Link, start! Watchers from around the globe will recognize the iconic start command for SWORD ART ONLINE’s fictional nerve gear device. While we’re still making our way toward better virtual reality gaming in 2018, this anime is truly ahead of the game. Set in 2022, SWORD ART ONLINE’s nerve gear immerses a gamer’s entire consciousness into a video game world. This iconic concept isn’t necessarily a new one, but SWORD ART ONLINE is likely the most recognizable anime that makes use of it. At a time where anime adaptions are constantly coming out of the woodwork, it was only a matter of time before this show got one. Netflix has purchased the live-action rights of the anime series.

For those who haven’t heard of SWORD ART ONLINE, the series was originally a light novel series. Author Reki Kawahara crafted a story following Kirigaya Kazuto, a high school-age gamer. Kazuto, who goes by the name Kirito online, purchases Sword Art Online, the first MMORPG to make use of ‘full-dive’ technology. This is the hyper-futuristic headset that buyers can use to project their minds into a game and command an avatar without any buttons or controllers. After the game sells out following its launch, thousands of players eagerly enter.

SWORD ART ONLINE's Kirito and Asuna
Kirito (left) and female protagonist Asuna (right) | Image: Crunchyroll

However, once inside, they quickly find that one crucial game command is missing. There is no log out button. Suddenly, the game’s creator appears as a massive hooded figure looming over the sky. Without warning, he tells his captive audience that their only escape from the game is to make their way through its hundred floors and beat it. On top of that, should they die in the game, their headsets will instantly fry their brains and kill them. Removing the game disc or cutting power would cause the headset to kill them too. Kirito and several other players are forced to band together, level up, and fight for their lives.

The Announcement

Recently, screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis sat down for an interview with Collider to discuss her contribution to the Netflix series ALTERED CARBON. Kalogridis is in charge of writing the live-action adaption of SWORD ART ONLINE and spoke at length about the project. Finally, she confirmed two crucial bits of news for eager fans.

Laeta Kalogridis
Laeta Kalogridis | Image: Netflix

For one, she revealed that it was indeed Netflix moving forward with the adaptation. Netlix already purchased the right to the SWORD ART ONLINE anime months ago. Even so, it was unclear whether that included the rights to any live-action film. What we know now is that the purchasing deal for the live-action movie rights had extra contingencies. Those contingencies are the second part of Kalogridis’s revelation.

When asked about her vision for the best English version of SWORD ART ONLINE, Kalogridis quickly confirmed that whitewashing was a non-starter. She explained that the series was very much Japanese property, and that cultural ownership also extended to characters.

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Whitewashing Concerns

“Kirito and Asuna, who are the two leads, are Japanese. In the television show, Kirito and Asuna will be played by Asian actors.” Kalogridis said in her interview. “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.”

She goes on to note that Netflix agrees with her stance on the show. Netflix has faced strong criticism for its severe whitewashing of other Japanese anime, such as DEATH NOTE. This confirmation should ease some worries fans have about their favorite shows being corrupted. Interestingly enough, the adaptation may go even further in its commitment to cultural accuracy.

“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.”

Within the SWORD ART ONLINE anime, not everyone Kirito works with is ethnically Japanese. One of the characters Kalogridis mentioned, Agil, is very clearly of African descent. From what she said in the interview, it appears Netflix will not only be ensuring consistent casting of main characters, but side characters as well.

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Dive into SWORD ART ONLINE

For those who have been following anime adaptations, this is huge news. So-called “Hollywood adaptations” have a habit of shifting the story to fit Western tastes. However, with these changes usually comes the complete erasure of all Japanese faces from the cast. There isn’t ever a shortage of Japanese actors such that whitewashing the entire cast is justified. Anime, after all, is very much a Japanese form of media. By ridding shows of the cultural context that make them anime in the first place, the finished product barely resembles the source material it was adapted from. For SWORD ART ONLINE, one of the most well-known anime to date, whitewashing affects more than just perception. The light novel series released its 20th volume in September of 2017. A lot of long-term plot involves Japan’s unique position in the global gaming market.

Will you be watching this adaptation? I personally am a SWORD ART ONLINE addict and will almost certainly check it out. While the series has its problems, it’s still one of the better anime out there. With the announcement of the ‘Alicization’ arc of the anime, there’s plenty to look forward to alongside this adaptation.

What are your concerns for the film? Do you have any fights you can’t wait to see real people re-enact? Let us know in the comments!

Featured image courtesy of Netflix

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