Sword Art Online Progressive: Aria of a Starless Night Review

by: Gen/Esis

Many have asked for one thing out of the Sword Art Online franchise, that is, a deeper exploration of the original Aincrad arc and game. Due to many circumstances at the time, the arc ended up especially short considering the scope at which the premise introduced itself as.

With Sword Art Online Progressive: Aria of a Starless Night, the fans finally receive just that—or at least the start of it.

First off, as resident SAO expert, let me make a few things clear—Progressive as a series is not a retcon or a retelling of the original Aincrad story. Instead, Progressive is more of a companion piece that serves to bridge the gap between the time skips we got in the main series.

However, the movie, while adapting the first half of volume one, introduces elements to the story that render this adaptation, as far as we know, non-canon. So for those wondering how this movie fits into the overall story, just know that, well, it doesn’t. In this case, you can classify this movie as a retelling (Specifically of something that episode 2 of season 1 tried adapting). A “what-if” of sorts.

Well, anyway, that’s enough rambling from me. Let’s get to the review:

Let’s start off with the elephant in the room—the visuals.

A-1 once again outdoes itself by having phenomenal artwork and fluid animation that elevates every scene by ten.

Apart from the fight scenes, which we all expected to be great, the slow moments or even just the shots of the scenery are unlike anything we’ve seen out of Aincrad. This movie does its best to show off the beauty in this world of death. The fantastical scenery is only enhanced by the animation which, although not as good as, let’s say, Ordinal Scale (SAO’s last movie), does its job magnificently to hit every beat it aimed for.

But on top of that, we can’t forget about the score.

Yuki Kajiura is back working on the soundtrack for this movie, and once again, she’s proven herself to never miss.

While many of the tracks are the same as the original SAO series, they’ve all been remixed in a way that adds more depth to the tracks and sprinkled throughout the film to fully invoke emotion from the viewer. From the tense fight scenes to the nerve-wracking knocks at death’s door, Kajiura perfectly mixes a track that enhances the emotions of the scene—in no small part to the voice actors’ exceptional performances.

But now let’s get to the story:

This movie is practically an extended version of season 1, episode 2, taking place during the first month of the SAO incident. The difference here is that we get to see the events from a new lens. That is Asuna’s POV.

While it is a remake of that episode, this movie more closely follows the novel compared to the original episode, at least in some ways better than others. Because of that, we get a better look at the first floor and what it had to offer, while also getting a more accurate representation of how Kirito and Asuna met.

The only caveats are the anime original content, mainly, the newest character, Mito.

As an original character, not only does she serve her purpose in the story, but she’s also decently done. While not the best character of the franchise or anything, her motivation and outlook on the world are properly expressed through both her words and actions in a way that warrants her inclusion in the story while keeping her compelling.

She takes up a good chunk of the movie, being retconned into the story as Asuna’s friend and the reason she entered SAO in the first place. Their relationship feels tangible and wen the emotional beats hit, they hit. As a character (as far as we know) written by Reki Kawahara himself, she fits the story perfectly (Unlike other anime-original things in the main series he had no hand in which didn’t work).

While she is strong, she’s also flawed, which makes her character ever much better.

The only problem lies in what her existence means for the overall story of SAO. She has too big of a significance to just be tossed off to the side. Because of this, you can only see this movie as its own standalone thing, otherwise, a lot gets put into question for future parts of the series. (It especially doesn’t help that Kawahara has stated he won’t be including her in the novels)

Apart from that, she is a solid addition to the story.

The second half is more in line with the Aria of a Starless Night arc in the novels and, except for certain new scenes, is similar to the original episode 2. While still from Asuna’s perspective, they follow the beginning of Kirito and Asuna’s relationship and how together they get past the first floor.

Kirito’s characterization in this movie is probably the best it’s been since they started adapting the novels. While the original anime tried to portray Kirito as some cool guy and show him being badass or whatever, this movie doesn’t shy away from his awkward tendencies and antisocial nature. Of course, the anime can’t go into every single one of his thoughts, which most of his relatability comes from, but at least this movie attempts to portray that, and they do so flawlessly.

From an anime-only standpoint, there isn’t much here to complain about. Asuna’s character gets fleshed out more, the new original character is well done, Kirito is adapted much better than before, and the animation is a substantial upgrade from the original. As a movie, this is about as good as they could’ve made it.

It doesn’t feel like a movie-level spectacle, but this floor was never meant to feel that way. 

So, definitely, I’d recommend people to watch, especially for those who loved the Aincrad arc

Overall score: 8/10

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