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Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night Review

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Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night premiered in US theaters on February 3, 2023


Sword Art Online's Asuna (Cherami Leigh) was a welcome subversion of the "token girl" fantasy trope when she showed up in the series’ second episode. As a skilled fencer, she proved herself just as capable of a fighter as beta tester Kirito (Bryce Papenbrook) and then some. She was powerful yet graceful, kind yet mysterious, and someone I always wanted to learn more about. So when Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night transformed her into someone nearly completely unrecognizable, it felt like a major step backward for Asuna as well as Sword Art Online as a whole.

Scherzo of Deep Night is a retelling of the original Sword Art Online’s timeline that shifts to Asuna’s point of view. As such, it's not a good place to start out if you’re new to this series, but it’s a fun alternate take for anyone who’s already familiar with the world and major players. In the previous film, Aria of a Starless Night, Asuna was introduced as a carefree but academically focused middle schooler who joined Sword Art Online to game with her IRL friend Misumi (Anairis Quinones). It was a refreshing change of pace for a series that’s always put Asuna second, relegating her to the role of “girl adventurer,” and I appreciated its unique approach to fleshing her story out.

That’s why, with Scherzo, I wanted to come away with a new appreciation for Asuna as well as the core cast of characters, but instead found myself mostly irritated by Asuna’s confusing evolution into one of the movie’s most grating characters. The story is already set this time around so there are no surprises: Asuna and Kirito have battled their way through four floors of enemies and boss encounters, and they’re about to do it one more time. That leaves plenty of time to explore Asuna’s character while she and Kirito battle their way to freedom, but the more I saw the less I liked.

We watch Asuna become more enamored with Kirito by the day, but also see her friendship with Misumi beginning to deteriorate. Luckily, Asuna's first female friendship with the spunky Argo (Kimberley Anne Campbell) offers a more than suitable replacement arc, and a healthier one at that. In a series where Asuna is often given a damsel in distress role (especially in earlier seasons of Sword Art Online), it's refreshing to see her come into her own.

Asuna's almost a completely different person from one scene to the next.


In fact, though more time is spent with Asuna exploring her background and motivations, she ends up significantly changed in the process. Asuna is now irrationally afraid of ghosts, for example, and routinely becomes flustered when Kirito is around. She's almost a completely different person from one scene to the next, a complete 180 from the way she was presented in the original Sword Art Online, which we saw through Kirito’s eyes. Here she’s become infuriatingly grating, whiny, and even mean-spirited at times.

This makes it somewhat difficult to become invested in her plight, whereas the “old’ Asuna was quietly determined, kind, and easy to support. Beyond what feel like weak attempts at trying to have us empathize with Asuna as a “regular” teenage girl, these personality changes feel odd and unnecessary, especially for a character who, in the last movie, was more than capable of holding her own while coming face to face with death.

Ultimately, this sequel hardly advances what Aria of a Starless Night began, instead opting to tell what feels like the same story twice: the ragtag band of adventurers clear another stage of Aincrad and eliminate the boss at the end. It’s not as if anyone won’t see this coming, and there’s no conclusion to look forward to. It’s no spoiler to say that no one actually escapes Sword Art Online, so once more the door is left wide open for another sequel.

While Kirito and Mito's ongoing rivalry makes for some genuinely exciting moments that inject some much-needed adrenaline into the milquetoast adventure, that’s just not enough to carry the entire movie. That is to say, it isn't all awful, but it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed by the end given Asuna having devolved into a shadow of her former self.

Verdict

Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night won’t woo any new fans into the fold, but it’s an enjoyable enough return to the world of Aincrad for longtime viewers to dig into. However, given that it’s made seemingly exclusively for those of us who are invested in this story, its strange character alterations and sometimes rote story may leave some devoted followers feeling a bit disillusioned.

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