The following review contains spoilers for the first season of Sword Art Online and the Sword Art Online Progressive: Aria of a Starless Night Review movie.
Jumping Into Sword Art Online
When I tell you I was LATE on the Sword Art Online train, believe me, I was very late. I watched Sword Art Online in 2018, which was already 6 years after it initially aired. I actually really enjoyed the first half of the first season. It was exciting to see Kirito and Asuna make it out of the first game, only to discover that there was a second game.
Now if you know me, you know I’m good for a 12 episode anime. Give me the issue, let’s resolve it, and move on! When I learned that they had to go back into a SECOND game to rescue Asuna, I checked all the way out. I didn’t even give it a try nor did I ever return to anything SAO-related ever again.
At the beginning of this year, when I was writing for CBR, I wrote a listicle of 2021 anime movies and it featured the Sword Art Online Progressive movie. When I wrote SAO’s entry, I was kind of excited about this movie because I learned that it featured the timeline of the first game, from the perspective of Asuna. I loved Asuna and Kirito so I was thinking it would be awesome to see everything, especially them two falling for each other, from her eyes.
As we know, time absolutely flies, and with so many things, I completely forgot about the SAO movie or that I ever wanted to see it. Being the movie junkie that I am, I do love an excuse to go to the theaters to watch an anime movie so when I learned this movie was airing near me, I made up my mind to go watch it. I planned a solo date night and watched it last night.
Sword Art Online Progressive
Sword Art Online Progressive: Aria of a Starless Night stars Cherami Leigh and Bryce Papenbrook reprising their roles of Asuna and Kirito and introduces Anairis Quiñones as Misumi/Mito (former The Wonder of Anime podcast guest.)
In this retelling of the original anime, we follow Asuna in logging into Sword Art Online at the recommendation of her friend, Misumi. Asuna, who seems to be a novice at video games, logs in with everyone else on November 6 using her brother’s NERV device. As she has no idea what she’s doing, she finds Misumi, who goes as Mito online, and follows her around the town. As Asuna is about to log off, she realizes she can’t and then is informed along with everyone else no one can log out of SOA.
I really appreciated Asuna’s view on this because as I remember from the SOA anime, Kirito was a beta tester so while he’s scared, he immediately gets into action to clear the levels. Asuna is a complete newbie in this world and doesn’t know what to do. We get to see firsthand the anxiety and despair she feels thinking she’s going to die in the game. Luckily, Mito is by her side to calm her down and they devise a plan to make it through the game.
The Girls Steal the Show
While the girls were already friends outside of SOA, their bond truly grows inside of the game. Since Mito is an experienced player, she promises Asuna that she will always be there to protect her. Mito coaches Asuna in powering up and teaches her the ropes of SAO.
As a watcher of the anime, I’m a huge AsunaxKirito shipper but in this movie, the friendship between Asuna and Mito takes center stage and I am here for it. Mito and Asuna realize that they both want to get out of the game and the only way to do so is together. I love that Mito was a beta tester and she’s shown in all her strong glory. I also love how Asuna starts of as weak but works hard to progress and get stronger.
A central point to the movie is Asuna and Mito splitting up, which allows Asuna to encounter Kirito. As we viewers know, when Asuna and Mito were surrounded by the Victreebel pokemon looking monsters, Mito falls off a cliff and tries multiple times to return to Asuna. However, as Mito sees Asuna’s HP fall, she removes herself from the party and assumes Asuna has died. Asuna assumes Mito has just abandoned her and is miraculously saved by Kirito.
In the movie, we are really shown how Asuna is dealing with losing Mito. She is very depressed and even dreams about reuniting with Mito. However, she decides she can’t mope around forever and decides to get stronger to get out of the game. This to me was such a beautiful sentiment to show. Friendship breakups hurt just as much as (and even sometimes more than) romantic relationships.
Asuna feels abandoned and the story makes it a huge point to showcase this. This also affects Asuna’s budding friendship with Kirito, as she is hesitant to trust him for fear of being abandoned again. When Asuna later comes across Mito, they work together with Kirito to defeat the final boss. Asuna seems to forgive Mito but ultimately chooses to continue the game with Kirito.
Should They Just Make Up
I walked into SOA expecting to just see a cool movie with fighting scenes and ended up walking out of the theater with so many thoughts about friendships and relationships in general. I think SOA did a great job of portraying a female friendship that was as fulfilling as a romantic one. Both Mito and Asuna leaned on each other for comfort, joy, and safety during their days in SOA. While they unfortunately separated and a misunderstand serrated their bond, it still very much meant a lot to both of them.
As I’m anime only, I am partially hoping Mito and Asuna can be friends again down the road of SOA. I am also realistic in understanding that the pain they both felt is heavy and sometimes as much as we love someone and we understand why the harm was caused, it doesn’t mean things can go back to the way they were. I have complicated feelings which I may need to revisit at another time.