“You know, Kirito-kun, I still believe—that in some other world, this castle really does exist—”
Suddenly, I felt as if I had been born in that world, where I dreamed of becoming a swordsman. The boy would one day meet a girl with hazelnut-brown eyes. The two would fall in love, finally get married, and live happily ever after in a small house in the middle of a forest—
With fourteen dead after the boss battle ends, the survivors are still in shock when Kirito notices something odd about Heathcliff and attacks him – revealing an <Immortal Object> status and his identity as GM Kayaba Akihiko. Kayaba offers Kirito the chance to fight him right now for the opportunity to clear the game instantly, and Kirito accepts, facing down the creator of SAO.
Heathcliff’s eyes were warm and full of mercy—as if—
As if he was looking at a bunch of white mice playing in an inescapable cage.
I wonder how many of you saw this coming? It must have had to be something big given the fact that the rest of the Skull Reaper fight was merely glossed over, but the anime didn’t capture that post-boss fight moment as well as the light novel did. Out of all the top level players fighting, 14 people had died – and the survivors were all on the ground, on their last legs. The only person who was still standing up and looking fresh as ever was Heathcliff, and his expression was not one of mercy as said in the LN, but as if he was looking down on the players from the heavens; from the role of the god that governs the world of SAO. His eyes weren’t merciful – the players were completely at his every whim and mercy and he played them all for fools right up to this point. There were hints that Heathcliff was in fact Kayaba Akihiko from his initial fight with Kirito, where he invoked the system assist to move past his limits. He should have known better than to fight the person with the highest reaction speed though, and give him Dual Blades to boot.
That being said, Kirito’s chance to end it all was rather generous of Heathcliff. I would have thought he’d just slink back to his castle on the 100th floor and wait for them, but I wonder what his goal was for giving Kirito the opportunity to fight him one-on-one right now. If Kirito did lose and die, it’d definitely ruin the morale of thousands of players – if the “hero” designed to defeat the “demon king” failed to do so and lost his life, what are the chances that anyone else could win? The shock factor to the players that he was the last boss would have already been enormous, with Heathcliff being the person everyone admired, that everyone looked up to as the strongest player.
About the fight itself – it’s almost a complete reversal of the start of the show and the side stories, where Kirito was the badass, overpowered Black Swordsman. Here, he’s fighting an opponent clearly more powerful than him, who designed the entire system and can counter every sword skill possible with his <Holy Sword>. Of course there’s only one OST who could have accompanied the fight (whose name still escapes us all) though this time it didn’t resemble epicness as much as it did foreboding, as we all grabbed the nearest thing closest to us and stared straight at the screen. Kirito’s mistake came from activating the highest level skill of Dual Blades, <The Eclipse>, which went unnamed in the anime. Despite it being an awesome skill striking a 20+ hit combo, it meant that once the skill ended, Kirito would be left open. And Heathcliff knew where the skill would end.
What the hell are we? Are we just a bunch of idiotic puppets controlled by the inviolable threads of the SAO system? My HP bar vanished completely as if mocking my anger. A purple message appeared within my vision: [You are dead].
It was the command from the god to die.
Overcoming the odds and having Kirito win straight out would be a little unrealistic, but on the other hand it really was painful to watch Asuna get struck down like that. Kirito’s expression (and mine) had this horrified look on it, and my heart went out to him completely, watching him mindlessly try to still kill Heathcliff while having lost his will to fight. And being the merciless bastard he is, Heathcliff didn’t even give him any chances. I do wonder what happened in Kirito’s last moments – was it his will that prevented him dying instantly? Asuna managed to overcome the paralysis like that, despite it not actually being possible in games, so Kirito might have done the same. And…it was really fitting that Heathcliff died being stabbed by Asuna’s <Lambent Light>.
Strangely enough, I cried not through the fight, but in this dazzlingly beautiful aftermath scene. The scenery was breathtaking – I wonder how it must feel to be in Kirito and Asuna’s position, hugging each other and looking out over the ruined floating castle in the sky, seeing it self-destruct, only being left with each other and the final stage created for their farewell. Is that their interpretation of heaven? The raw beauty of it was stunning, yet heartbreaking at the same time, especially when Kirito apologized for not being able to save her. This is what I mean by a really pure love – when you actually care about an OTP so much, it hurts even more to see them in a situation like this.
I don’t hate Kayaba, surprisingly. He may have been a cold bastard, but his reasons were suprisingly innocent – in the end, he was just another guy with a wild dream he wanted to achieve. It almost touched my heart to know that he dreamed of flying into Aincrad and escaping the real world, instead existing among the bustling cities and fighting monsters as a swordsman. Perhaps his death was part of this dream – to fight with a sword and die at the hands of a hero, just like in a fantasy epic. He killed thousands, yes, but he achieved his dream to do so and while that might not justify the 4,000 who died, I can’t help but agree that it would be a nice if a life like that really existed somewhere. It was sincere, and his appearance as the scientist Kayaba instead of the paladin Heathcliff made his words all the more real.
That’s the end of the first arc of Sword Art Online, guys! It’s been an amazing run, and while we’ve had our ups and downs, it was an exhilarating experience and it’s been great blogging it.
Why am I acting like the show’s over Kirito’s adventures aren’t over yet though – we’re diving straight into the ALO arc next week. Look forward to that, as well as the prospects of new characters and hopefully a new OP!
My whole being longed for her. My fight wasn’t over until I had Asuna—Yuuki Asuna in my arms. With a tight grip on the stand instead of a sword, I leaned my body against it and took my first step towards the door.
Sword Art Online, Aincrad Arc – End.