Sword Art Online Volume 25 was released today in Japan, and it turns out SAO author Reki Kawahara has unexpectedly confirmed some of his plans for the future of the light novel book series.
In the author’s postscripts for Sword Art Online: Unital Ring 4, Kawahara reveals a spoiler related to the Seed-based games’ progression (which will not be repeated here).
More importantly, the author noted that the Sword Art Online: Unital Ring climax is approaching.
In Japanese narratives, there is a four-act structure known as Kishōtenketsu.
- Ki : Introduction
- Shō : Development
- Ten : Twist (complication)
- Ketsu : Conclusion (reconciliation)
In the past, Kawahara stated that SAO: Unital Ring 3 was in the middle of the development phase.
During the Twist phase, the story turns toward an unexpected development, and it contains the yama, or climax, of the story. That means Sword Art Online: Unital Ring 5 or 6 (Volumes 26 or 27) could contain the climax.
This news was unexpected since it potentially means that the SAO: Unital Ring story arc might be significantly shorter than Alicization, which was 10 books long.
Sword Art Online: Unital Ring ending and story arc predictions
In the past, Kawahara has indicated that he would like one big final arc to finish off the SAO series. He claimed it would be longer than the old two-volume arcs (which it’s already surpassed), but when fans asked in 2017 if Unital Ring would be as long as Alicization he replied, “Oh… I strongly hope not.”
SAO Volume 21: Unital Ring 1 was released on December 7, 2018. SAO Volume 22, which was released on October 10, 2019, was four side stories, while Volume 23, which was released on December 10, 2019, was the direct continuation of the Unital Ring story.
Sword Art Online Volume 24: Unital Ring 3 was released in May 2020, while Volume 25: Unital Ring 4 came out on December 10, 2020.
— SAO Wikia (@sao_wikia) December 2, 2020
Based on Kawahara already talking about the climax, Kawahara could be hinting that Sword Art Online Volume 26: Unital Ring 5 will enter the Twist phase.
If that’s the case, the Conclusion phase could be contained in Sword Art Online Volume 27: Unital Ring 6, which would have Sword Art Online: Unital Ring ending in only six books.
— Zekii N.Miller🦋ᴳᴳᴼ³³⁵⁵⁰³³⁶ (@Zekii_Neo) December 7, 2020
However, it’s also possible that Volume 26: Unital Ring 5 could end the Development phase. That’d mean Volume 27: Unital Ring 6 would contain the climax of the Twist phase.
Depending on how long the Twist phase lasts, the Conclusion phase’s ending could be contained in Sword Art Online Volume 28: Unital Ring 7 or Volume 29: Unital Ring 8.
Whatever the case may be, it seems likely that SAO: Unital Ring will end with 6 to 8 books in total.
Of course, Kawahara didn’t plan on making Alicization so big back in 2008, and the story’s length went beyond his own expectations. Therefore, it’s possible that Unital Ring could be longer than even the author is currently predicting.
SAO Season 4 anime possible sooner than expected?
Anime fans are currently waiting until the 2021 Sword Art Online: Progressive movie release date. The new SAO movie will return to the beginning of the story as a retelling that unfolds floor-by-floor in Aincrad.
Many wonders when the Sword Art Online Season 4 release date will have Kirito and Asuna returning to their TV screens.
Presumably, SAO Season 4 will be the Unital Ring anime, but it could SAO: Moon Cradle.
That’d make Unital Ring Sword Art Online Season 5, but since Moon Cradle is only two books long, Volumes 19 and 20, it’d also make sense for Studio A-1 Pictures to adapt the story as a two-part Sword Art Online: Moon Cradle movie series.
The SAO: Unital Ring anime reportedly won’t begin production until the book series is done. If Kawahara manages to release two Unital Ring books per year, that means he could be finished by late 2021 (ending in 6 books) or late 2022 (ending in 8 books).
That means the SAO Season 4 release date could be scheduled out for 2022 or 2023 at the earliest. Keep in mind this is only an estimate and that Studio A-1 Pictures could focus on SAO: Progressive movies and Moon Cradle for several years.
But if it turns out to be true, at least anime fans won’t have to wait as long as previously expected for SAO Season 4.