The second film in the new Sword Art Online Progressive anime franchise, Scherzo of Deep Night adapts the fourth book in Reki Kawahara’s spin-off series from the original Sword Art Online series. For a bit of context, the original light novel of Sword Art Online was submitted to a competition but this meant it needed to have an ending so the plot had quite a few time skips to compensate for this. However later on Reki decided to create a new series focusing on each floor more in-depth to bridge the plot of the gaps of time skips. It isn’t strictly a reboot, but more of a supplement to the original series. This leaves the question about whether Scherzo of Deep Night is worth another dive into Aincrad?
Sword Art Online revolves around a VR MMORPG of the same name, where an advanced VR headset allows a player to sense and feel as if the game takes place in the real world. However, Akihiko Kayaba the creator of the game, disabled the logout button forcing players to stay in the game until the players collectively conquer all 100 floors of the mysterious floating castle Aincrad. If that wasn’t enough, if a player dies in the game, the VR headset kills the player in real life. The first film Aria of a Starless Night depicts Asuna’s story through the first floor, ending on the players reaching the second floor.
Scherzo of Deep Night opens on the boss battle of the fourth floor, the story picks up from the players reaching the fifth floor. Kirito and Asuna set out on a relic hunt in the town on the fifth floor, leading into the crypt below the city. However, the duo find more than they bargained for, learning of a plot to turn the two main guilds against each other. The pair take it upon themselves to keep the peace and prevent the guilds from turning on each other.
It feels strange that it jumps a few floors after the first film deals with only the first floor and the idea of the Progressive series is to deal with each floor of Aincrad. Where it isn’t overly an issue, one line acts as a hint towards a particular event happening on a different floor which makes a viewer feel like they have missed something. Although it does reference the plot of a book they haven’t adapted into a film so works for the reader of the Progressive series. Although it is a sign of how loyally it adapts the book, compared to the first film which opts to adapt the manga instead and added a new character Mito (who does return in this film as well). Despite this, if someone hasn’t watched the first film there is enough explanation and recap for a viewer to follow along with the plot, particularly if they are familiar with the main Sword Art Online series whilst not being too much for someone who had watched Aria of a Starless Night.
Despite this time jump, the passing of time is clear in the way the characters are presented. Particularly as it focuses on characters on the front lines who carry themselves with confidence as they have come to terms with the death game, and deals with the different political ideas of the guilds about beating the game. As the first film deals with the direct threat of the game it is an interesting twist of the danger now coming from other players. Not only this Kirito and Asuna’s relationship has shown more growth as they appear more equal than in the first film as well as more relaxed in each other’s company. Not only does this more focused plot give more time to show growth of the characters, it also gives more light to Argo, a side character in the original series which didn’t explore her character much who is expanded a lot more in this film alone compared to the original series.
Arguably it may condense too much into one film, it generally works to capture a balance of players starting to enjoy the game and the ultimate risks which are clearly highlighted in the first film. Removing the fourth floor boss fight from the opening scene and having it start straight on the meal would have freed up some time to flesh out some of the fight scenes later on, particularly as the only substantial one is the boss fight. The risk of death isn’t as present as it is in the first Progressive film which made it more impactful. Although this is an issue with the timeskip as they have conquered three floors since we last saw them. Ultimately they should have adapted the 2nd half of the first book to show the progression clearer and keep to the point of the Progressive book series.
Scherzo of Deep Night is animated by A-1 Pictures who deliver high quality animation as to be expected by a studio of their level. Between vibrant colours (despite a significant portion happening at night or in caves) and smooth movement, it is a joy to observe. Something that is maintained in the action scenes which are dynamic, with fluid combos and interesting angles to keep the viewer on edge. There is the odd bit of 3-D animation that usually feels incredibly out of place when it appears, yet it works for the floor boss to create a distinction between it and the players. It is the only time it appears where it also feels necessary as the other times it feels like 2D would have worked just fine but they wanted to show off 3D for some reason. Still a real highlight animation wise is the sword skills which place a light effect on the weapons as the players activate it, having a firework appeal and contrast well with the darker settings. Given the movie animation, it is a lot more vivid than the series, giving it a stronger impact as it is one of the key characteristics of the original anime.
Supporting the animation is the soundtrack, a blend of instrumentals from the original series, some with new remixes, and a few original pieces. Each piece works incredibly well to enhance the emotion of the scene, with enough familiarity for a fan of the previous anime to create that nostalgia and consistency of the franchise. It is also quite varied in a composition sense as some have a more classic orchestral sound to match the fantasy world outlook, others drive on a more electronic sound to represent the computer game elements. Through and through it is masterfully put together for the film.
The last thing left to discuss is the voice acting, which unsurprisingly is also great. The cast reprise their roles, and most have been doing these roles for 10 years now. This includes those who only had a couple of lines in the original, as their characters have more screen time to showcase their voices more than in the previous anime series. All the characters speak with more confidence, reflecting the writing of how they are overcoming the death game and determined to defeat all the floors of Aincrad. It is easily overlooked but it truly is the element which helps carry the timeskip more than anything else.
All in all, Sword Art Online Progressive Scherzo of Deep Night is a solid film and worth a watch for old and potential fans alike. It helps fix the overly fast pace of the original anime, although does feel like a jump from the first film glancing over some events between the second and fifth floor, yet the progression of time is clear in the way the character’s development and voice acting. The plot has a more thriller element as it revolves around players creating danger over the game itself, where it may cramp too much in, it works well to show players starting to enjoy the game whilst the permanent risk of death lingers in the air. This is all rounded off by the high quality animation and great soundtrack. If you like anime, this is definitely worth a watch but hopefully they go back and adapt the events of the second floor to have a stronger sense of progression.