Kirito, Asuna, Heathcliff and the remaining troops manage to finally defeat the Skull Reaper once and for all. Everybody begins to rest except for Kirito, who becomes greatly suspicious when he finds that Heathcliff has barely taken any damage from the fight. He decides to test his hypothesis by attacking, which reveals that the leader of the Knights of Blood is immortal. Heathcliff is outed as the game’s creator, Akihiko Kayaba, who is greatly surprised that Kirito was able to deduce that he wasn’t a normal player. Everybody inside the room other than Kirito is stunned as Akihiko explains that he’s really the boss of the final floor on top of the palace. Akihiko decides to give Kirito a golden opportunity: He can face him in a fair duel in his current condition now, or retreat and meet him again on the 100th floor.
While Asuna tries her hardest to convince Kirito to not accept Akihiko’s offer, Kirito takes the challenge and wishes the best of luck to all of his loved ones. The hero and villain clash blades, but it soon becomes clear that the gap between them is too great in Akihiko’s favor as he takes advantage of the game’s mechanics. But before he manages to slay Kirito, Asuna finds the strength to jump in and sacrifices her life taking the strike meant for him. At that Kirito becomes completely enraged and uses every ounce of his remaining life force to attack, killing both him and Akihiko in the process.
Kirito and Asuna soon find each other together again floating above the world of Sword Art Online. Akihiko appears and applauds their victory for saving more than 6,000 players from his creation. As the online world of begins to vanish, Kirito and Asuna confess to each other their real names: Kirigaya Kazuto and Yuki Asuna. Kirigaya wakes up back in reality inside a hospital room with long hair and a very fatigued body. Despite this condition, he stands up with the desire to keep moving forward in order to find the very girl he formed a precious bond with for the last two years.
The current storyline comes to a close with Kirito facing off against the creator of Sword Art Online for the freedom of the remaining players to return to reality. I was rather stunned that the writing hurried this arc to its end by giving Kirito a sudden chance to confront and defeat the current main antagonist, although Heathcliff’s true identity did make sense considering the big mystery of Akihiko’s whereabouts since the story started. In some ways the twists that are introduced may be more of a blessing, since the plot now doesn’t have to stick with its usual concepts and may finally bring even more originality. As usual the sword fighting was visually stunning, and I rather liked that the final showdown included a twist where both protagonists had to “die” in order to deal the final strike against their seemingly unbeatable foe.
There are some standout flaws that make the experience a bit disappointing. Firstly, it was terrible to see that Asuna’s only contribution to the last fight was her getting killed for Kirito’s mistake of rushing into battle. There were only about 25 floors left, so I’m confused on why there couldn’t have been a bigger showdown on the 100th floor so all the characters could have ultimately fought Akihiko with their combined strength in a more impactful conclusion to the storyline.
Many plot points still rest on the table as well: Kirito needs to revive Yuni, we aren’t told if Asuna was able to return to the real world, and Akihiko walks off deep in thought without giving a proper explanation on why he trapped 10,000 people in the first place. In some ways this conclusion seems like a disappointing and convenient writing tactic ushering the story on to better things. Also, should I dare question if all of those plot points about the Laughing Coffin guild will simply be put to rest with nothing more said about it besides being a group of crazy guys who happen to enjoy killing people? Either way, next time we move onto the second part, where more conflicts arise and there are lots and lots of fairies.