Media Q&A with Reki Kawahara (creator of “Accel World” and “Sword Art Online”) by Dennis A. Amith and Michelle Tymon (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)
April 18, 2013 by J!-ENT
Reki Kawahara has quickly became one of the most popular figures in the anime industry thanks to his light novel and manga work for the hit series “Accel World” and “Sword Art Online”. With both titles receiving anime adaptations, both series have quickly become a big hit in the United States, especially “Sword Art Online” (SAO) because of its MMORPG storyline.
But Reki’s light novels are so popular that accumulative sales for his books have exceeded one million copies worldwide.
In March, Reki attended his first anime convention in North America at Sakura-con in Seattle. The following is a transcript of the press conference with Reki Kawahara which J!-ENT took part in.
If “Sword Art Online” was to be turned into a real MMO, would you play it?
REKI: As long as I don’t die when my HP becomes zero, then yes.
Sakura-Con will be your first convention appearance in America. Is there some type of American food you always wanted to try or something you have wanted to experience but haven’t had a chance to?
REKI: This morning at breakfast at the hotel, I had a real oatmeal for the first time and it was delicious. I would like to try a real American-size T-Bone steak.
In a recent interview, you said that having characters stuck in a MMORPG was the easy part, but finding the mechanism was the difficult part and you admitted that the Nerve Gear system had its faults, thus creating plot holes. So, my question if you had time to go back and add or fix the little things that had faults what would you do with anything or would you create an additional version that had additional sections?
REKI: One of the things I heard was wouldn’t it be possible to instantaneously destroy the Nerve Gear that the players are using to make it inactive in time before it would kill the player. And so, to solve that problem, one of the ideas was to have Kayaba announce should anybody attempt this or succeed, another player will randomly pay for that action.
Asuna’s sort of a tricky character: she starts off as an incredibly strong fighter, important to the political system of SAO, but in the Alfheim arc, she’s assaulted and replaced with women half of her ability in depth. What would you say to the critics who find her role problematic, especially given often misogynistic climate of anime and gaming?
REKI: When I created Asuna, she was a little too perfect and when she was together with Kirito, there really wasn’t anything they couldn’t solve together. She became a little too powerful, so in the next arc, I needed to put her in a position where she was unable to help Kirito and because of that, I do have some regrets about putting her in that situation in order to build up the sense danger in Kirito’s adventure in the second story arc. Because of that regret, I wrote an arc called “Mother’s Rosario”… and if there was to be more of the anime made, I would like that arc to be animated.
How much of Kirito’s character and personality is based off of your own personality or characters you have played in other MMO’s?
REKI: I don’t really ever project myself into my characters, but as for a similarity between Kirito and I, we are both terrible at creating parties and prefer playing solo.
There is evidence that shows some kind of connection the “Accel World” light novels and “Sword Art Online”. Were these similarities intentional?
REKI: Well first, I’ll explain the picture in episode 22. The person who drew that illustration was the person who did the mechanic designs in “Accel World”, Yousuke Kabashima. And because he drew it, he decided to be a little playful, and that’s why Kirito and Leafa’s swords looked similar to those in Accel World. And the connection between the two stories, the two stories are separate, despite their being some similarities. I haven’t officially said that the two stories were on the same world, just at different times, but if I can figure out some of the problems, I may be able to write a new series officially linking the two.
Between 2002 when you submitted your submission for Dengeki Game Shosetsu Taishou, and between your actual publication in 2008, what were you doing?
REKI: I continued publishing SAO on my homepage during that time and eventually that was picked up for publication, after being re-edited and reworked and was eventually released in 2008. And in the novel series, I still have a lot I have to cover from what I originally wrote.
Explain to me the process of how your work got turned into multi-platform media property – the series, manga. How did it all start?
REKI: If I had originally intended my work to be made into anime versions, I probably would have made the main character from “Accel World”, Haruyuki, a lot cooler looking. At first I really was just concentrating on becoming an author, so I hadn’t even considered my work being turned into various multimedia versions. So when my editor told me that there was going to be an anime version, I was extremely surprised and very happy.
The “Sword Art Online” is not available in English, how does Reik feels about people translating his light novels and publishing his work online?
REKI: I am very happy to hear that fans overseas are that eager to read my novels, to the point that translations are made. When I asked my editor if there were plans on an English version of my work that was going to be released, and I was told that as soon as we could get an offer from a publisher, it could happen at any time.
Yesterday you touched upon the fact that there really wasn’t that much cut out from the anime compared to the light novels, but there were a few things like the Underworld arc (and a few other examples mentioned). Do you feel if there was anything missed?
REKI: Well that came about because it wasn’t originally included on the series on my webpage, but I put it in the novelization because i didn’t have enough material. So if it were to be in the anime version, it would feel rather tacked on, so it was decided to be taken out.
So obviously “Sword Art Online” delves heavily into MMO’s, so what’s your experience with MMO’s and which one is your favorite game in general?
REKI: The one I have played the most is “World of Warcraft” and more recently, I started playing “Diablo 3.” I really love Blizzard games, but lately, there haven’t been Japanese versions of their games, so I’m very saddened by this.
We heard that you felt very fortunate meeting with your editor, Miki Kazuma-san, is there anything you couldn’t agree on at certain times?
REKI: Miki-san never gets angry with the writer, but if we disagree on something, he never backs down either. So whenever we don’t agree on something, our discussions tend to get very long.
You left Kayaba out of the “Gun Gale Online” arc, but if you were to redo the arc, would you have given him more importance?
REKI: If Kayaba kept ending up as the mastermind in each arc, a pattern would form and it would become redundant.
How are you able to craft such a believable virtual game in your stories? In many other shows, such efforts are more unrealistic.
REKI: I was able to make the virtual world of “Sword Art Online” watching and reading various American movies and books that deal with virtual worlds and incoporating factors from that into my own work. One of the titles I really enjoyed was “Realtime Interrupt” by James P. Hogan, and I got a lot of ideas from there.
In “Accel World”, Black Lotus’s(not sure about this name) name is never revealed. Was there a reason why it was never revealed and are there plans in the future to reveal that?
REKI: When I originally wrote “Accel World”, there was no plans on writing a continuation. So when volume two came out, I felt like I lost the opportune moment to reveal her name. I do have plans to reveal her name in the very last volume.
You are currently very busy with two very successful titles, “Accel World” and “Sword Art Online”, but what do you like to do when you’re not busy working?
REKI: Other than online games, I love riding bicycles and recently bought a Trek road bike. And recently, I was very saddened by the fact that Lance Armstrong was revoked of all of his records.
In an interview, you stated that you tend to use strategy guides for RPGs. If you were to create one for “Sword Art Online”, what would you include and what kind of advice would you give other than to not die?
REKI: Other than “don’t die”, I’d have to say don’t leave the city.
What influenced the difference of the main characters of “Accel World” and “Sword Art Online”?
REKI: I actually thought up Kirito first, who’s a character who’s very close to being perfect, and then thought up Haruyuki later. Kirito may seem perfect, but on the inside, he can be rather weak at times. Haruyuki may look a little flawed on the outside, but is extremely strong on the inside. So I had never really thought about which one may be more superior overall.
When was it that you decided to become a novelist and that this is the career you wanted to pursue?
REKI: Even from childhood, I had always wanted a job where I could create stories. Originally, I wanted to be a game scenario writer, but I was unable to attain that dream. So because of that, before I knew it, I had wanted to become a novelist. I didn’t know how to become a game scenario writer. When I was a student, I found out that to become a game scenario writer, I’d have to get a job at a gaming company and that was a pretty high hurdle that I couldn’t get over, so I changed my goal when I was in my twenties.
What were difficult story arcs you had to write for “Accel World” and “Sword Art Online”?
REKI: In “Accel World”, the setting was time would be a thousand times faster in the virtual world in comparison to the real world. So as I was writing that, if ten hours had passed in the game world, I’d have to figure out exactly how much time had passed in the real world, and that became rather difficult. It was then that I wondered why there are sixty seconds in a minute rather than a hundred.
Looking at the sales figures for various media for the two titles, “Accel World” and “Sword Art Online”, there is a distinct difference in which “Sword Art Online” is selling much better than “Accel World”. Why do you think there’s such a discrepancy between the two titles when it comes to sales numbers? A theory is that “Sword Art Online” is more girl friendly because they like Kirito.
REKI: It’s true that in the terms of fanbase, “Sword Art Online” has a lot more female fans as well as younger fans, so I believe that the difference in numbers is coming from that. But personally, I had always written “Accel World” with a younger audience in mind, so in a way, I do find the difference in numbers a little unfortunate. But the job of worrying about numbers really falls on the editors and anime companies like Aniplex, so I try not to think about the numbers too much.
What did you expect coming into Sakura-Con, and now that you’re here, what do you think? What are some of the good things and some of the bad things?
REKI: I was able to meet many more Kirito’s than I had ever imagined, so I was very happy. And the venue itself is a lot bigger than I had imagined and the anime fans seem to be having so much fun and I think that’s great. In Japan, if they had such an event like this in the middle of the city, I highly doubt that many fans would show up.
When you were creating the Alicization Arc and lengthening the foundations like time is set up by thousand and will power was the key to everything, was that foundation carried over from “Accel World” used in “Sword Art Online”? You said there was no directed connection to “Accel World” and “SAO” but the technology used in the “Alicization Arc”, was that used as a foundation?
REKI: It’s true that the technology used in the Alicization Arc could be or is the foundation of the technology being used in “Accel World”, there are some similarities but nothing has been made clear that they are indeed the same world. If I were to say for sure that the two worlds were the same, the list of things I have to resolve would be multiplied quite a bit and I don’t think I’d be able to resolve everything successfully. Recently, there was a movie released called “The Avengers”, and I highly respect the staff behind that movie because they were able to successfully take so many different properties and combine them into one movie.
The changes in the Alicization Arc where it focuses on will power than skill, was that to bring Kirito to a more manageable level?
REKI: That may have been the original intention, but after this arc, it puts Kirito at an even more godlike state.
In Alicization Turning, Kayaba has been personified as a NPC/AI, from an all powerful program to a program that is unable to undo its usual function, what was your intention?
REKI: In the original “Sword Art Online” story arc, the story was about Kirito vs. Kayaba. But at the same time, it was a battle against the system itself. So in order for Kirito to combat the system, it became necessary in the Alicization story arc when he was going up against the system and having it being all powerful without a personality, became rather difficult. So in order to create the story battling the system, it became necessary for me to give it a personality and make it something that Kirito can face.
Top photo courtesy of Sakura Con 2013
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