REVIEW | "Progressive" Asuna & Kirito Shine in Second "Sword Art Online" Film
Pacing is everything when it comes to story beats. It’s this aspect that made watching Sword Art Online hard for me back in 2012. Not only were some of its characters subpar, but a lot of the narrative dragged to the point of losing my interest. Sword Art Online -Progressive-, a film series that redoes the main narrative with the focus now on Asuna (Cherami Leigh), fixes that pacing issue with great results, with the first film Aria of a Starless Night giving me reason to actually like these characters. Scherzo of Deep Night, the second Sword Art Online -Progressive- film, continues with that trend, resulting in a movie that knows how to wow its audience!
An adaptation of the fourth light novel volume, Scherzo of Deep Night has Asuna and Kirito (Bryce Papenbrook) getting word of a possible battle between two guilds. The fight is over a Level Five boss, with the prize a guild flag that delivers a big boost in skills. However, the real reason for the fight is so blood can be shed, as some who play Sword Art Online use the game to satisfy their killing needs. In order to keep the fight from happening, Asuna and Kirito decide to take on the boss themselves, albeit with some from Argo (Kimberly Anne Campbell) and Mito (Anairis Quiñones).
A lot of care is placed in A-1 Pictures’s animation, especially when a fight scene occurs. Whether it’s an epic opening battle for loot or goodies or a set-comedic spar between Asuna and Argo in a hot springs, there’s a level of detail placed in every blow, swipe, and even grasp when a fight occurs. Where it shines most is in Asuna’s sparring match with Mito, a moment that could decide whether or not the latter joins in the mission. It’s a fight that lasts less than two minutes, but is impossible not to look away at its gorgeous presentation.
Story-wise, the focus moving onto Asuna in the film has worked well for the overall narrative. Not only does it shine a light more on a character that’s striving to be better, but it makes the Sword Art Online tale feel more relatable. With him downgraded to second banana, Kirito becomes a partner that feels more like the backbone to the story rather than the spirit. Dare I say, his presence here in the -Progressive- films makes him a lot more likable!
However, that’s not to say that there aren’t flaws with Scherzo of Deep Night. For a film, it can be a pretty standard affair, as most of the focus is on this one mission. Outside of Mito and Asuna’s somewhat fragile friendship, there isn’t too much character development to be found here. Thankfully, the pacing of the movie helps make the whole affair surprisingly enjoyable, with those 100 minutes feeling like half the time I was actually watching.
Returning to score the film, Yuki Kajiura crafts an exciting assortment of compositions. The big battle scenes feel livelier with its orchestrations, and the quieter moments between Asuna and Kirito have an extra special essence to them. Eir Aoi’s “Shinzō”, which serves as the film closer, captures the magic of the movie with its beautiful harmonies and strong emotions.
The Sword Art Online -Progressive- films act as a second chance for those who passed on the series originally. If Aria of a Starless Night gave newcomers and former doubters a glimmer of hope, then Scherzo of Deep Night will no doubt make those same people stick around to see what the future holds. Count me in as one of those former doubters, as the latest Sword Art Online -Progressive- movie has me giving the franchise as a whole a second look. Scherzo of Deep Night is an enthralling, exciting, and satisfying watch, one that makes me look forward to seeing where the -Progressive- films take Asuna and Kirito next!
English dub observed for review. Promotional consideration provided by Jennifer St. Clair of Crunchyroll. In theaters February 3rd. Click here for tickets!