Asuna and Kirito are back on the big screen in the second installment of the Progressive film series. Aria of a Starless Night proved to be a solid reimagining of the saga’s beginning that, unfortunately, didn’t move the meter much. It didn’t do much to change how someone might already feel about the franchise while being something that I’m sure many fans loved getting to watch. Can Sword Art Online the Movie -Progressive- Scherzo of Deep Night, take the long-standing franchise to the next level? You might be surprised by my answer.
Once again, Asuna takes center stage, but this time Kirito is usually present. The duo are a two-man team in the boss raids; they share meals, go on side quests, and spend most of the runtime together. These moments might be the most convincing display of their budding adorkable friendship. Asuna gets so excited about the fifth floor’s treasure hunt, and Kirito can’t help but tease her for getting distracted by the side quest like many gamers before her. By the fifth floor, Kirito isn’t a lone wolf anymore, but his reputation and awkwardness dealing with other people means he has only a few trusted companions, the most important of which being Asuna. They share a strong bond which allows them to comfort each other and be at ease when they’re together. Asuna is one of the only players that can see Kirito in a good light. She hates to see his efforts to clear the game disregarded by others and hates even more, to see Kirito choose to play the bad guy to keep the peace, which he has been doing since the first boss raid.
When watching Aria of a Starless Night, I was concerned about how adding the new character, Mito, recontextualized Asuna’s character development. Rather than Asuna picking herself by the bootstraps of her own volition, Mito’s involvement implied that it was Mito’s influence that allowed Asuna to build her repertoire of skills and survive the death game. In this film, Asuna wants to prove herself to Mito so her friend can see that she no longer needs to be protected. I am still mixed about Mito’s involvement in the series, but this film gives their falling out in Aria adequate closure. However, the suggested co-dependence Asuna had with Mito seems to have been passed off to Kirito. Understandably, Asuna would be scared when she’s lost and alone in a dungeon full of killer monsters, but after what she has already been through, seeing her breakdown in tears came off as backpedaling her development. Thankfully Asuna still has several moments where she proves how far she has come. Admittedly I could be overthinking that scene because, overall, Asuna acts in line with how she was depicted early in the TV series.
For the most part, this movie is the Kirito and Asuna show, which means the beloved secondary cast continues to be overlooked. Agil is the only familiar face from Kirito’s posse, and he hardly speaks in this outing. Granted, at this point in the story, Kirito and Asuna have not met Liz and Silica, but that’s no excuse for one of their other friends to de-Klein an appearance. That continues to be a disappointing aspect of the film series, but following in line with the novels, some different secondary cast members are brought into focus. Do you remember the spiky-haired guy from the first boss raid, Kibaou, who had an axe to grind with former beta testers like Kirito? He’s still around and is the leader of one of the guilds taking part in the boss raids. While it’s not as extensive as the novels, he gets some interesting character development, proves his merit as a leader, and feels much more nuanced than he was in the TV series. This leads me to believe that if given time, many of the characters Sword Art Online fans love could develop better in these films. And Kibaou isn’t alone in getting more attention. The other character that gets a lot of shine is Argo, the information broker. She occasionally teams up with Kirito and Asuna, and their dynamic is delightful. She barely appeared in the TV series and was merely teased in the first film despite being prominently featured in the first novel. It’s great to see her get some significant screen time. She’s considered a fan favorite for a reason, but if you’d like to know why I can’t write it for free.
The TV series skipped over so much of the early days in the death game, but this film shows what kinds of strategies the players were implementing, how the frontline was moving forward, and how nefarious bad actors were sowing malice between factions. Two guilds that formed after the death of Diabel in the first boss raid are constantly butting heads. Kibaou’s guild has all the members collaborating on strategy, while the other guild has its leader Lind direct all their movements. Their differing approaches make collaboration difficult on and off the battlefield. Unfortunately, the film does not dig deeper into this dilemma, and more is said than shown. So it’s hard to quantify why Kibaou feels the guilds will never see eye to eye. I hope the next film will expand upon those elements further. Because Kirito and Asuna aren’t in either guild, they find themselves having to mediate situations or step up to take action when both leaders are faltering.
In my review of Aria of a Starless Night, I was skeptical if the movie format was suitable for adapting the Progressive light novel series. After seeing the second film in the series, my reservations have only been reinforced. At the end of the first film, only about half of the first novel was covered, and in the second film, they moved on to material found in the fourth volume of the series, leaving two and a half volumes omitted entirely. Due to skipping those stories, characters introduced in them that initially appeared in this story are cut or replaced. I understand it is unreasonable to expect a one-to-one adaptation, and it seems like the goal was to reimagine the Aincrad arc again rather than follow the novels to the letter, but skipping that much material is missing the point of animating the expanded novel series. When adapting from a source you must carefully consider the format you’re choosing. I question if the producers of this film series understood the scope they were working with. A television series was probably a better way to adapt Progressive, and it frustrates me how much material is being overlooked, but despite that, the film series continues to be entertaining and fleshes out the Aincrad arc in worthwhile ways.
Presentation-wise, it continues the first film’s production quality, possibly exceeding it during the battles. Yuki Kaijura returns to score the film, and the sound design is still top-notch, giving every sword clash the heft it deserves. The visuals are crisp, and there’s some excellent background and prop design in the towns and dungeons and wonderful use of color to set the mood of scenes. One of the boss encounters feels larger than life and incredibly daunting. The boss room is accented with neon lights and constantly moving 3D animated walls that blend well with the 2D characters and gives a solid depth to the visuals. When they want to deliver a spectacle, they do so masterfully.
Alex von David returns as vocal director and script adapter for the English dub and never disappoints. Cherami Leigh (Lucy in FairyTail) and Bryce Papenbrook (Eren in Attack on Titan) offer their best performances as Asuna and Kirito to date, showing how nearly a decade of voicing these characters has finely tuned them. Kimberly Ann Campbell (Nagatoro in Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro) bounces off them with ease as Argo. She nails the info broker’s sincerity and playful teasing. Derek Stephen Prince (Ishida in Bleach) returns as Kibaou, who expresses his boisterous and standoffish attitude better than ever now that he has some meat on the bone to work with. I enjoyed his bickering with Lind, who is voiced by Howard Wang (Tsuneo Suzukawa in Josee, The Tiger and the Fish). They are joined by some additional standout performances from Alejandro Saab (Kuga, Food Wars), A.J. Beckles (Takemichi Hanagaki, Tokyo Revengers), Griffin Puatu (Louie, BEASTARS), Amanda Lee (Marin, My Dress Up Darling), and Anairis Quiñones (Echinda, Re:ZERO). The cast is a fantastic mix of familiar and fresh talent.
The film series continues to be an excellent introduction to Sword Art Online as a franchise that has polished several of the rough edges of the novels and TV series. However, long-time fans will still get the most out of this film. Unlike the first outing, this one consists entirely of material that wasn’t in the original TV series. Seasoned fans who did not see Aria of a Starless Night for whatever reason will likely not feel lost when watching this one, but I recommend viewing it prior. It serves as extra episodes of the TV series that would have taken place before episode three. What Sword Art Online the Movie -Progressive- Scherzo of Deep Night offers is an exciting romp on the 5th floor of Aincrad. Lots of fun adventure and levity mixed with tense, heart-pounding thrills, intriguing developments, and awesome boss battles worthy of the big screen. It improves in just about every way from the first film. Whether you’re new to the franchise or are currently coping with the fact that the first anime aired a decade ago, you’ll find lots to enjoy in Sword Art Online the Movie -Progressive- Scherzo of Deep Night. See it in theaters if you can.
- A good entry point for those unfamiliar with the franchise, presumably if you saw the first film
- Tells a story not depicted in the TV series that explores what the early days in the death game were like for the players
- Excellent audio presentation, both in music and acting
- Great chemistry to watch unfold between the lead characters
- Significant characters from the anime and novels aren’t present or are barely present
- Skips a few novels worth of material
- Adaptation deviates from the story of the SAO: Progressive light novels in questionable ways for those who read them
Andrew “Sketch” Hingson is the C.O.O. at Toonamifaithful.com. Feel free to follow Sketch on all things Toonami, Adult Swim, and show predictions on Twitter @Sketch1984
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