Reki Kawahara, abec, Kazuma Miki Press Conference Anime Expo 2014
Sword Art Online/Accel World creator Reki Kawahara returns to the United States, this time accompanied by Sword Art Online original character designer and illustrator abec, and editor/producer for Sword Art Online's light novel/anime Kazuma Miki.
Certain questions and responses have been abbreviated or paraphrased for clarity and to avoid confusion.
Between Kawahara-san and abec-san, what was the process in which you two worked together to create the look and feel of the characters of Sword Art Online?
Reki Kawahara: Sword Art Online started off as a Internet based novel that I had written up, so the manuscript always existed for the story. I handed the manuscript over to abec-san, he read through the novel and that is how he came up with the imagery for the character designs. When the manuscript was going to be published in book form, abec-san sent me the rough designs for the character illustrations. I would give him feedback and that is how we refined the final illustrations.
abec: Early on there were some hobbyist sketches of the characters that Kawahara-san had drawn for his web series, so I had an idea when I did my initial sketches. Characters such as Kirito, Asuna, Silica, Klein, and Lisbeth, were based on Kawahara's original illustrations. All the other subsequent characters were designed in the traditional style of how Japanese light novel characters are drawn; the illustrator will read the manuscript, draw the illustrations from their impressions, send the sketches to the author, then getting the authors approval and then completing the illustration from there.
When did you come up with the idea for Sword Art Online? Were you studying programming or psychology at the time? The idea behind Sword Art Online seems so prolific considering where the current trends of technology are headed. What was your mindset like while you were writing Sword Art Online?
Reki Kawahara: I started writing Sword Art Online back in 2001. I have no programming background, the best I can do is properly use HTML tags. For my entire life, I've been a bookworm. I've read a lot of romance novels, science fiction novels, mysteries, Japanese novels, and American novels; so I am pretty sure my inspiration comes from the world of fiction.
What is the reason behind Kirito's androgynous look for the Gun Gale Online arc?
Reki Kawahara: There are several reasons. Within the SAO universe, the next principle character, Sinon, is a very inaccessible closed character and there is a reason Kirito needs to get closer to her. I thought that if he resembled a female in appearance, Sinon would not be so cautious and be more open to Kirito.
The other reason is more thematic to the world of Sword Art Online. In the novel, the idea of Aincrad was to erase the distinction between player and avatar. The opposite is the experimental theme within Sword Art Online II; to see if having a different avatar appearance would affect the personality of the player in real life. So Kirito will gain his new appearance in Sword Art Online II, however Kirito doesn't change much due to his appearance.
Have you had the chance or been invited to try Bandai Namco's latest Sword Art Online Oculus Rift tech demo? If so, what are your individual thoughts on the Oculus VR technology?
Reki Kawahara: I got to try the Oculus Rift yesterday at the booth. It was my second time experiencing the Oculus Rift. I am really surprised that you can really submerge yourself in a virtual world with just two senses: visual and acoustic. If there is any influence for my writing in the future it would be that when you return from the virtual world to real life, the sense of disconnect could be deeper depicted. I am also considering getting Lasik so that I could make myself more compatible with the Oculus technology.
abec: At first I really underestimated the Oculus technology. It's not really high resolution, yet the sense of realism is so great. As for any influence for my work, one aspect would be the exterior look of the technology and equipment. I was also very struck by how a 3D Asuna could still maintain a 2D anime style-look.
Kazuma Miki: I don't have any specific experiences with Bandai Namco's tech demo, however I have experienced the Oculus Rift in other demonstrations. One thing that came to me was a situation within the Sword Art Online story where players had an affliction of believing that the virtual world was true reality and couldn't handle real life anymore. I was struck with that thought. Kawahara-san had previously said that he started writing Sword Art Online in 2001. It took the real world 13 years to catch up to what Kawahara-san depicted back then.
Reki Kawahara: But The Matrix came out 15 years ago.
Kazuma Miki: In addition, since the Oculus Rift is a relatively affordable device, only costing several hundred dollars, more people are going to be familiar with the technology; which would make the story of Sword Art Online more accessible to a wider audience, both novel and anime. Sword Art Online currently has a circulation of 10-20 million copies, hopefully this number will increase to 30-40 million copies sold.
Will we see more references or plot devices that unite the two worlds of Sword Art Online and Accel World?
Reki Kawahara: Currently, I have no specific plans to cross over the two stories, however, Sword Art Online II starts around the year 2026, and Accel World begins in 2047. The timeline for Sword Art Online is flowing faster, so it is quite possible Sword Art Online will catch up to Accel World, and there might be something integral that will unite the two worlds.
The story of Sword Art Online revolves around video games. What genre of video games are your favorite and if you have one, which game is your favorite?
Reki Kawahara: I am quite fond of the MMORPG genre. Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft is the one that I've played the most.
abec: I am most fond of playing simulation games, in particular my favorite was Civilization IV. One time I was so depended on playing Civilization IV that I decided that in order to return to being a normal human, I needed to defenestrate my disc, so I threw the disc out the window. Three hours later I was in the yard searching for the disc. I finally decided that I had to give the disc to my mother and ask her to hide it for me. I desperately searched everywhere and all the spots my mother could have hidden it, but in the end I could not find it. I eventually gave up and finally was able to return to society as a normal human being.
Kazuma Miki: For me, the video game that I am most fond of is a Japanese game called 風来のシレン (Fuurai no Shiren). It is a roguelike RPG. In this game if your character dies, you are relegated back to the outside of the dungeon at level 1 with zero experience points. In order to finish this game, you can't just level up your character, you have to level up as a player in order to beat the game. While I was editing Sword Art Online, I was thinking it's so easy to be playing a game where you can go through multiple deaths.
Abec-san, how did you get your start up as a light novel illustrator and are there any challenges or projects you would like to go for in the future?
abec: In Japan, basically the editor looks for an illustrator for each title. Most contemporary illustrators in Japan either have a website, a Pixiv profile page, or they belong to some kind of online illustrator community. Usually an editor will recruit from those resources. Editor Miki-san found me through my website.
As for aspirations for the future, right now I would like to dedicate myself and concentrate on illustrating for Sword Art Online. If there are any other job offers I would probably consider them. One of the dreams for a Japanese illustrator is to be the character designer for an animated series and I've already accomplished that, so I am pretty happy with where I am at. Therefore I'd really like to concentrate on doing a good job with Sword Art Online.
Reki Kawahara: I would like to buy your artbook, so I'd like to see that published as soon as possible.
abec: I don't know if my artbook will be published in the United States, but it is in the planning stages in Japan, so that is a promise for next year.
Which character did you enjoy creating the most?
Reki Kawahara: The character that is the most fun to write is Klein. Klein is one of the very few main male characters in Sword Art Online who is a good character and someone who understands and supports Kirito. I really enjoy writing the exchange between Klein and Kirito, however there have been various reasons for giving more page time to female characters. It is unfortunate, so I'd like to try to give more pages to Klein.
In a recent interview featured in Dengeki Bunko Magazine, it was mentioned that Kawahara-san had the opportunity to fire a real firearm. I am wondering if anyone else had the chance to fire a gun and seeing that Sword Art Online II is focused on Gun Gale Online arc, what is your favorite FPS game?
Reki Kawahara: Apparently, I am still the only one with any real life experience with a gun. At the gun range, the instructor told me that if you point that gun at me, you will be the one to get shot. Aside from that, my favorite FPS would be Halo or Call of Duty. Japanese viewers who have seen Sword Art Online II are saying that it is impossible to fight with a sword in an FPS world, but I insist that the most power weapon in Halo is the energy sword.
abec: As for me, when the production staff of Sword Art Online went on the Guam trip to experience firearms, I was left behind. I was envious just from watching all the videos and looking at their photos. For me, my favorite FPS is also Halo. I was introduced to Halo at a fellow illustrator friend's place. Since then I've been buying the Xbox consoles just to play Halo, and likewise I think the energy sword is the most powerful weapon.
Kazuma Miki: I don't have first hand experience shooting guns myself, however one of the authors related to our sister publication Dengeki Bunko, is Keiichi Shigusawa-san, who is the author of Kino's Journey. He is quite versed and fond of firearms and he is the firearms supervisor for the Gun Gale Online arc. I am pretty confident there is a good basis for realism of firearms in Gun Gale Online. We wanted to bring the scope of the Hecate II to the United States, but it was a personal belonging to Shigusawa-san. As for my favorite FPS, Call of Duty would be my favorite, but I can't clear the first stage.
One of the biggest differences between novels and light novels is that in light novels readers are expected to imagine the characters like their anime style designs. When you were writing your web novel, did you have a light novel 2D anime style in mind? Do you think that influenced your writing or how readers interpret your works?
Reki Kawahara: When I had Sword Art Online published on the web, it was accompanied by my amateur illustrations. Therefore, I did have an anime style in mind. Since most readers of web novels in Japan are very young, I considered them to overlap with light novel readers. I always had in mind that Sword Art Online as a web novel would pretty much be in the style of a traditional light novel.
Recently in the US there was a bit of a controversy with the Spice and Wolf light novel having a different cover for the American market. One with a more realistic design than an anime design, to try to reach a wider audience. What are you thoughts on that?
Reki Kawahara: I think Miki-san would have better input on the matter.
Kazuma Miki: When you cross borders you can expect the market to be different and it is natural for the American publishers to try to reach a wider audience. At a personal level I don't think that is something anger worthy, however in the context of publishing light novels there is usually a strong collaboration between the author and illustrator. Ideally, it would be best if the original illustration could be used.
Have you seen a spike in popularity from the American market because of Sword Art Online's release on Netflix?
Kazuma Miki: The strongest feedback I got was seeing the huge turnout of the fans at the SAO panel here at Anime Expo. In terms of seeing a spike in sales of the book, that has yet to come. I am hoping that will come soon.
Reki Kawahara: One thing I can be honest about was that when I was publishing Sword Art Online as a web novel I never thought it would be picked up as an animated series. I never thought it would gain a following in the United States. A lot of the English jargon that is used in the SAO universe may not be based on real English, so I am sure there is a lot of English used that may not pass the test of native English speakers. I made a promise to myself to consult the English dictionary more often in the future when I am to use English words and jargon in my stories.
Previous press conferences, Q&A sessions and panels have been covered before. You can find them here: