Sword Art Online: Progressive – Aria of a Starless Night, the newest installment in the SAO franchise, hit Japanese theatres on October 30th after an extensive promotional campaign. The new movie adapts Progressive light novels – a spin-off of sorts that tells the story of SAO’s first arc, but from Asuna’s point of view. However, the difference is that this series will cover the entirety of the Aincrad arc, unlike the original.
The movie takes the story a bit further while changing some things. The light novels do include Asuna’s SAO beginnings, but they also alternate between her and Kirito. The movie mainly focuses on Asuna and also includes a whole new anime original character – Mito.
Overall Production Quality
A-1 Pictures animated the movie, and it’s pretty much what the fans are used to when it comes to SAO. Top-tier animation and some breathtaking fighting scenes, complete with the character designs we’re all used to. This was the directorial debut for Ayako Kouno, who previously worked as assistant director on Studio WIT’s After the Rain. Kento Toya (character designer for Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld) did character designs for the movie. Yusa Itou was the art director, while Yuki Kajiura composed the music. Of course, Kajiura has been with the franchise since the very first season of the anime, and hearing Swordland throughout the movie was truly nostalgic. The theme song for the movie Yuke by LiSA has been very hyped since the release and it was great hearing LiSA in another SAO project.
The main cast reprised their roles. Haruka Tomatsu and Yoshitsugu Matsuoka are already a well-known duo, but this time Inorise Minase is joining them as Mito. It’s worth noting that Aniplex of America is releasing the movie in a dubbed version, in which Cherami Leigh and Bryce Papenbrook voice Asuna and Kirito, with Anairis Quiñones as Mito.
Story and Characters
First off, let’s start with some basics for new fans. Can you watch this movie without having seen the original series? Yes. Should you? Probably not. And this is why: While the story does start from the very beginning of SAO, you will still be missing some chunks. Light novels solved this by including Kirito’s point of view as well, but the movie mainly focuses on Asuna, so while you essentially won’t know what you missed any seasoned SAO fan will recommend the Aincrad arc first. And as far as the series goes, those first 12 episodes were truly magical.
There are some deviations from the light novels – such as the lack of Argo the Rat. Since we have no idea what Kirito did before he met Asuna we don’t really get to see what happens on his end, which of course, means that a lot of side characters simply haven’t been introduced properly. Mito’s contributions are also important, especially in the first half of the movie. But, more on that later.
This May Be a Game, But It’s Not Something You Play
Sword Art Online franchise has always been full of ups and downs. But, one thing it never lacked were impactful ideas, which may or may not have been well executed. A death game might not be too original, but SAO was always entertaining and fairly plausible. Akihiko Kayaba’s intentions may have been psychotic, but he does manage to create a whole new world with a different set of rules. And all these different people are simply stuck in it.
As players settle in, internal conflict arises. The movie takes the time to explore the BETA testers vs newbies situation, even though it skips over some moments from the source material. Despair, fighting but also the will to survive are all the very base SAO world was formed on. Although beautiful, it’s very difficult for players to take the time and enjoy it. But, as time progresses new bonds form and small things become joyful.
Asuna in Spotlight for Once
Making this movie about Asuna brings a whole new dimension to the SAO world. We get to see a completely different side of her, which is far from what the main series focused on. She’s been in Kirito’s shadow for the most part, even though she is very capable. From her family life to her relationship with classmates, Mito, and then later Kirito – we get to see a new side of her. This isn’t Asuna who is the second-best player. Nor the Asuna who is a supportive girlfriend who cheers Kirito on while in a bath. This Asuna is scared, hurt, and determined. Once the initial shock wears off she becomes reckless. And this is how Kirito finds her.
One thing that stood out in all this was Mito’s role in Asuna’s survival. Once again we have Asuna heavily relying on someone else, even though she is perfectly capable of surviving on her own and figuring things out. That doesn’t last too long but is another way of making Asuna dependant on someone else, which again, she really doesn’t need to be doing.
Asuna’s motivation to even start playing SAO was also explored. We see bits of her relationship with her mother in the Mother’s Rosario, but the movie gives it a bit more background. Always forced to be perfect by her mother and neglected by her busy father, Asuna’s only ally is her brother. Sadly, he had a similar upbringing and now as a successful adult, he is often away, leaving his sister to fend for herself. It is actually Asuna’s classmate who tells her about the game, but Asuna doesn’t think twice about getting it. However, the loneliness and pressure collide and after finding the gear in her brother’s room Asuna ends up using it.
A Different Side of Kirito
Kirito takes a back seat in the Sword Art Online: Progressive – Aria of a Starless Night, but the relationship between him and Asuna has always been an essential part of what made SAO good. Meeting Kirito and learning about him through Asuna kind of gives off a different vibe. The plot armor is still there, to an extent, but the self-confident, slightly cheeky Kirito is gone. Instead, we get to see the guilt-ridden side of him, as he struggles to adapt to the new world. But, after all, it is Kirito that changes Asuna’s mind on BETA testers, so he is probably managing to pull it off just fine.
Overall, the movie manages to make him a bit more… human. He is just a kid, and he is also scared, even though he is doing his best to hide it. It will be interesting to see how things develop in the sequel and if he gets a bit more air time.
Mito – Did Aria of a Starless Night Need Her?
A lot of the movie’s marketing revolved around Mito. She is in the trailers, posters, and other promotional material, so obviously it made sense that she would play an important role. But, it didn’t really work out that well. Don’t get me wrong, in a way she did a lot for Asuna. Misumi Tozawa – Mito was the one who got Asuna into SAO in the first place. She is also one of the BETA testers who met Kirito before. But, her whole character just falls flat.
The first half of the movie focused on Mito and her relationship with Asuna and tried to make way for her to fit into the story seamlessly. And it worked, for a while anyway. Mito’s actions were the motivation behind Asuna and some of the decisions she makes later on, but as the story progresses Mito loses importance. She doesn’t really interact with anyone outside of Asuna. By the end of the movie, she’s basically third-wheeling, and it becomes obvious that the story would still be the same without her there.
Final Thoughts on Sword Art Online: Progressive – Aria of a Starless Night
Sword Art Online: Progressive – Aria of a Starless Night is overall a decent movie, but also one that will do better with existing fans of the franchise. It can serve as an introduction but you really should take the time to watch the first half of season 1. That said, this movie obviously isn’t marketed towards new fans, much like the Progressive light novels themselves. Aria of a Starless Night makes a good addition to the highly-popular franchise, and it works decently well in movie format. If this becomes a series, and it probably will since the sequel was announced in November, it will be interesting to see where it goes. It’s a bit of a shame that it didn’t get released in a TV anime format, simply because there would be more time to adapt everything. However, the movie did meet expectations.
The sequel is titled Sword Art Online: Progressive – Scherzo of Deep Night, and if it follows the source material fully we might even get a time-skip. But that is still far off, as it is coming in 2022.
Disclaimer: Anime Corner News received a screening copy of Sword Art Online: Progressive – Aria of a Starless Night in exchange for an honest review. Funimation is screening the movie in North America from December 3rd.