The highly-anticipated Sword Art Online the Movie: Progressive – Scherzo of Deep Night unravels like an underwhelming celebration of the SOA series, holding little meaning to long-time fans and newcomers alike. Its predecessor in the SOA Progressive series, Sword Art Online: Progressive – Aria of a Starless Night, neatly fleshed out the series’ Aincrad arc with Asuna (voiced by Haruka Tomatsu) at the center.

Unfortunately, this lackluster follow-up only manages to cough up a winding, contrived arc with shifts in key character traits that seem unnatural, out-of-place, and often downright confusing.

Scherzo of Deep Night opens with opposing guilds clearing out level four of the building. This sequence ramps up the thrills inherent in virtual reality gaming, replete with tropes such as the expected conflicts of guild co-op and the last strike yielding valuable loot.

Those unfamiliar with SOA’s central premise might find this introduction compelling, as it encapsulates the core appeal of Reki Kawahara’s series, which boasts several narrative triumphs as a whole. However, it is not enough to set a bold, confident tone for the 1.5-hour slog of a story that unfurls, punctuated repeatedly by cliché tropes and poor writing.

Central duo Kirito (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka) and Asuna establish the shared honor and respect of their partnership from the get-go, underlining the contrast between their solo adventurer nature and that of two warring guilds perennially at odds with one another. After Asuna accidentally stumbles upon a plot in motion to wipe out a guild with the aid of an artifact on level five, the duo attempts to stop this from occurring at all costs. There is a standard hero team-up, a tense boss fight, the very real possibility of a character approaching virtual death (which actually kills you in the real world), and a faint promise of yet another adventure in the near future.

There is nothing inherently problematic with the tropes that Scherzo of Deep Night imbues within its core. When done well and supported by well-written characters, even the most by-the-book plotlines soar above their expected limitations. However, this is not the case here. Not only does the film fail to pace itself competently enough to resemble a cohesive journey, but it also fails one of the most well-rounded characters in the SOA universe.

I’m talking about Asuna, who, otherwise known as a competent fencer and layered protagonist, is almost unrecognizable in this installation of the saga. While Aria of A Starless Night allowed Asuna to bloom, Scherzo of Deep Night relegates her back to a bland, underwhelming character archetype, which undoes all the progressive strides taken by the previous film.

The Asuna problem is not the sole critique of this film, but it definitely sours a chunk of the storyline. Although Asuna has been portrayed as someone who needs saving in early SOA episodes, the series has been steadily moving away from that tired trope, edging closer to a complex, capable character who can hold her own in the most intense battle scenarios.

Here, Asuna’s personality changes like the elements — at one moment, she is utterly scared of ghosts, failing to clock obvious threats (despite having a history of fighting fierce bosses before), and in the other, she is deft with her strategies and pushes herself to achieve extremes. The schism is disorienting.

Moreover, Asuna’s relationship with Kirito seems to have been played up for either comedic or melodramatic effects. When not rambling about loot whilst drunk silly, she fawns over the beta tester and offers him words of adulation and encouragement. There is nothing wrong with expressing adoration for someone you like. However, the way these scenes evolve leaves an unnatural tint in a film that already drags into a climax that overstays its welcome. The results are dull and exhausting, and as an SOA fan, it is frankly disappointing.

As for newcomers to the series, the events of Scherzo of Deep Night might feel confusing, as it is a film made exclusively for those who already have an insight into its world-building and mechanics. Once you have a grasp of the basic tenets that its world rests on, the awkwardness of the narrative structure is bound to exhaust even the most patient viewers, especially the last 15 minutes or so, which only manages to set up the next set of events to follow clumsily.

Rare highlights include the frayed relations between Asuna and Mito and the final boss fight that incorporates some clever battle mechanics, which might pull viewers into a more rewarding experience. The rest, however, is as bland as the side-quests and one-on-one conversations that pepper this sequel, failing to grant any real insight into who these characters truly are.

By the time they manage to clear out the final level, there might be few left to witness the legendary loot or the enormous pay-offs of such a feat.

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Sword Art Online the Movie: Progressive – Scherzo of Deep Night (2023) Movie Links – IMDb
Sword Art Online the Movie: Progressive – Scherzo of Deep Night (2023) Movie Voice Cast – Haruka Tomatsu, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Shiori Izawa
Where to watch Sword Art Online the Movie - Progressive- Scherzo of Deep Night

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