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Well, here we are back again with the Sword Art Online Progressive films. Well, you would hope with sequels that they would improve, build upon, and make up for any faults or flaws that the original had, or find a creative way to continue the story from the original film. That sadly isn’t always the case, as we have found out, with the retreads that don’t do enough to be worthy of following up the first film. A lot of anime franchise films have that issue due to a multitude of reasons, and it’s a shame because some have moments of greatness, but then feel like they were made because the first one made money. Of course, when a film hits it big, studios want to capitalize on it with similar experiences or follow-ups, but when you don’t take the time to take in why the original film was a success, then all you will be doing is hurting the original. Not that the original is going anywhere, but it’s more metaphorically hurting the original. With Sword Art Online, the least you can do is be better than the main original series, and with the Progressive films seeing how successful the Evangelion Rebuild films were, you know that they want to follow in that vein, but appeal to fans of the original series while also catering to new ones. Hopefully, with all that synergy, they will go out and check out the first film or the original show, and buy the blu-rays, games, soundtracks, and what have you. So, where does this new film land after following up the last one?
Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night is directed by Ayako Kono, written by Yukito Kizawa, produced by A-1 Pictures, and distributed by Crunchyroll and Aniplex. We follow our gamer couple Kirito and Asuna as a month has passed since the first film’s story ended. We see them teaming up with another player named Argo, dubbed by Kimberly Ann Campbell. On top of trying to start and build up a thriving community among the players, they get caught up in a conflict caused by two guilds who want to take on the next raid floor to get a special item. With the future of the game’s world and players in the hands of what or who takes down the next boss, it is up to our two leads to stop a war from breaking out and also deal with a handful of players who get their kicks by killing other players. As a reminder, if you die in the game, you die in real life.
Let’s get this out of the way first, this film does skip over Argo’s real introduction to the story after the last film teased their arrival from the last film. It’s underwhelming that for newcomers, it’s a bit jarring to see them interacting with this new character who has some ties with our male lead, who we haven’t been properly introduced to, and yet the film isn’t really interested in that. This is all about Asuna’s side of the story, but they set the story to a point that’s already set them up as friends with this individual. It’s like I missed an entire film or short that showed our characters meeting this new individual and how she just vanishes right after they beat the main threat of this film’s story, the boss on the 5th level. What’s frustrating is that the film creates some rather fascinating and interesting story beats that include the budding beginning of building a society of peace where all the players help one another and don’t try to kill one another. Obviously there are hiccups, and for some moments, the film does follow through with wanting those beats to be the focus of the story. It also introduces the element of how some MMOs have players who take joy in being player killers, but that doesn’t fully come back until the end as well. It’s pretty much the final conflict in the last 10 minutes of the film, and will be foreshadowing for future events. It’s a very lopsided story that doesn’t feel satisfying to be a part of, and the fact the film repeats not only moments from the original story but also the last film, it makes for a real downer of a journey into this popular franchise’s world.
Now, they do have some good story beats. It’s not all just squandered and missed opportunities. For once, while still having to pop up as the secondary lead, Kirito is not the focus of the story as it puts Asuna more in the spotlight. Her moments when she reunites with her ex best friend and her bonding time with Argo are the best parts of the movie. It really does show how much better this franchise would have been if she was the lead and not the template for boring male protagonists for franchises to come. Once again, A-1 Pictures put in the budget for the action sequences, and while I was not really on the same level as the story wanted me to be, the action sequences are well executed, thrilling, and show off some fun spectacle. The animation overall is still pretty good in general, even if it just looks like a more polished version of the original show. They do combine the CGI elements well with the 2D assets and they feel cohesive. That is very hard to pull off unless you have a team that knows exactly what they are doing with the compositing, and making the overall visuals look good on the same screen. The voice cast is as good as expected with Bryce Papenbrook and Cherami leigh reprising their roles of the iconic duo from the franchise. We also get Derek Stephen Prince, Patrick Seitz, Arnairis Quinones, Howard Wang, Amanda lee, Bill Butts, AJ Beckles, Xander Mobus, Alejandro Saab, Yong Yea, Griffin Puatu, and as already mentioned Kimberly Ann Campbell. The music is once again great as it brings this fun celtic Dot Hack vibe to the overall world and it’s all thanks to Yuki Kajiura who also composed music for Fena Pirate princess, The Case Study of Vanitas, Erased to name a few shows they worked on.
With this new sequel repeating similar story beats from the last film, still continuing to readapt certain tiring story beats and aspects from the anime, skipping entire story beats just to get to a certain point, and truly falling flat in terms of overall satisfying storytelling with the obvious catch that there will be a new one coming out soon, Scherzo of Deep Night falls flat as a follow-up. It makes you wonder why they couldn’t have just rebuilt everything from the ground up instead of just retreading tracks, but with a slightly different paint job. It shows the faults of readapting a first season’s storyline that wasn’t all that great or lacks great storytelling when you are willing to skip over more possibly interesting story beats. Like, yeah, fans of this franchise will love this film, but most fans aren’t thinking critically about the shows/films they are partaking in. They just want to see more media from their favorite franchises, and that’s fine, but after a bit it gets tiring to just see something made for a fanbase that isn’t looking for something better. Maybe they are, and maybe they will agree with this review and others calling out this franchise’s faulty storytelling, but at one point, they should be taking this opportunity of being able to retell the storyline that will sooner or later hit some rather problematic points and just give it something new. I mean, the only reason this film series is getting made is because of the popularity and financial success Evangelion had with the Rebuild Films. If you love the franchise and just want to see more of the same, then so be it. Go check this film out if you want to, and I hope you have a good time! Otherwise, hopefully Crunchyroll or GKIDS will bring over that First Slam Dunk or Blue Giant film or some other interesting Japanese-animated fare that we all should be watching. Now then, next time, we will be tackling something. Not entirely sure what will be written first, but we will be talking about animation once more.