Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale, the first theatrical movie of the light novel series Sword Art Online (published by Dengeki Bunko) was released on 18 February 2017. It’s an anime adaptation of a new story written by original creator Reki Kawahara. It revolves around the ARMMORPG (Augmented Reality Massive Multiplayer Online Role Play Game) named ‘Ordinal Scale’ which is staged in the real world. To enter this world, the characters wear ‘Augma’, a wearable AR device.
The movie was directed by Tomohiko Itoh, who also directed the TV anime series. This is his first theatrical anime movie. I asked Itoh about the unique aspects of the movie regarding its production process and points that are likely to attract movie-goers.
— The movie was released more than two years after the completion of the TV anime series. Could you tell us how and why it was developed?
Thanks to the popularity of the first and second TV series, we were able to get a movie adaptation. There were no plans regarding what storylines should be used at the time. We just had a vague idea that it’d be better to employ a totally new story.
— It is the first theatrical movie you have directed, isn’t it?
It is. I sometimes had a tough time since the pictures are much larger than for the TV series and the measurements were different. I was really worried about how to lead into the energetic scenes. You know, such as how much information should be put in one shot or what timing to use for the music.
— I saw that your name is shown under the screenplay writers in the end credits. How did you get involved with that specifically?
The credit for the screenplay is shared with Reki Kawahara, the original creator of SAO. He wrote the outline of the plot, and then I drew up the scenario from it. He checked and made modifications to the lines and certain details.
— You mean it was his idea to employ AR in the movie?
That’s correct. I presume he thought the change would be for the best as VR has already appeared so much in the TV series that it’s not such a hot topic anymore. If he had employed VR in this movie, it would have just become a derivation of the TV series. He therefore chose AR, which is a more futuristic concept at this moment in time. AR restricts the characters’ actions, as players in AR games are limited by their real abilities, and have no extraordinary powers. I believe he thought it would differentiate the movie and TV series. It gave us a challenge, since the less movement there is, the more difficult it is to animate it [laugh].
— Within the movie, the AR world is eating its way into reality. As a result, the visual image of the movie becomes more futuristic, doesn’t it? Are there any scenes where you are conscious about the difference in depiction due to the change?
I was more conscious about depicting the battle in which many players are running around in chaos like a team battle in an MMORPG. Additionally, I deployed the monsters for effect, since the monsters are able to act freely as before. For instance, a tank with a large shield takes a forceful strike from a monster, and when it retreats, attackers launch a barrage on it. I tried to create action scenes which involve many characters including a monster with seamless movements.
— In our world, there are not so many AR games around. Did you look up any games for the movie?
I used Pokemon Go! and its predecessor Ingress as references. When the planning of the movie started, Ingress was popular and I was a player myself. There were many live events that were dedicated to Ingress at the time. Later, I was able to see Pokemon Go! bewitch the masses.
— As you said, I was impressed by the scenes which depict players gathering somewhere in the town and enjoying playing the game. They reminded me of the Pokemon Go craze. Some scenes are modeled on existing towns. Did you have any concerns when drawing them?
It was difficult. The time setting of the movie is a couple of years after the first episode of the TV series, which means only a few weeks have passed since the last episode of the second series. If I drew a town full of futuristic buildings, audiences would have felt something was strange. I intended not to change the scenery too much so that audiences could follow the story without feeling strange. For that reason, I designed ‘Augma’ to not be too futuristic either.
— It gives me a fresh feeling to watch Tokyo towns which I’m familiar with on-screen.
I just faithfully recreated Kawahara’s plot, as it was situated in Tokyo. The fact that the story revolves around Tokyo made it easy for me to envision the scenes vividly. I think it also helped audiences to understand what is happening in the movie.
NEXT PAGE: ‘Watch until the very end, and don’t leave your seat even after the credits start rolling’
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