Reviewby Theron Martin,
Sword Art Online
novel 18: Alicization Lasting
Things look desperate for the defeated Japanese players and the Underworlders they protect, and even some of the Korean players starting to argue that PoH might be in the wrong and the last bits of determination from Asuka and Klein aren't enough to thwart him, especially as he starts to master the power of Incarnation himself. However, the one person who might know it better than anyone is finally climbing out of his stupor. Even Kirito's revival doesn't end the ultimate problem: the threat Gabriel poses to Alice. As both sides make their final desperate gambits both in Underworld and on the Ocean Turtle, the fate of both hangs in the balance.
But even the resolution of that situation does not end things. The consequences of what Rath has wrought will not be so simply handled, and the legacies of Alice, Kirito, and Asuna in both worlds have only barely begun.
In terms of both volume count and total page count, the Alicization arc is longer than all previous SAO core novels combined, so it's only fitting that its final volume, at 281 pages, is both the longest of the arc and the third-longest to date. (Only novels 6 and 8 exceeded it in length.) It brings the main storyline to a decisive conclusion, though not without deliberately leaving a few loose ends. How satisfying that conclusion is may depend a bit on the reader's tolerance level for cliché and definitely depends a lot on how invested the reader is in seeing What Happens After.
The first part of the novel follows the most classic heroic tale construction: when the good guys are in their darkest hour and facing their most desperate moments against a seemingly-intractable villain, that is when the hero awakens with the help of the spirit of a dead friend (in this case Eugeo, in a stretch of how the STL system works). To be sure, some of the other good guys get in some good blows first, including Asuna getting to use Mother's Rosario for the first time in the original novels (a move whose thunder was stolen by the movie), but it all comes down to Kirito going toe-to-toe with PoH in a finish of what they started in Aincard back in the early days of Sword Art Online. That briefly-mentioned previous confrontation on floor 5 was never detailed – or, to my recollection, even specifically referenced – earlier in this main novel series but has been described in Sword Art Online: Progressive, and both that part of the climactic confrontation and PoH's keen interest in Kirito in general make less sense without it. The ensuing final defeat of Vassago/PoH is a fitting one in many senses: the way it happens, the final fate of Vassago, and the way it wraps up one of the last remaining loose ends from the Aincrad part of the story. This should make for some dramatic visuals when it appears in animated form.
PoH's defeat is, of course, just a secondary objective, as confronting Gabriel and getting Alice to the World-End Altar is the ultimate goal, so they must be chased down. An additional complication on the outside – one that puts Kirito and Asuna's lives at risk – spices things up further. While that initially seems like just a dogpiling move, it does ultimately prove critically important to final post-Underworld resolution of the story. More immediately, Gabriel – or, rather, what Gabriel has become by mastering the Incarnation aspect of Underworld – has to be defeated. Clear influence from classic shonen action titles like Dragon Ball Z can be seen most strongly here, so this is another point where cliché has a major impact. Again, it should look very dramatic when animated, though the scene overstretches its welcome in the way it plays out in print.
Getting through that point, and getting Alice out of Underworld, takes up a bit less than half the novel, however. Plenty of dramatics remain on the Ocean Turtle before the whole affair is over, enough so that the anime version will probably need a whole episode to animate it all. Those events do, to an extent, feel like overkill, but the invasion of the Ocean Turtle has encompassed most of four novels so it should have a proper resolution as well. Besides, it also allows for one additional appearance by a figure who's been around since the earliest days of the story.
Even with that figured in, more than a hundred pages are left when the dramatics are fully concluded. That results in one of the lost Epilogues I've ever seen in any form of media, one that makes even the epilogue of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King look short by comparison. That's because, unlike at the end of the Aincrad and Fairy Dance arcs, the consequences of how the story climaxes are dealt with in detail. The fallout of what Kirito and Asuna do at the end of the Underworld story is explored, as is at least some of the fallout of Alice coming into the outside world and how she deals with that. The status of the Ocean Turtle also has to be explored, including some considerations about what might happening with it moving forward. Finally, the future of Underworld itself, from an inside perspective, also has to be looked at. Underworld didn't end with the exit of Alice, so what did it become after she left? That becomes the point on which the novel – and thus the entire story arc – finally closes.
Taken as a whole, the final novel does what it has to do in order to bring the story to an acceptable conclusion. None of the story beats here feel all that original, and some of the franchise's worst quirks linger nearly to the end, especially the bald-faced aggrandizing of Kirito; he's the overall hero of the main story, so don't expect him to be displaced on any level. Though the story technically revolves around her, Alice's role throughout all of this is frustratingly limited, with her activities once she exits Underworld being more important than anything she does while in Underworld during this volume. Still, she at least always remains true to her personality. Not telling the story purely from Kirito's viewpoint – even when it doesn't have to – is also a plus. And while the epilogue stretches out longer than it probably needs to, it does cover the important points while still leaving enough that's not fully resolved to set up additional future story threads. Above all else, the novel provides suitable drama for the grand story it is telling.
The story ends with its last part being labeled Prologue III. This isn't necessarily an indication of a future storyline that will be told, but rather of a great story that exists on its own and which Reki Kawahara may or may not ever explore in detail. The trifold glossy art page at the end mentions something about a potential upcoming story arc, though Kawahara explains in the following Afterword that this was the original intended end of the story. Five more novels have been released in Japan as of the time of this writing, so the story continues in some form. For now, though, it's best to do what Kawahara said he was going to do himself: think about what the Alicization arc means to the main characters and soak in that feeling.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Dramatic battle scenes, detailed follow-up, floats some interesting speculations about the future of AIs
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