For better or for worse, a live action Sword Art Online TV series based on the anime of the same name is heading to Netflix. Unlike previous Hollywood anime adaptations like Ghost in the Shell and Death Note, which were widely criticized for recasting Japanese roles with white actors, the filmmakers behind this new Sword Art Online adaptation want to avoid making a whitewashed version of the source material.
Sword Art Online is a 2012 anime series about 10,000 players who logged into a virtual reality massively multiplayer online role-playing game only to find that they couldn’t log out. To make matters worse, if they die in the game, they die in real life. With thousands of innocent lives hanging in the balance, two highly skilled players—Kirito and Asuna—join forces to beat the game and uncover the game creator’s terrible secrets. It’s sort of like David Cronenberg-meets-Ready Player One, which is to say deeply messed up and wildly addictive.
In an interview with Collider, producer Laeta Kalogridis (Altered Carbon) confirmed that the series is Netflix bound, and assuaged fans’ fears about the casting process.
“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.”
There is no other information about the forthcoming Sword Art Online series at this time. Kalogridis’ comments about not wanting to contribute to an ongoing legacy of Asian erasure in Hollywood, especially in a genre that has a long and troubled history of doing so, are reassuring. Whether or not they can live up to their words, though, remains to be seen.
Are you excited for a live action Sword Art Online TV series? Whoo would you want to see star in it? Let us know in the comments below.
Images: Aniplex of America
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Dan Casey is the senior editor of Nerdist and the author of books about Star Wars and the Avengers. Follow him on Twitter ( @DanCasey).