Sword Art Online’s become increasingly intimidating over the years. There’s the original light novels, anime adaptations, and games. There are the additional arcs and storylines, which take the series characters into VR MMOs and experiences like ALfheim Online, Gun Gale Online, and Project Alicization. It’s a lot. Sword Art Online Progressive: Aria of a Starless Night is a movie that takes things back to the beginning. Because it does that and does so with Asuna as the focal point, rather than Kirito,
This Sword Art Online movie begins as the original beta test is ending. We see two characters, one familiar and one not, tackling a boss in its final moments. So right away, the film is establishing how challenging the game could be. Once it ends, an advertisement airs in the real world. Asuna Yuuki is there to see it.
From there, Sword Art Online Progressive takes its time establishing Asuna and what her life is like. It explains why the MMORPG might be attractive to her. She’s a driven overachiever. Her mother is constantly demanding more. Her family decided she’s going to apply for a college prep school, rather than attend the same high school as her friends. She excels at sports. She’s in the top 10 in her class after exams. There are these constant expectations and demands. Even though her father doesn’t seem to apply the same pressure and her brother shows sympathy for her.
But there’s one person who Asuna seems to be able to relax around. It is Misumi Tozawa, a young woman who is first in their class. Asuna is all of these exceptional things and beloved. But Misumi is also all those things, but alone. The two share a moment on the school’s roof playing a game. Misumi does her hair. She expresses concern about Asuna burning out. She suggests the two play Sword Art Online, the new NerveGear MMORPG we saw the beta for in the introduction, together. Asuna is being introduced to it just as we are. Even though her father is CEO, she’s as new to it as the viewer. Which makes it easier to adjust to things.
This also helps once this Sword Art Online movie takes us to Aincrad. After Asuna finds the NerveGear and game in her brother’s room when he’s on a trip, she tries it. She gets to essentially enjoy one normal afternoon with Misumi, who she learns plays a rogue in-game named Mito. But when it’s time to leave, she can’t. Mito checks her UI and sees her log out button is gone as well. It’s then that a forced teleport brings every player back to the hub. Akihiko Kayaba appears to confirm everyone is trapped. People can’t leave until they reach the 100th floor. If you die in the game, you die in real life.
What follows is an incredibly helpful and touching way to better understand Sword Art Online and one of its most beloved heroines. Asuna isn’t a gamer. Mito is. In their very first encounter outside of town, Asuna nearly dies. They commit to getting out and surviving together. Which means a montage that handily introduces everything. It not only helps us understand Sword Art Online. It helps viewers unfamiliar with MMOs or games in general comprehend what’s going on. We see them in encounters, both good and bad. We watch as they succeed. We see them falter.
It also means a greater understanding of other characters and situations. When Asuna meets Kirito, we see him in a different light. He’s established in a way that still displays his strength and kindness. But we’re also not as quickly introduced to more advanced concepts. So if someone isn’t as familiar, by the time he comes up they have that supportive knowledge.
I’d also have to say that this first Sword Art Online Progressive movie will help someone appreciate Asuna more. She’s become such an icon in the anime world that people might not understand why. Perhaps they might even consider her overrated. But this film showcases every side of her. We see her at her best and worse. Her flaws and insecurities are displayed. So are her finer points, like her ability to dedicate herself to a cause and loyalty to people who matter. She becomes someone we root for. It takes us through as she goes from a newbie to a player who can face a boss.
Everything comes together in a fantastic way. It’s handled in a manner where anyone can come in and enjoy Sword Art Online Progressive: Aria of a Starless Night. Asuna is identifiable and sympathetic, even though she’s sometimes sort of perfect. The world of Aincrad is introduced well. Both new and existing characters come together, and we see how they influence Asuna’s life. It’s an easily digestible introduction to one of anime’s most famous stories.
Sword Art Online Progressive: Aria of a Starless Night will appear in theaters in the United States and Canada on December 3, 2021. It will appear in Australia and New Zealand on December 9, 2021. It appeared in Japan back in October 2021. The next Sword Art Online Progressive movie will appear in Japan in 2022.