Sword Art Online
Aria Of A Starless Night
A return to greatness. Sword Art Online or SOA Progressive is a retelling of the 1st season of the 2012 Smash hit anime series. Where the first season focuses mainly on Kirito with a lot more world building and introductions to characters that you’re unsure if they’re important enough that you need to remember. SOA Progressive follows the story of Asuna Yuuki and her friend Misumi “Mito” Tozawa with our usual protag not making his official debut into the story until midway through. For a much trimmed down telling of the first arc of season one this film gave you all the key parts while putting more focus onto the harsh reality of survival at all cost.
We start off this movie in the real world (something not really touched much in the original series) with Asuna and Mito playing Tekken. A neat little touch that they showed the actual gameplay for this. We learn more about our newest addition to the series Mito and how she is an avid gamer and best friends with Asuna. Following the introductions we learn of the new hit gaming sensation Sword Art Online. A virtual reality MMORPG painted as this immersive fantasy world full of adventure, beautiful environments and combat mechanics so realistic you could die. Which turns out to be just the case. Just a few hours into their adventure the fun quickly turns to panic as the skies of Aincrad are bathed in a crimson and we are introduced to the creator of SOA Kayaba Akihiko who appears in the sky to deliver the disturbing realism of the game.He has removed the logout button leaving the players trapped and the game to be played as he always intended it to be, to the death with victory of the 100 floors of the game being the only way to escape. Playtime is over and the time to fight for your freedom from the virtual game of death has now begun.
What SOA Progressive does better than anything in the original show is the focus on realism, dread and the soul crushing reality of the situation. Players are quickly tasked to choose fight or flight as they come to terms with the severity of their new life. The film does an excellent job of progressing the growth of the characters as they begin to take up the fight against this virtual hellscape. With quick thinking and planning to level up before the floor one resource is exhausted our heroines have but one task in mind. Get stronger and wake from this nightmare. Throughout the film we see the characters bond level up along with their characters. They are a party of two that will stop at nothing to survive. Although the reality is not taken in as easily, as Mito’s gamer instincts immediately burst forward with the acceptance of what they must do Asuna is not yet hit with the full extent of this new reality until having watched players lose their lives while training in a dungeon. This is where the film’s subliminal plot of despair begins to really take shape.
The story progresses with our heroes gaining more confidence and understanding of the world. Until they are met by a fateful encounter where the choice of one puts the party at risk and the experience of another is tested as for the first time in their adventure death has come only a sword stroke away. As the warriors are separated both coming face to face with their demise we have the introduction to our original Protagonist Kirito who comes to the aid of Asuna both saving her life as well as displaying that he is a highly experienced player. I like to think this chance encounter serves another purpose. Despite all that Asuna has grown she is still very much outclassed by other players and enemies. This becomes an additional motivator for her to do all she can to become stronger and escape. With her party split and the fate of her friend left a mystery she immediately comes to terms with her new reality. She is alone in this unforgiving world.
As the days pass our heroes’ hope for survival begins to dwindle. Asuna spends most of the 2nd act of the film accepting this new life as she hears of the overwhelming number of players who have already fallen. Throwing herself into every obstacle in the pursuit of her freedom despite her exhaustion she refuses to let the game beat her. It is here at her lowest that she comes face to face once again with Kirito The mysterious and friendly swordsman who saved her life recently. From here on out the two form a much more organic bond of trust and friendship as Kirito tells her of the plan to take on the level one boss. As the lead up to the boss fight commences we begin to see really see Kirito’s effect on Asuna as she reluctantly joins a party with him for the upcoming battle.
The film wraps up in a flurry of beautifully animated action (around the same time as episode 3-4 of the original series) as our heroes take on the first Boss of Sword Art Online in hopes to ascend to Floor Two bringing them one step closer to exiting this hellscape. Throughout the course of the Final 3rd act of the film there are many reveals and revelations (Which I will not spoil as it’s worth experiencing firsthand) of the Players in the game and their motives. The final fight gives you a sense of adrenaline and anxiety as they are willfully unprepared, and the slightest wrong move could mean death. The movie ends through one of the most beautifully animated final battles I’ve seen in quite some time, all while showing Asuna’s development into a skilled warrior. Having just narrowly defeated floor one boss our heroes head out onto their next adventure on floor two. The battle may be over but the war to escape this nightmare has only just begun
Aria Of A Starless Night does an exceptional job of bringing Asuna to the leading role while still expanding on her relationship with Kirito as well as the growth of her character through hardship and determination. The film tackles some very heavy subject matter such as loss, depression and fear of death. With the grim reality of Sword Art Online always lingering in the front of their mind the characters are forced immediately to accept that the only escape is through victory and with the player count dwindling at an alarming rate there is no time to waste. SOA Progressive handles the series in a very refreshing way by having a more focused story and not a lot of odd time jumps; you are able to see the clear character development of the players. Something that the original anime had much issue with regarding the pacing of the story. This film is a must watch for fans of the series and those who are looking for the next anime movie series to jump into. The retelling of season one of the series is handled with such care and the animation is truly inspired making this one of my top contenders for anime movie of the year. I have left a few details of the story out of my review intentionally as the film is so well written to grow the characters through hardship and as well progress the overall story that I feel it’s be criminal to spoil such fine attention to detail. Especially when it comes to the trauma the players are facing. Sword Art Online Progressive Aria Of A Starless Night is a phenomenal anime experience that just gets it right. The story is strong, well written and the struggles the characters face really hits hard and sticks with you throughout the film. I look forward to following our heroes throughout their adventure through the beautiful and dangerous game of Sword Art Online.