Sword Art Online is one of the most successful anime franchises today, and it’s also getting a Hollywood TV show. Now, Netflix has gotten the rights to distribute the show, and they’re also planning to release it worldwide. And it looks like they don’t want to have those usual “Whitewashing” allegations tagged with them. This is because both Netflix and the show’s producer and writer, Laeta Kalogridis, have agreed to cast Asian actors as the leads.
Kalogridis recently sat down for an interview with Collider, and talked about many of the show’s issues. Of course, this includes the old Whitewashing issue.
Well, let’s get the obvious bit out of the way, right away. SAO is an
essentially Japanese property, in which Kirito and Asuna, who are the two leads, are
Japanese. In the television show, Kirito and Asuna will be played by Asian actors. Whether or not that was the question underneath your question, it’s not a conversation about whitewashing. When I sold it to Netflix, we were all on the same page. They are not interested in whitewashing it, and I am not interested in whitewashing it. In terms of the secondary characters, because the game is meant to be global, the way it’s presented in the anime and in the light novels, there are secondary characters that clearly are from other parts of the world, like Klein and Agil. To me, it’s very obvious when you watch it that you’re meant to take that this game spans the globe, but Kirito and Asuna are very clearly located as kids from Japan, and Tokyo, if I’m not mistaken. That is what we will be doing because that is the story. They are, in my mind anyway, much like Major Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell, defined in part by being seminal characters in an Asian piece of art. That’s the first and biggest thing.
She also talked about storytelling, and what it’s like working on the show’s pilot episode. Kalogridis also compared what it’s like working on SAO to her latest project, the Netflix-exclusive, Altered Carbon.
The second thing, in terms of what I would like to see for SAO, is that I feel it’s a much more aspirational story about hope and much less about darkness than Altered Carbon is. Asuna is sort of the savior of the world, in my mind and in the mind of the showrunners, [Patrick] Massett and [John] Zinman, who are doing the show. There’s a real ability to explore a fantasy-based The Lord of the Rings / Game of Thrones kind of world through the lens of these people who are trapped in it and don’t necessarily want to be there, but who have to learn how to survive in it. What I’m most interested in is all of the human stories, when everything else falls away and it’s life or death, in a place where you were never expecting to be trapped. That’s what I loved about the original anime and that’s what I love about the live-action adaptation, as we are currently envisioning it.
She is keeping the original feel from Reki Kawahara’s original light novels in mind in making the show. Hopefully, the Netflix series can stay true to the original as well.