mediocre, and there’s a major reason for that.
In general, I think SAO is pretty trash. My opinion on this is the fairly mainstream opinion that the show is awfully written, but it’s one of the few shows I enjoy watching just to make fun of. I see little to no positives in the first season at all, and the first two arcs of the second season were no better. The show is full of laughable writing, bland direction, and some brief animation highlights which are unfortunately marred by truly awful fight choreography.
And then, miraculously, I watched Mother’s Rosario. I watched this about a year and a half after the Caliber Arc, an arc which I thought was absolutely abysmal, to the point it wasn’t even very fun to hate watch. I came into Mother’s Rosario hearing it was better than the rest of the show, but I wasn’t primed to believe that. People had said the same about Gun Gale, but it was just as bad as all the other arcs. Fortunately, people were right this time.
Mother’s Rosario is not a great arc except by comparison. It’s a 5 or a 6 as its own show, but for SAO that was such a rise that I truly enjoyed watching it. The main reason I enjoyed it so much, is because it focused entirely on Asuna and told Kirito to fuck off. Kirito is one of the biggest issues with SAO, while Asuna is one of its biggest upsides when she isn’t a damsel, so I was very happy to see her as the protagonist for one arc.
The other thing that made Mother’s Rosario enjoyable was that it got rid of the antagonist. SAO’s villains are truly awful, not one has been even mediocre, so the decision to just not have any major antagonists other than Yuki’s illness was a good one. As I said there were many issues with the arc, among them being the fact that a slightly queer-coded character like Yuki had AIDS and then died, but as SAO goes, it was executed well and managed to actually make me feel emotions other than annoyance and amusement.
That brings me back to Ordinal Scale. To put it lightly, I’d call Ordinal Scale a worse version of Mother’s Rosario. They’re only somewhat similar plot-wise, but they succeed in multiple ways. Unfortunately the film fails in many ways that the arc succeeded in.
I love that Asuna played a major role in the film and didn’t spend most of it as a damsel. Unfortunately that I kind of happened about halfway through, but up until then she was basically the protagonist, and she was able to play a major role in the final scene as well, so it wasn’t awful.
The movie also managed to have a slightly meaningful emotional payoff, by focusing entirely on Asuna and Kirito’s relationship. I can’t pretend I care a ton about their relationship, but I certainly care more about it than whatever the hell the show usually tries to focus on, so it provided something for me to vaguely interest myself in.
Now to the downsides. The first is that Kirito plays a major role, but that’s obvious. The lack of a character like Yuki is very unfortunate, as her involvement and enthusiasm was a big part of why I liked Mother’s Rosario, and none of Kirito’s harem members can replace her.
The choreography was as bad as usual, and the writing was no better. The two primary antagonists were boring and too similar to the others in the show, especially the younger one. While not as rapey as the others, he came across as far too similar to the creepy, obsessive guys that the show has already had so many of. Neither of them was nearly as bad as the villain of Alfheim or Death Gun, but they were still pretty awful.
My relationship with the series, and thus the movie, is very complicated. Something keeps drawing me back despite the fact that I’ve never rated it highly. Some part of me enjoys mocking it, but I assume another part of me enjoys parts of the show itself as well. That said, I can confidently state that I wasn’t a fan of this movie.
I had a great time watching it, but I’m never coming back to it, and on its own it would’ve been better than every arc other than Mother’s Rosario, but still a bad movie. I’m happy I watched it, and I’ll keep watching SAO, so hopefully I can eventually figure out why I watch this series.