Online trolls, squabblers and that scourge of MMORPG, player-killers, come in for a severe ticking-off in the snappily titled second film spin-off of the light novel, manga and TV anime Sword Art Online franchise. This aims to school teen gamers in online etiquette, but goes about it so sententiously it’s enough to send anyone scurrying for the dark web.
Scherzo of Deep Night’s lead pair of avatars, long-tressed fencer Asuna (voiced by Haruka Tomatsu) and big-fringed warrior Kirito (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka), are still trapped inside Sword Art Online, a D&D-style online role-playing game. They are solo adventurers, but find themselves caught up in the rivalry between two guilds that players can sign up to. When Asuna and Kirito get wind that one is planning to lay hands on an artefact that would allow them to wipe the other guild out, upsetting the cooperative spirit of the game, they decide to make a chancy, pre-emptive attack on the boss guarding it.
Other than the overarching moral about online mores, there is precious little ambition here beyond what feels like a clunky and redundant transposition of the videogaming experience. The dungeon-crawling Asuna and Kirito chase special weapons and discuss in-game status effects as if they were the Corleone succession in The Godfather. The battle animation has a fluid, pulse-spurring tempo but, with everything taking place inside the virtual realm, it feels like nothing of consequence is at stake. There are just a few fleeting glimpses of Asuna’s real life, and certainly nothing like the enlightening whirlpool of fantasy and reality in the recent Belle.
Perhaps this works for gamers, or within the context of the larger Sword Art Online mythos, but it seems a painfully rote instalment – a bit like being stuck watching a particularly garrulous and boring YouTube gamer.
• Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night is released in US and UK cinemas on 1 February.