Thank you very much for reading Sword Art Online Volume 18: Alicization Lasting. Also, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude: my gratitude to you for staying with me across 10 volumes, since the beginning of the Alicization Arc in Volume 9.
Although I have mentioned this in the afterword of Volume 1, I would like to repeat that I began writing the story of Sword Art Online (“SAO” from here on) in Autumn 2001, in order to participate in the 9th Dengeki Novel Prize. Even though the first draft was completed before the Spring 2002 deadline, it had drastically exceeded the page limit. Since I had no idea as to what and how I should cut the story, I eventually gave up on participating.
In other words, back when I had just started writing SAO, there was only the Aincrad Arc in my head. To be more specific, it was only the story of a few weeks right before clearing the death game on Floor 75. However, setting up my homepage later on, I published SAO as a web novel. Fortunately, I happened to receive calls from plenty of readers saying that they would like it to continue. With a few extra episodes in between, I went on to release the second arc, Fairy Dance, the third arc, Phantom Bullet (known as the Death Gun Arc back then), and, if I remember correctly, I began the fourth arc, Alicization, in January 2005.
At that time, I was trying to break out of the “VRMMO” box, which I had always been writing about. Somehow, I stepped into bigger themes such as bottom-up AI, autonomous weapons, quantum brain theory, and simulated reality, but now I cannot remember why. The only thing I remember is how obsessed I was about writing it, despite all the walls I was hitting.
The online serialization of the Alicization Arc concluded in July 2008.
Just around the same time, I released one of my works, called Chouzetsu Kasoku Burst Linker, on a novel sharing website. Using that, after six years’ time, I challenged myself again to participate in the 15th Dengeki Novel Prize, and I was lucky enough to win something. Changing the name from Burst Linker to Accel World, I happened to make my debut as a commercial author. Just when I was telling people about this on my website’s homepage, my responsible editor Miki Kazuma-san sent me an email indicating that he would like to read SAO.
After I sent him the draft data of the SAO series written across roughly eight years, he kindly squeezed precious time out of his editing work to read the entirety of it in one week, and told me: “Let’s publish this under Dengeki as well.” I still remember it distinctly.
Miki-san also told me back then: “I’d like to set the goal of publishing it until the last bit of Alicization.” To be honest, I thought that was a farfetched dream. Considering the word count of the SAO web version, it would have needed over 15 volumes to publish in paperback. Even if they could publish three volumes per year, it would succeed only if they could get readers to support it for five whole years.
I wasn’t even confident that I would still be an author by then, not to mention publishing the end of the Alicization Arc. But the Dengeki Bunko version of SAO released volume after volume, and now brings to you the finale of the Alicization Arc after roughly seven years since the first release of Volume 1, thanks to the passionate bookmaking of Miki-san, the neat and stunning illustrations from abec-san whom Miki-san kindly persuaded, and of course, the precious support from plenty of readers.
As a matter of fact, a lot of work was added to the Dengeki Bunko version of SAO, so this Volume 18 is — if counting Progressive as well — the 22nd volume of the entire series. If counting other series as well, this would be the 45th volume. Seven and a half years since the debut, or almost fifteen years since I first began writing SAO, seems incredibly long to me, but somehow, at the same time, it feels like the blink of an eye.
While I was writing this afterword for the finale, a vague question suddenly appeared in my heart: “Why did I write the story of SAO and Alicization?”
Because I like online games and death game stories… It was probably only that at first. Although I don’t know what would have happened had I participated in the Dengeki Prize contest as I had planned, the very likely result is that only the Aincrad Arc would have been serialized, and in parts on the Dengeki homepage. This is because the scenes I wanted to write 15 years ago consisted only of Kirito and Asuna sitting side by side in the sunset, gazing at the destruction of Aincrad, and Kirito immediately searching for Asuna upon returning to the real world.
Yet I didn’t stop my pen there, and continued to write the Fairy Dance Arc, the Phantom Bullet Arc, and the Alicization Arc. If I were to probe my impetus for doing so, perhaps it was the support of the readers who visited my personal homepage, and this story itself… the characters themselves as they laughed together, suffered together, and fought together. Led by the silhouettes of Kirito, Asuna, and the others as they ran in search of new worlds and new adventures, I wrote until now… I think that was it.
Now, every time I push down on my keyboard, when I close my eyes, I feel as though I’m gazing at the backs of Kirito and the others, who are running to chase after the light in the distance. Their journey has still not ended; countless adventures are surely contained within ALO and The Seed Nexus inside, sealed in the Underworld, and awaiting them in the real world.
Of course, I want to continue to find new stories with them. Yet at the same time, I’m mired in perplexity within the vast, uncertain scene that is the future. Before I step into the next world, I wanted to properly appreciate and feel the things that Alicization, this epic story, has left for Kirito, Asuna, Alice, and the others, and myself — these are my thoughts today.
In the long period that the SAO franchise has serialized to today, I have been under the care of countless people. Nakamura Tamako, Minami Juusei, Hazuki Tsubasa, Nekobyou Neko, Himura Kiseki, Yamada Kotaro, and Kiya Shii, all in charge of the manga adaptations.
Director Itou Tomohiko, in charge of the anime adaptation, Adachi Shingo-san and Kawakami Tetsuya-san, in charge of the anime character designs, Shikama Takahiro-san, animation action director, along with all of the production staff at A-1 Pictures: producer Iwakami Atsuhiro-san, Oosawa Nobuhiro-san, Kashiwada Shin’ichiro-san, Katou Jun-san, and Niwa Masami-san. For Matsuoka Yoshitsugu-san, who provided Kirito’s voice, for Tomatsu Haruka-san, who provided Asuna’s voice, for Taketatsu Ayana-san, who provided Leafa’s voice, for Sawashiro Miyuki-san, who provided Sinon’s voice, and every one of the voice actors and actresses. For LiSA-san, Eir Aoi-san, and Haruna Luna-san, who lent their voices to the theme songs. For sound director Iwanami Yoshikazu-san, Konno Yasuyuki-san, in charge of sound effects, and Kajiura Yuki-san, who composed the soundtrack.
For Futami Yosuke-san and Kawai Yasukazu-san, who have created many games. For Washizaki Takeshi-san, in charge of radio and events.
For Miki Kazuma-san and Tsuchiya Tomoyuki-san, in charge of editing. For Kurusu Tatsuya-san, who drew the miniature maps, and abec-san, who filled the story with color through innumerable outstanding illustrations.
And lastly, to all of my readers, who have stayed with the story until now.
I extend my heartfelt gratitude to you all.
Thank you very much, everyone. I hope you all will support the SAO series in the future as well.
A certain day in July 2016 Kawahara Reki