Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night Review

Is this a worthwhile expansion on the SAO retelling?

by J.R. Waugh
Sword Art Online Progressive Scherzo of Deep Night Poster

Sword Art Online captivated lots of fans a decade ago with its engaging and approachable premise. Fans of a Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (VRMMORPG) find themselves trapped inside. To make matters worse, that fear escalated when they learned that they had to navigate the game world to escape, and dying in-game meant actual death for their physical bodies. Sword Art Online Progressive retells this more from the main character Asuna’s point of view, and Scherzo of Deep Night is the second film in this retelling, with some fascinating portrayals of its principal cast.

What’s the Story of Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night?

Image: Aniplex

This film follows Asuna and her friend Kirito as they continue their adventures through Aincrad, the virtual world of Sword Art Online, taking place in 2022. It’s a slow journey, with them making more friends along the way. Asuna is on level ground with Kirito, they’re conquering Floor bosses, and even resolve to hunt some relics, while wanting to push to Floor 6 of Aincrad by the New Year.

Throughout the story, they encounter monsters, bosses, and darker threats, with Player Killers (PKs) out to hinder the progress of these adventurers. In many ways, it’s a prolonged retelling of the original SAO, but a welcome one with focus given to a great protagonist.

Love Can Bloom on the Battlefield

Image: Aniplex

Given how many fans know about Kirito and Asuna’s relationship, it should come as no surprise that part of this film focuses on how they fall for each other. It’s not all at once, with Progressive being an extended adaptation of the Aincrad arc, but as a result, we see a more genuine connection made between them.

Beyond Kirito showing Asuna the beautiful potential of the world and wonderful foods that can be experienced in Aria of a Starless Night, Scherzo allows Asuna to let her guard down further. They stick together despite Kirito taking pride in being a solo player, and, it’s shrewdly pointed out by the supporting character Argo (the cloaked girl at the end of the previous film) that he joins these raids because of Asuna. Their romantic tension isn’t overwhelming, but it grows over time and is quite charming.

They’ve been through a lot in their months working together, and Asuna is finally allowing herself to be comfortable around allies after the traumatic separation from Mito in the previous film. By the end, there’s a moment that’s truly touching, where Kirito continues to shoulder the beratement by his team, resentful of his past as a beta tester, and Asuna speaks up powerfully. She speaks of how she is going to show him the appreciation and affection that he deserves for his work, which nobody else seems to give.

It warms the heart that they grow their bond throughout this film, without rushing to be together by sheer virtue of shared trauma or prolonged time in each other’s company.

Asuna Shines as the Protagonist

Image: A-1 Pictures

Yuuki Asuna, known simply as Asuna in the game, has had a great deal of exposure to her character arc over the last 2 films. She was a timid swordfighter when Mito took her under her wing, but out of necessity and determination, she became a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield. By the time of Sword Art Online: Scherzo of Deep Night, she still has her demons but faces them in an interesting fashion.

Asuna is an endearing character in this film who, despite sentimentality being typically the doom of many before her, enabled her to keep her priorities straight. When she lost a memento of a dear friend and got overwhelmed at first by how she was suddenly lost and alone, instead of waiting for her rescue, she took action, collecting herself and hatching a plan.

It all paid off, too, because retrieving that item proved to Kirito how much this person meant to Asuna, allowing her to win over her allies in the process. Asuna’s strength comes in how, despite being trapped in this death game, she still loves and cares for her friends, this showcases her character so much better than if the movie was just more about her love story with Kirito.

The Visuals

Image: Aniplex

Sword Art Online has always been a visually pleasing anime. It’s not the most groundbreaking in terms of animation or flashy with its designs, but it is undeniably robust. This film feels more like an extended episode of the anime from a visual standpoint, with better lighting, but with a familiar feel, such as in battles and the in-game UI features.

There are a few standouts, such as the series’ usual handling of delicious-looking food, usually an easy draw for anime viewers. You’ll seriously crave a blue-blueberry tart after watching them take one bite. Another standout is the battles, with numerous fights happening where characters don’t only exchange blows. There’s a careful examination of the enemy’s weak points, and when characters are hurt, it carries weight, speaking to how well it’s put to the screen. The final boss fight is particularly visually pleasing, but we won’t spoil anything beyond that.

The Sound

Image: Aniplex

There’s something about anime and games taking place in a fantasy setting that uses peculiar blends of modern beats along with orchestral vibes, and we’re here for it. The energy of given moments is rendered well, with pulse-pounding beats making boss fights feel exciting to observe. Music has a strange way of drawing you into the moment, and SAO capitalizes on that.

The Issues

With an anime that brings in numerous supporting characters and returning cast, sometimes it feels like they’re underused. Argo was compelling and fun as a character, but too often it was just more of Kirito and Asuna. While this was more or less fine, Kirito’s a good character, Argo was given multiple important roles, including information broker and essentially a game guide writer, a lifeline for a world where if you lose, you die.

There’s also the matter of fanservice. There’s a particular scene where two key female characters are in the bath, in bathing suits, and end up sparring together using produce. It feels like a Beach Episode trope mixed with suggestive weaponry, and it’d at least have been amusing if one of the veggies used was a giant leek as a sword, to evoke a little Farfetch’d imagery. But that’s probably asking too much. Even if that fun little bit was added, it felt like padding regardless, just a tad excessive.

The Verdict

Image: A-1 Pictures

Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night is a competent, endearing installment in Asuna’s story from the Aincrad arc. While it won’t blow any minds visually, it doesn’t feel too much like it’s treading old ground like the previous film was. The film’s high points included expanding on Asuna’s wonderful character, and presenting fun interactions with Argo, Mito, and Kirito while keeping the lattermost as a deuteragonist, which did this story a favor.

That being said, simply being feature-length is not enough for a story to feel more like a movie than a long TV episode. This is a problem shared by Star Trek and many other franchises across multiple genres. Despite the movie having good animation and some striking visuals, it’ll have to up its ante because even just modern anime TV shows have taken massive strides compared to this.

Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night releases in North American theaters on February 3, 2023.

This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.

- This article was updated on January 30th, 2023


  • Score: 3.5 / 5
  • Available On: Theaters
  • Published By: Aniplex, Sony
  • Developed By: A-1 Pictures
  • Genre: Anime
  • US Release Date: February 3, 2023
  • Reviewed On: Screener provided by Crunchy Roll and Sony Pictures
  • Quote: "Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night is a competent, endearing installment in Asuna's story from the Aincrad arc. While it won't blow any minds visually, it doesn't feel too much like it's treading old ground like the previous film was."
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