Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night
Directed by Ayako Kōno and animated by A1 Pictures, Scherzo of Deep Night is the sequel to Aria of a Starless Night. Set early in the Aincrad arc of Sword Art Online, the ten thousand stuck in the death game have cleared the level four boss, thanks to the help of two large guilds, the Aincrad Liberation Squad and the Dragon Knights Brigade. However, despite this victory, Kirito and Asuna stumble across a conspiracy that threatens to shatter the fragile alliance between these two groups, and the future of everyone else stuck in SAO.
Love it or hate it, Sword Art Online has made its mark as one of the most popular anime to come out of the 2010s. Adapted from the light novels by Reki Kawahara, the franchise is still going strong, both with Japanese and international audiences. Scherzo of Deep Night is the latest release for Sword Art Online, having been licensed and recently released in North America and Canada by Aniplex of America.
However, if you aren’t a fan of Sword Art Online, give Scherzo of Deep Night a miss. It has all the good and bad trademarks of the brand: beautifully animated fight scenes which are a visual delight, and a story which is passable at best and forgettable at worst. Despite this, there are still hints of a better movie.
One of the aspects that made the Aincrad arc enjoyable was the relationship between Asuna and Kirito. In a medium filled with harems and will-they-won’t-they subplots, anime that feature a committed romantic relationship is a relative rarity, so what the deuteragonists had with each other felt like something new and refreshing. This is reflected in Scherzo of Deep Night, where even though they haven’t started a romance yet, there are moments where the friendship between Asuna and Kirito starts to show the beginnings of something more.
The rest of the movie follows the main cast trying to stop a war breaking out between the ALS and the DKB. On the one hand, for those familiar with the show, it might be interesting to watch the origins of what will become the Aincrad Liberation Army. Also, Kibaou is here – you know, the future leader of the Aincrad Liberation Front, but who shows up in one episode of the anime proper and is then only brought up offscreen. However, for everyone else, the conflict isn’t set up enough for the audience to get emotionally invested in what is the inciting incident of the story, outside of the guild leaders occasionally butting heads.
There is a subplot which has the potential of being a much more interesting storyline: the origins of the player killing guild Laughing Coffin, and how they are trying to sow chaos among the survivors in SAO. Free from the regulations of the real world, an evil few want to do things otherwise considered taboo: instead of clearing the game in the name of freedom, they want to stay in the game and murder for fun. It’s very Lord of the Flies-esque, so how does this subplot develop? Well, in a frustrating cliffhanger, it appears viewers will have to wait for the next movie to find out.
Other elements of Scherzo of Deep Night make it a questionable watch. In Aria of a Starless Night, a real-world friend of Asuna’s called Mito was introduced, and she reappears in Scherzo of Deep Night. In one scene, Mito and Asuna share an intimate embrace while having a heart-to-heart conversation. And where is the camera pointed during this interaction? Straight at Mito’s bum, and it stays at that angle for a while. SAO is no stranger to fan service, but this is beyond tone-deaf.
Then there are the same contrived points which drove many people away from SAO: Kirito is still the same overpowered Gary Stu (to the point even other characters mention it), and though the movie excels in its action scenes, it lacks in plot development for everyone but him. While this feels like a story focused on Asuna’s character, Kirito has to be the one to steal every scene. Asuna stumbles across a threat that threatens the future of everyone in Aincrad by accident, and then Kirito comes in to save the day. Asuna tries to recruit Mito, fails in her attempt, and then Kirito confronts Mito without Asuna’s knowledge.
Also, there is a new character, Argo, who is an information broker that is hinted at having more significance to the overarching story. However, that is all this movie does with the character: hint at their importance. Like the Laughing Coffin subplot, viewers will probably have to watch the next movie to find out more, but it’s not enough intrigue to pull people in.
Scherzo of Deep Night is a dull movie broken up with fantastic action scenes, which has always been a strong point of SAO. As a side story, there are a lot of throwbacks to the story arc that started the franchise with some additional development to the main characters. However, it’s neither a good jumping-on point for those that may be interested in watching Sword Art Online, nor does it provide anything substantial for other anime fans. The Laughing Coffin subplot is admittedly intriguing, but otherwise, Scherzo of Deep Night is only for the most hardcore SAO fans.
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As an SAO spinoff/continuation, Scherzo of Deep Night is a movie only for dedicated fans and remains lacking for other anime viewers
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