Sword Art Online: Unital Ring: Story, Kirito’s new armor, cat ears Alice, and Asuna’s costume revealed in light novel cover art for Reki Kawahara’s SAO Volume 21

Sword Art Online: Unital Ring key art
Sword Art Online: Unital Ring will eventually become the basis for the anime Sword Art Online Season 4. Pic credit: abec

The cover art for the upcoming Sword Art Online: Unital Ring light novel has been released and it gives anime fans a tantalizing glimpse of what to expect from the next major story arc in the SAO series.

Not only do we get to see Kirito in new heavy armor, “Cat Ears” Alice, and Asuna’s costume, the announcement by book publisher Kadokawa finally tells readers what to expect from the Sword Art Online: Unital Ring story arc.

Unital Ring 1, or Sword Art Online Volume 21, is scheduled to release in Japan on December 7, 2018 (the English translation’s release date is not yet announced). The anime adaptation SAO Season 3 tells the story of Sword Art Online: Alicization, while Sword Art Online Season 4 is expected to cover the events of the Unital Ring story arc.

What makes Unital Ring’s story so different is that it’s the first original story (besides the SAO: Ordinal Scale movie) set in the main series since author Reki Kawahara originally wrote down his ideas. The entire Alicization story was actually initially published online as a web novel and that was finished way back in 2008.

The light novel adaptation started in 2009, but the final Alicization book (Volume 18: Alicization Lasting) was not published until 2016. SAO Volumes 19 and 20 are a side story called Moon Cradle which chronologically took place before the ending of the Alicization story.

SAO: Unital Ring (Volume 21) will be a direct sequel to Volume 18 and continue the story of Kirito, Alice, and Asuna. Over a year ago, Kawahara said that Unital Ring’s story will be “one more big arc” that will go “back to the real world”. He also released the prologue chapter for Volume 21 in December 2017.

New Aincrad
The light novel cover art for Sword Art Online: Unital Ring 1 shows the new character designs as well as a crumbling New Aincrad. On Twitter, Kawahara said that “the impact of the metal armor Kirito is as big as the Cat Ears Alice.”Pic credit: abec

Warning: The following contains a summary/spoilers for Sword Art Online: Unital Ring 1. Some details will also spoil the Alicization anime. For in-depth spoilers, please see this article on SAO Season 4.

The story opens with Kirigaya Kazuto (real-life name of Kirito) planning out his upcoming birthday. Asuna is also having a birthday and he’s trying to think of an appropriate gift with the help of his virtual daughter Yui. Kirito also spends time thinking about what happened in Ocean Turtle since his recovery and how Alice has been thriving in the real world.

Kirito eventually decides to full-dive into New Aincrad, the recreation of the floating castle inside Alfheim Online. He desires quiet so he can focus on finishing school homework, but that peace is quickly interrupted by both Cat Ears Alice and Asuna.

All three SAO characters are shocked when an earthquake rocks the world, which should be impossible in the VRMMO. When they look up into the virtual sky, they see the same red hexagonal pattern that heralded the announcement of the first SAO death game. Are they trapped inside the game once again?

The prologue ends on this cliffhanger ending without explaining the meaning of this system-wide announcement. Fortunately, Kadokawa provided a brief summary that explains what happens next in the Sword Art Online: Unital Ring story.

The book publisher has confirmed that Unital Ring will involve a new mysterious survival game that’s set in a new world. What’s more, all of the VRMMO’s built with The Seed program (Alfheim Online, Gun Gale Online, and many more) have suddenly all merged, or unified, into a single VR game world!

Unfortunately, fans will just have to wait until the Sword Art Online: Unital Ring light novel releases to find out what happens next. Stay tuned!

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