It’s been a little over ten years since Sword Art Online‘s anime made its debut, and part of the anniversary brought the franchise back to theaters with a story taking on the original Aincrad arc. The anime has changed significantly in many ways since it began. Kirito and Asuna earned godly powers with the latest seasons of the TV anime, and the stakes have been raised to huge new levels. As such, going back to the beginning with the adaptation of Sword Art Online Progressive is also a great reminder of why this franchise was such a hit in the first place.
Sword Art Online the Movie -Progressive- Scherzo of Deep Night takes place after the events of the previous movie, Aria of a Starless Night, which in turn adapts series creator Reki Kawahara’s official spin-off prequel. With that kind of setup, it’s also a showcase of why this entry in particular will hit best with experienced fans. That being said, it’s a great ride for fans who have fond memories of how the anime all began.
Scherzo of Deep Night takes place a few floors after the events of Aria of a Starless Night, so unfortunately it has some immediate hurdles for those who might be jumping into it all for the first time. It’s adapting an arc volumes after the first arc of the first movie, and that is apparent right off the bat. There are new characters thrown in who are just sort of accepted as additions in between the events of the two films. This means that new characters like Argo (who technically was more of a side character in the main series), who end up playing a major role, had no prior setup.
It’s a very fan-forward approach to the film as it really rewards those who also saw the first film. However, there’s still a sense of disconnect between the two. Where this movie succeeds is that viewers who already experienced Sword Art Online’s first season should be able to fill in the gaps here themselves. While it negates much of the setup necessary for a standalone film, it works very well as a second entry of the original series.
The film’s best moments come through with high production value as well, which has been a staple of the franchise for quite a while. Without getting too spoiler-y for the boss battle at the center of the film, it’s dynamically presented with a kind of fun that Sword Art Online used to offer in its fights. Everything is still very much life or death stakes which is ultimately refreshing because it hasn’t been like that for the anime in a long time. Kirito and Asuna push themselves because they’re fighting for their lives and one another which leads to great sequences in the scenes themselves.
But even with all of this action, the film’s top reminder of the anime’s past is in how well Scherzo of Deep Night portrays the central relationship between Kirito and Asuna. At this point in Aincrad, the two have formed a very trusting bond, and it’s beginning the sparks of the romance we see in full much later on. The film is much stronger as a result of getting to explore more of this side of the main duo, but never loses sight of the fact that it’s still very much being told from Asuna’s perspective this time around.
Kirito is also more involved in the events of this film compared to the first but never overshadows Asuna. The core of the conflict is still Asuna’s friendship with Mito (who was introduced during Aria of Starless Night), and while the status quo and new characters temporarily distract, Scherzo of Deep Night makes sure to bring it all back around. But by the time credits roll, the film is still one small part in the middle of a much larger franchise.
Scherzo of Deep Night has a solid enough narrative in its own right and is helped along by previous entries, but you can’t help but feel something missing when it all comes to an end. There’s a setup to a larger tale, but as fans know well enough by now, the conflict something that gets solved in the main anime. Sadly, that means here there is a less satisfying of an ending than creators likely hoped. But even with all of that said, the film is still something fans should check out as a fun trip down memory lane.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Sword Art Online the Movie -Progressive- Scherzo of Deep Night releases across the United States on February 3rd.