This may be a game, but it’s not something you play.
The world’s first VRMMORPG (Sword Art Online) became a game of death. Over a month has passed since 10,000 users were trapped inside the game world. Asuna, who cleared the first floor of the floating iron castle of Aincrad, joined up with Kirito and continued her journey to reach the top floor. With the support of female Information Broker Argo, clearing the floors seemed to be progressing smoothly, but…
Conflict erupts between two major guilds who should be working together – the top player groups ALS (the Aincrad Liberation Squad) and DKB (the Dragon Knights Brigade). And meanwhile, behind the scenes exists a mysterious figure pulling the strings….
In a dangerous battle of death, there is an assault that differs from the threat, and it will involve Asuna and Kirito…!
The second film to be adapted by A-1 Pictures from original SAO author Reki Kawahara’s Sword Art Online Progressive light novels, Scherzo of Deep Night continues the retelling of Asuna & Kirito’s adventures in Aincrad with the focus shifted to Asuna’s journey over that of Kirito’s, and tells an entertainingly action packed & emotional adventure over it’s 100 minute run time, although it may leave you a tad cold if you’ve previously found yourself turned off by the SAO franchise.
Picking up 2 months after the players were trapped in VR game Sword Art Online, the film drops viewers straight into the action of another Boss Raid to clear Level 3 of Aincrad to open up Level 4, a mission that Asuna & Kirito have joined along with members of the two guilds that have formed around the other survivors of the raid from the finale of the previous film. And it’s the sort of scene that SAO has always done very well, enhanced by the improved budget of a theatrical release, where we see "Lightning Flash Asuna" and "The Black Swordsman" beginning to come into their own as part of the assault group of players at the forefront of opening up the levels of Aincrad to bring everyone a step closer to being able to safely log out. I’ve gotta admit, I found it all genuinely compelling. Seeing events we have already seen play out from Asuna’s perspective puts a refreshing spin on the story, especially as it does not try and diminish the traumas that characters are still dealing with from being stuck in a literal game of death. But seeing them push through anyway? Finding things within SAO that can make the days just that little bit brighter? There are moments of this scattered throughout Scherzo of Deep Night that are just great, and that are both excellently animated and superbly acted by the voice casts.
Now, the final act. This is a bit stickier as I don’t want to spoil things too much, but it’s not exactly a surprise to say that it’s somewhat a re-tread of both this film's opening and the finale of the prior film, ie another floor-clearing boss raid. But how we get to it and the stakes involved? Now those are very interesting as it ties in to the machinations of the group that fans know eventually becomes the shadow guild of player-killers Laughing Coffin, and puts some different stakes in play than just opening up the next floor. And whilst the actual boss fight is another impeccably animated bit of action that takes full advantage of the environment the game is set in, the build up to said engagement is neatly done as Asuna & Kirito assemble their team.
Meanwhile beyond our two leads, it’s a stripped back supporting cast: of the classic SAO team it’s only Agil who shows up, but he’s never an unwelcome presence. The mysterious cloaked figure from the end of the last film is revealed early on to be Argo, another Beta-tester like Kirito & Mito who has become an information broker to players and is the one who writes the guidebooks whilst trying to stay out of trouble (and if she can’t avoid it a sweet pair of Wolverine-claws are a girl's best friend).
And then there is Mito. I’ll be honest, I was genuinely surprised to see her make it out of the first film in one piece (well, physically at least), as it would have been easy (if lazy and played out) to make her death be a motivating factor in Asuna’s story. Instead they take the hard route – even after all these weeks since finding that Asuna is still alive, and having been forgiven by her, Mito carries an immense amount of guilt over failing her best friend. Whilst we do not spend as much time with her as we did in film one, Mito remains a tangible presence throughout as Asuna has been trying to keep tabs and make sure she is ok. As a character original to these movies, she’s become a genuine wildcard whose fate is truly up in the air.
So in conclusion, is Sword Art Online Progressive Scherzo of Deep Night high art? Oh gods no! But what it is, is a slick, well made extension of one of the defining anime franchises of the 21st century that pushes back against the not-always-unfair criticisms of the original novels & animation by attempting to expand and course correct the narrative by shifting which of our two leads it focuses on. And honestly I cannot wait to see more of Progressive adapted.