‘Sword Art Online’ Season 3 Spoilers: ‘SAO Alicization’ Ending For Kirito And Asuna In Light Novel Points To A ‘Dragon Ball Super’-Like Spinoff And Underworld Fantasy Anime Sequel?

Want a happy ending for Kirito and Asuna in Sword Art Online Season 3 in 2017? After years of waiting on creator Reki Kawahara, the Sword Art Online: Alicization arc story finally finished in the SAO light novel series. Unfortunately, some anime fans may not be happy with the ending promised for Sword Art Online characters Kirito and Asuna.

While the SAO story is certainly epic, what we are essentially left with is a SAO reboot for Kirito and Asuna’s relationship in both a metaphorical and literal sense. In a shocking twist, Kawahara even ends SAO only to set up the premise for a fantasy sequel based upon the Cradle Of The Moon web novel and a science fiction spinoff that resembles Dragon Ball Super.

[Image by Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale Promotions]

Sword Art Online Season 3 Release Date

[UPDATE] SAO Season 3 was officially confirmed along with a new Gun Gale Online anime. The rest of this article remains as originally published.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right away. No one in the media knows for certain when the SAO Season 3 release date will be. We do know it’s true that the production company for the SAO English live action TV show just announced a producer/writer, but otherwise any article promising that the Sword Art Online air date for the Japanese anime may be in the fall of 2017 is just blowing smoke.

If anything, the official SAO content announced so far seems to be delaying the inevitable. The story for the video game Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization is set in an in-game reboot of Aincrad before the events of Sword Art Online: Alicization. Since it’s an action role-playing game based on a crossover, Accel World VS Sword Art Online: Millennium Twilight probably won’t move the main story forward very much. Some of the older SAO video games even create alternative universes based upon the main Sword Art Online timeline.

Even the Sword Art Online manga is going backward in time. The story events set in the first Aincrad were by far the most popular so Kawahara has been reinventing the story in the SAO manga. The Sword Art Online Progressive series is essentially a reboot which retells the beginning at a much slower pace.

The original SAO light novel had huge jumps in story time where many floors were skipped with nary a mention. SAO: Progressive has Kirito and Asuna developing as characters earlier on and fans get details about what happened in the daily life of each floor within the game world. Thus, the stories from SAO: Progressive are unlikely to be featured in Sword Art Online Season 3 unless they happen as flashbacks. This would not be that unusual since SAO Season 1 of the anime incorporated side stories that were published much later after the original light novel.

Sword Art Online Ordinal Scale Movie: Release Date Definitely In 2017

The release date for Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale is set for February 18, 2017 in Japan. Nothing official about the English dub cast for the SAO movie has been announced yet, although the U.S. premiere date for theaters is set for March 9, 2017.

From a story telling perspective, Kawahara has not left much room to squeeze in the plot for the movie. SAO: Ordinal Scale is apparently set mere weeks before SAO: Alicization based upon an interview with Reki Kawahara.

“As for the content, the pivotal aspect of Sword Art Online– that this is a story with Kirito and Asuna at its center – will be the same as always. Of course, highlights for the other characters will be prepared as well, thus I believe that the fans of the respective characters will have something to look forward to. This story is going to take place before the latest novel in chronological order. Because even I am not sure what the situation of the series’ world will be after the Alicization arc…… (laughs). There was also an idea to once again reboot the Aincrad arc from the first floor, but we were concerned whether that was what the audience wanted to see. As a result, it was decided to continue the story after the Mother’s Rosario arc.”

Mother’s Rosario was the ending of Sword Art Online Season 2 and it was set in early April of 2026 while the Alicization arc begins in June of 2026.

This is what is officially known about the SAO movie’s story so far.

“In 2026, a new machine called the Augma is developed to compete against the NerveGear and its successor, the Amusphere. A next-gen wearable device, the Augma doesn’t have a full-dive function like its predecessors. Instead, it uses Augmented Reality (AR) to get players into the game. It is safe, user-friendly and lets users play while they are conscious, making it an instant hit on the market. The most popular game on the system is ‘Ordinal Scale’ (aka: OS), an ARMMORPG developed exclusively for the Augma. Asuna and the gang have already been playing OS for a while, by the time Kirito decides to join them. They’re about to find out that Ordinal Scale isn’t all fun and games…”

SAO Season 2 never showed the characters using the Augma device even though Asuna was the primary character during Mother’s Rosario. The augmented reality tech is also not a major feature in SAO: Alicization so it’s safe to assume the movie is largely a side story that won’t dramatically affect the plot for Sword Art Online Season 3.

'Sword Art Online' Season 3 And 4 Spoilers: What Does 'Alicization' Mean For The SAO Season 3 Plot?
[Image via ASCII Media Works]

Sword Art Online Light Novel: The Ending For Kirito And Asuna Begins With Alicization

[Spoilers Warning: From hereon, this article will provide many SAO spoilers based upon the light novel story. If you have not finished reading SAO Volume 18, or do not want any details about the ending, you may want to skip this portion of the article.]

Earlier in 2016, Kawahara finally finished the SAO: Alicization story arc, giving us a clear picture of what SAO Season 3 may entail for anime fans. Previous articles from the Inquisitr have provided a synopsis for what Project Alicization is and how Kirito and Asuna were separated during much of the Underworld story, so this article won’t retread old ground. Instead, let’s focus on the overall picture of what happens in the real world.

In July of 2026, shortly after the events of the SAO movie, Kirito (or Kazuto Kirigaya as he’s known in real life) is working a day job by helping with a new type of Full Dive experiment at a company called Rath. Called the Soul Translator (STL), this new machine operates at a different time scale, with three days in the machine amounting to years of virtual time. Kirito spends these years in a new virtual game world called Underworld but he has his memories of this virtual experience blocked by Rath.

Back in the real world, Kirito is attacked and almost killed by an old foe from SAO Season 2. Doctors manage to save his life but he suffers brain damage and is left in a coma. Kazuto’s body is kidnapped by the Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) and transported to a secret base in the Pacific Ocean called Ocean Turtle. There, he’s treated for his brain damage, but in the meantime he’s dropped back into Underworld with his real world memories intact.

Most of the Alicization story focuses on Underworld events which take virtual years within the Soul Translator. Without getting into too many SAO spoilers, let’s just say there are empires at war and many AI souls at stake. The war within this virtual world overflows into the real world when one of the main characters, Gabriel, fools many VRMMO players from other countries to join the battle. In response, Kirito’s friends from ALfheim Online (ALO) convince thousands to help defend Underworld against the foreign players.

Meanwhile, Kirito’s girlfriend, Yuuki Asuna, spends weeks tracking him down. Ocean Turtle comes under physical attack, Kirito’s soul is “burnt” by an electrical surge, and Ocean Turtle’s nuclear reactor is in danger of blowing up. Asuna dives into Underworld to save Kirito and eventually the War of the Underworld ends. To put this war into perspective, near the end Gabriel has a hacker accelerate Underworld’s timescale to the point where five million seconds in Underworld are the equivalent to one second in reality.

Events in the real world culminate with the public revelation to the world that an AI world exists and that the government had been conspiring to develop AI-controlled war robots. The conspiracy does not end there. Higa Takeru, the chief developer of the Soul Translator, worked for two weeks to revive Kirito and Asuna in their physical bodies. When Kirito and Asuna awaken their real age is apparent in their eyes, having lived virtual centuries within Underworld. Kirito requests that Higa erase their memories of Underworld, but instead Higa makes a copy of Kirito’s 200-year-old soul.

Centuries pass in Underworld within real world seconds. This copy of Kirito lives on in Underworld and startles Higa with this cryptic message.

“I’d be known in Underworld as the Star King, just as Asuna would be known as the Star Queen. Kazuto and Asuna rediscovered all of Quinella’s secrets, used them, reforged the world, eliminated all barriers between civilizations, united the four kingdoms with the monsters living in the Dark Territories… And then conquered space itself.”

Before Higa has a chance to stop the AI, Star King uses the Internet to exit the Ocean Turtle lab and disappears somewhere into the United States. Without giving away any big SAO spoilers, Star King is trying to track someone down who believes the future of VR and Augmented Reality lies in America. This character had stopped Ocean Turtle’s nuclear reactor from exploding and was capable of using physical abilities similar to Accel World. Needless to say, this ending gives plenty of opportunities for plot development in a SAO sequel.

Sword Art Online Volume 18 Alice Asuna Kirito
Sparks fly when robot Alice tries to claim Kirito from Asuna. [Image by ASCII Media Works]

Sword Art Online: Kirito And Asuna’s Relationship Status Rebooted… Again!

Let’s get back to the real world Kirito and Asuna, shall we? Some anime fans may be frustrated since any character development related to the leading characters’ personal relationship has been at a standstill for years. The couple was married in the virtual world of Aincrad but once they were offline there was some distance to their relationship. SAO Season 2 even had Kirito surrounded by his waifu harem friends and more on-screen time was spent with Sinon than Asuna.

Much of SAO Season 3 will have Kirito separated both physically and emotionally from Asuna. Worse, Kirito develops a very close relationship with an AI named Alice Schuberg. Although the Alicization ending has the Star King wishing he’d been married to his Star Queen, the usage of the kanji hints that virtual Kirito may have had other wives and lovers… at the same time!

Needless to say, it’s probably good that real world Kirito and Asuna had their memories suppressed since their relationship needs a reboot. In fact, when they’re both back in Japan, Kirito laments that he remembers only fragments of Underworld, but Asuna quips that she doesn’t mind since Kirito was probably getting into trouble with women and running away all the time.

Their memories of Underworld are suppressed but not entirely forgotten. One memory in particular makes certain it’s never forgotten. The AI Alice manages to upload herself into a beautiful robot body complete with schoolgirl clothing (yes, really). What’s more, when Alice meets Kirito’s parents she treats them as if she were Kirito’s wife in the way she addresses them.

Sparks fly when Asuna sees Alice sitting behind Kirito and hugging him. Complete with popping veins on her forehead, Asuna throws down the gauntlet and promises to end the love feud ceasefire the two women had established in Underworld. Poor Kirito attempts to sneak away and the girls end up chasing him down.

The final ending to the story does not provide a resolution to Kirito and Asuna’s relationship, but it does open up new possibilities. The three main characters sneak into a Soul Translator and manage to hack into Underworld, which has experienced virtual centuries since Alice left. Emerging in space, they hover high over the planet and watch as a new day dawns on Underworld. Alice shouts that she is finally back.

Sword Art Online Volume 18
A pull out from Sword Art Online Volume 18 [Image by ASCII Image Works]

Sword Art Online: Cradle Of The Moon And A Possible SAO Spinoff?

What’s next after Alicization? It could be argued that SAO’s story is now focused on the journey, not the ending. In fact, Kawahara has been releasing many side stories and there’s even a web-published novel series set after the main events of the Alicization arc. Written as a standalone fantasy story, Cradle Of The Moon can be read without knowing any of the backstory from the anime or light novels, but it takes place in Underworld in the many-year gap before Kirito awakens in the real world.

The next scheduled release date for the SAO light novel series is February 10, 2017. It’s quite notable that it’s labeled as Sword Art Online Volume 19: Moon Cradle so it seems safe to assume Kawahara is merging the Cradle Of The Moon web novel into the light novel series. From a timeline perspective, the fantasy events which happen to the copy of Kirito apparently take place at the same time as the real world ending of the Alicization arc.

The shocking part is that Kawahara may intend on creating a SciFi Sword Art Online spinoff based upon a message which ends the web novel.

“The story ends here.

However, the battles of Kirito and Asuna,

Leafa and Sinon and others,

And Alice will be continued.

The next time they and their descendants,

Once again take up swords,

Was something that happened,

At the final, greatest battlefield:

‘The War of Intelligence Space.’

All Possibilities,

Right now is only at,

The other side of the Light,

Fluctuating slightly.

Only Fluctuating slightly.”

Kawahara has already published a prologue which is more science fiction in nature. The virtual copy of Kirito left Underworld with a prophecy saying that the doors to “Reality” would open, but in the meantime Underworld grows. About 30 years of virtual time after real world Kirito and Asuna left, the people of Underworld continue to explore space and even colonize planets.

With a seeming nod to Dragon Ball Super, Underworld has developed a Scouter device that can determine a creature’s level and combat ability. A over 9,000 27,000 level enemy appears in space to threaten the peace of the Underworld. The resulting battle involves flying in space and combat powerful enough to make planets tremble. Sound familiar? No, Goku and Vegeta don’t show up, but the similarities are enough to make you wonder if Kawahara secretly wants Kirito to be part of that planned 12-universe tournament in DB Super.

Sword Art Online Volume 18 Ending
The next step in the series is promised for 2017 in the ending for SAO Volume 18 [Image by ASCII Media Works]

Sword Art Online Season 4: Where Will The Alicization Story Arc End For The Anime?

While a SciFi SAO spinoff is interesting to speculate about, anime fans probably just want to know what will happen in SAO Season 3. To put things into perspective, SAO Season 1 and 2 of the anime only covered the events of eight light novel volumes. Sword Art Online Volume 18 ended the Alicization arc, which means there are 10 volumes worth of content to base a new SAO anime upon. Plus, the SAO: Progressive manga series provided even more backstory which could be referenced in the anime through flashback memories.

Nothing official has been announced regarding the number of episodes for Sword Art Online Season 3, but it’s probably safe to presume that SAO Season 3 will probably end somewhere in the middle of the Alicization arc. Hopefully, an official announcement will provide answers in 2017, but there’s a good chance anime fans will have to wait until the Sword Art Online Season 4 release date to finish this part of the story.

[Featured Image by ASCII Image Works]