Sakuracon 2013 - Reki Kawahara Press Conference

Sword Art Online and Accel World author Reki Kawahara spoke to assembled press during Sakuracon 2013. Many of the questions dealt with story arcs in both respective novel series that currently aren't covered in the corresponding anime, and as such there are a fair amount of spoilers contained within the interview.

You've all been warned.


Q: If Sword Art Online were to be turned into a real MMO would you play it?

A: As long as there's no perma-death, I might play it.

Q: As this is your first convention in the states is there anything you want to try, any food you want to try in seattle?

A: I had the first time in my life real oatmeal, it was real delicious. I also had a real, American T-Bone steak.

Q: In a previous interview you had stated that trapping players in an MMO world was the easy part, but finding the mechanism was the difficult part. The Nervegear has some faults, creating plot holes. My question is if you were able to go back and add or fix things in the story what would you do with anything or would you create an addition or a new story with additional sections?

A: One of the things that I had heard about was "wouldn't it be nice to simultaneously destroy the Nervegear that the players are using to make it inactive in time before it kills the player" that was one of the things that was brought up to me. In order ot combat such measures, one of the measures that Kayaba would announce was that should anyone attempt or succeed in this (removing the Nervegear) another player would be randomly selected and pay for that action.

Q: Asuna is a bit of a tricky character, she starts off as an incredibly strong fighter and she's important to the political system of SAO, but in the Alfheim arc she's caged, sexually assaulted, and replaced with women with half her ability and depth. What would you say the critics who find her role problematic given the often misogynistic climate of anime and gaming?

Translator: Real easy one to start the morning with. (laughs)

A: As I said previously, the character of Asuna I might have created a little too perfectly for Sword Art Online, and when teamed up with Kirito, there wasn't a problem that the two of them could overcome. So in order to increase the sense of urgency during the fairy dance arc I need to put her in a place unable to help Kirito, and in caging her I have some regrets about putting her in that situation to increase the sense of danger for Kirito's adventure in the 2nd story arc. And as recompense I made a story as a follow up called Mother's Rosario where Asuna was the main character, and should there be more animation I would like to see that arc animated.

Q: How much of Kirito's personality and character is based off your own character and personality or of characters that you've played in MMO's?

A: I don't tend to put myself into my characters, but if I were to say there was a point of similarity between myself and Kirito it's that we're not very good at parties, we tend to solo play a lot.

Q: This question has been asked several times before, but there is legitimate speculation that shows some kind of connection between Accel World and Sword Art Online. For example, in the 9th volume of the Sword Art Online light novels, Kirito talks about going to America to study and research a new type of Dive Technology, which is the brain implant chips. Additionally, in episode 22 of the Sword Art Online anime, the end card illustration shows Kirito holding a sword that very closely resembles Silver Crow's armour while Leafa is holding Black Lotus's sword. Whether or not there is an actual connection between Accel World and Sword Art Online is still uncertain, but were these similarities intentional? Or were these implemented to sort of create a sense of the same in both of these stories?

A: First I''ll start with the picture in episode 22 of SAO, came from the fact that it was done by the mechanical designer of Accel World, Yosuke Kawashima, and he in his connection to the other show, was kinda being playful and did that illustration. So at this point the two shows, the two titles are separate, but there might be some similarities and points that connect between the two shows. Now that's not to say that should some issues be resolved between the two stories, possibly, maybe there will be a 3rd series that would tie some of those points together but I can't really say at this point.

Q: Between 2002 when you first submitted Sword Art Online for the Dengeki Shosetsu Taisho and the actual publication date in 2008, what did you do?

A: So during that period, I was serializing Sword Art Online on my homepage, and eventually it was picked up for publication, reworked and released in 2008. Now I haven't done the entirety of what I wrote on my homepage in the novel series.

Q: Explain the process of how your work was turned into a multi-platform media, a transmedia property. Be it the series, the manga, how did you intention it to start?

A: Well first of all, if I thought that it was going to be a multimedia phenomenon, I would have made Hatsuyuki a little more cooler. So in the beginning I was more worried about if I was going to succeed as a writer, nevermind thinking about an animated version. So when my editor came to be and say they wanted to animate it I was shocked, but very pleased to hear that someone wanted it animated.

Q: The Sword Art Online novels aren't readily available in English, so there's a group of fan translators that take it upon themselves to translate the light novels from Japanese to English, and publish them online. What are your thoughts on this?

A: First of all I'm pleased that there are fans overseas that want to read my novels to the point of having translations made. So I brought this up to my editors and asked why isn't there (English versions), and they said well no one has made us an offer, if an American publisher was to make us an offer we'd consider it.

Q: You've mentioned in the past that there wasn't really that much left out from the anime compared to the light novels. However, there were a few things like the Underworld arc in Alfheim Online and also during Murder Case, the epilogue was heavily truncated. A joke was left out where Suguha slips snow down the back of Kirito's shirt, as well as foreshadowing during Murder Case when Kirito storms in with his horse. Do you feel anything was missed in the anime, and once Progressive is completed, do you have any intentions to include those scenes if you had the opportunity to do so? 

A: Well the root behind that is that when I was serialising it on my home page, that part didn't exist, but when I was writing the novel I didn't have enough pages, so I kinda tacked that on. So, when it was being animated I said this scene just feels added on, so it was taken out due to the choice I made.

Q: Obviously Sword Art Online is heavily linked to MMOs. What is your own experience with MMOs and do you have any favourites?

A: The one I played most was World of Warcraft, but lately I'm enjoying Diablo 3. I;m a really big fan of blizzard's games but im sad that japanese versions of these things don't exist.

Q: You've said that you feel very fortunate to meet your editor. Are there things the two of you couldn't agree on at certain times?

A: Mr. Meihi is a fantastic editor, he would never raise his voice or get angry about any sor t of disagreements, but he;s also the sort of person that doesn't back down from an idea, so when we don;t see eye to eye its a very long conversation.

Q: By leaving Kayaba, the main key story in Sword Art Online, Alfheim Online and the side story arcs (Alicization, Mother's Rosario), out of Gun Gale Online, would you have preferred him to have a part in it? In Alfheim Online, Kayaba had a hand in Kirito's success of saving Asuna. In Gun Gale Online however, we don't have any information on Kayaba. It's almost as if he had lost his importance. Would you have given him more importance if you were to redo Gun Gale Online?

A: If Kayaba is the ringleader for every story arc it will fall into a set pattern, I intentionally left Kayaba out of Gun Gale Online so that it wouldn't become routine.

Just a follow up, I love the Alicization arc and the story between Kirito and Asuna and how you dealt with Asuna's insecurities.

Q: How were you able to craft such a believable, virtual game within your stories, while in many other shows such efforts are unrealistic and corny?

A: I was able to make the virtual world of Sword Art Online by studying various Western sci-fi novelists and movies in the United States that featured virtual reality. Learning from those things, I was able to incorporate a lot of what I experienced into my world. The founding roots of Sword Art Online came from James P. Hogan's novel Realtime Interrupt about a character being trapped in a virtual reality world.

Q: In Accel World, Black Lotus's name is never revealed. Would you be able to go into why it was never revealed? Or if you would in the future like to expand on the story to reveal that?

A: To frankly answer the question, when I wrote the first volume of Accel World, there were no plans to write a second volume. Therefore, the first volume ended with Kuroyukihime about to reveal her name, and didn't. Eventually when the volume two came around, I felt like I lost the moment to reveal the name, so it's sort of in the limbo state that it's in right now. If I ever get to the last volume, I'll reveal it then.

Q: Right now, you're very busy with your success. What do you like to do when you're not busy, and actually have some time off. Do you have any hobbies?

A: In my answer, if I take online games out of that equation, I really like riding road bikes. I've recently bought a Trek bike and when I heard about what happened to Lance Armstrong, I felt very saddened.

Q: In a recent 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 don't die?

A: (Laughs.) If I can't put in don't die, or other than don't die would be, don't leave the town!

Q: In Accel World, Haruyuki was an underwhelming character who turned out to be extraordinary, while Sword Art Online's Kirito is handsome, smart and skilled, turning out to be even more so in the game. What influenced the drastic difference between the two characters, did your age at the time of writing the two stories play a role?

A: So, honestly speaking, the character of Kirito existed first, but because that character was so seemingly very perfect, Kirito has his weaknesses inside, whereas Haruyuki has his weaknesses on the outside, but has extreme strength on the inside. Both of them have their strengths and weaknesses and I never really considered either one or the other to be inferior or superior to either one.

Q: When was it that you decided to become novelist, and you decided that this is the career you would like to follow? Did it begin in your childhood days, was it simply a love for writing or reading stories that led to your debut as a writer?

I've always liked creating stories since I was little. The initial profession that I wanted to strive to become was a game scenario or game story writer. However that dream never came to be, so at some point I had become a writer.

Q: (From translator): At which point did you switch from wanting to become a game writer to a writer?

A: When I was a student in school, I definitely still wanted to be a game writer, but there was a big hurdle that I could not overcome. In order to become a game writer you had to have worked for a gaming company, and getting hired at a gaming company was an extremely high wall that I was unable to climb over, so I found myself becoming a writer. This was in my 20s, after being a student.

Q: What kind of difficulties did you face when writing Accel World and Sword Art Online?

A: One of the difficulties I had was the fact that in Accel World, when you go into the virtual world, you're moving at a thousand times normal speed. So I had a hard time calculating! Okay, if it's this many hours in the virtual world, how long has it been in the real world? And vice versa. I also really lament the fact that, why does one one minute have to be 60 seconds instead of 100 seconds, which would have made the calculations much more simple.

Q: Looking at sales figures for the anime adaptions of Accel World and Sword Art Online, and if by any indication, Sword Art Online has sold considerably more DVD/BDs (~35,000) per novel volume than Accel World (~10,000) has. Judging by the numbers, Sword Art Online is still significantly more popular than Accel World. What is your take on the discrepancies of the sales? Is it possible that because Sword Art Online is perhaps geared more towards female audiences, or is more girl friendly due to Kirito's presence, which generated more DVD/BD and PSP game sales?

A: It is true that the fan base for Sword Art Online in the various age groups is very high, including female fans. But for me, I wrote Accel World directed towards a younger audience, so seeing discrepancies in the numbers personally, I'm a little disappointed in regards to the sales figures for Accel World. However, worrying about numbers is the worry of our publishing company and the animation company Aniplex, so I myself try not to think about sales figures.

Q: What did you expect coming into Sakura-Con? Did you experience anything strange or new to you, or good or bad experiences?

A:I have to say, at Sakura-Con, I was very happy to see so many Kiritos! Seeing the panel room filled with so many fans, and so many fans reacting so positively and openly in such a forum, was a big surprise, a very uplifting experience for me. I can't even imagine such an event happening in Japan, in the middle of a large city, at such a large venue, and the fans having the type of reactions that they expressed here in Japan.

Q:When you were creating the Alicization arc in Sword Art Online, were time was sped up by 1000 and willpower was the key to everything, was the technology used in the Alicization arc carried over as a foundation to Accel World?

A: It is true that the technology used in Alicization could be, or is the foundation of the technology being used in Accel World, but at this point, like I said, it might be similar technologies having a similar technological chain, but it hasn't been made clear that it is in fact the same world. The two worlds could just have a similar technological advance. Also, as I noted before, if I were to clearly state the two worlds are the same, the number of things that need to be resolved in order for such a thing to be clearly possible is, the numbers are tens of thousands of times greater than I can even hope to do right now! Seeing a movie likeThe Avengers, where it took a bunch of properties into one cohesive title, I have to say that the creative staff on that movie is quite amazing.

Q: Just a follow up, in the Alicization arc where willpower is the key rather than skill, was that something then to bring Kirito down to a more manageable level rather than his previous overpowering god-like mode?

A: So its true that the decision might have been to make Kirito less "God-like" as you put it, but by the end of the Alicization arc that work would have been all for naught considering what happens to him at the end of the story.

Q: In Alicization Turning (Vol 11), The Cardinal has been personified as an NPC or AI. From an all powerful program, to a program that's unable to do it's original function, what was your intention of doing this?

A: So in the Sword Art Online original story arc, was the original battle of Kirito vs. Kayaba, but at the same time it was a battle against the system itself. In order for Kirito to combat the system, it became necessary in the Alicization arc when he goes up against the system to make it all powerful without a personality, to start having some difficulties. So in order to create the story for the battle against the system it was necessary for me to give it a personality and to make it something that Kirito could face.