Interview with Sword Art Online The Movie -Ordinal Scale- creators
Hollywood, California, played host to the March 1st U.S. premiere of Sword Art Online the Movie -Ordinal Scale-, just eight days before it releases in select theaters across North America. Fans lined up early to be the first outside of Japan to see the movies, and Aniplex of America brought a few special guests from Japan including Reki Kawahara (writer/creator), abec (illustrator), and Shingo Adachi (character designer). They were also joined by fellow producers and directors for the film.
Before the premiere, we had a chance to talk with the special guests alongside a few other members of the media.
What had inspired you guys to make this story arc into a movie instead of another sequel?
Reki Kawahara: The idea for this work came up from the end of Season 2. Back then, Sword Art Online the novel was not finished yet, so in order to wrap up all the other loose ends, we decided to come up with this style of storytelling.
This question is for Mr. Kawahara specifically. How do you find the process writing screenplays versus writing novels?
Reki Kawahara: One difference with a screenplay is you don’t get to depict what’s going on inside the character’s heads. I found that to be somewhat of a challenge. However, for a screenplay, you get to play with very concrete events, so that was a different challenge that was quite fun to pursue.
For Mr. Tomohiko Ito, you’ve directed both seasons and the movie. Were there any hurdles going from directing the series into a movie?
Tomohiko Ito: One thing that’s very different is the length. For the theatrical, we have a two-hour production to make, and whereas with a 30-minute show, there’s quite a predictable pacing I can work with. That’s not present with a movie and also, for the production of a TV show, after we make each episode, we can talk that over with the staff and go over an iterative process, and that was lacking with the movie. So staff communication was another challenge.
We see Kirito and friends going from using the NerveGear to Augma in the film. What led to the decision of going from virtual reality to augmented reality in the movie?
Reki Kawahara: To put it briefly, compared to the TV world, I wanted a new angle of storytelling. Besides that, for the TV setting, the character you have, the characters pretty much lie in bed with their NerveGear on. There’s this duality world where the flesh world, they’re in just beds. The grandeur takes place somewhere else, and that’s always been bothering me. And so for this story, I wanted something that gave much more presence of—what shall we say: solid, concrete?—presence of flesh into the characters.
This question is for Shingo Adachi. You’re the chief animation director on this, and I wanted to know how many of the film’s cuts you supervised directly, and if you were able to draw any cuts directly yourself for this one?
Shingo Adachi: I don’t have a specific count. Perhaps I supervised approximately 2/3rds of the cut. But for trailers, promotional videos and commercials, I pretty much supervised everything and pretty much had a hand in drawing our key animation as well.
I did work directly on a whole lot of retake cuts and especially because of that, I had very little involvement in doing any key animation from scratch except for the very ending of the movie where Kirito goes to visit Asuna’s house and meets her mother. That part was directly requested by the director for me to draw, so on that part, I drew the keys from scratch. But also, for posters and stills for Ordinal Scale, I supervised pretty much all of them, and I saw the serial numbers go up to 90, so if I include all the unnumbered ones I probably at least checked, supervised or drew at least 100 posters and stills. I tend to think the bulk of my real work is to come up with the promotional material so that there would be theatergoers to watch the film. Because no matter how great of a film director Ito makes, if no one is at the theater, there won’t be anyone appreciating it. So I tend to think my real work is in coming up with all the promotional items for the theater.
This question is for Mr. Kawahara. Now that he’s seen the light novel, the series and the movie, now looking back, is there any arc that he wants to maybe make shorter or prolong in the anime series? If he could go back.
Reki Kawahara: If I had known that SAO was going to be animated, I would have made Aincrad probably 10 times as long and given a depiction of every single level much more attention. However, I think SAO got to be this much loved and popular globally probably because of the diversity of the game worlds that each of the characters go to (the elf worlds, the gun worlds), and so in retrospect, I’m pretty sure each of the arcs was written at the right amount.
As you said before, you were interested in looking into doing the VR video game, and you still have a new season to come out. Would you be interested in going back into another movie?
Reki Kawahara: This would be predicated on all the fan support converging into one. And for example, some of the feature development and potentials may include, which was just mentioned, VR content. And also for the Stateside, Skydance Studios is interested in doing a live-action version of SAO and in order to continually attract the attention of fans and creators alike. I think we need to continually come up with new content and deliver.
This question is for Mr. Ito. Your last TV anime series Erased aired in Winter 2016. Were you working on this movie and Erased at the same time, and if so, what was your schedule like, and are you okay?
Tomohiko Ito: The production of Ordinal Scale was completely in parallel to the development work on the other TV show. To give you a timeline, Mr. Kawahara was working on the plot and screenplay for Ordinal Scale. He came up with a plot draft around February of 2015. A final draft of the screenplay was finished on the 30th of September of 2015. And as soon as the screenplay was finalized, that was when the storyboard work started. And there was another director who worked on all the action scenes. He was also working on Erased, so both of us had dual work working on Ordinal Scale that went parallel to Erased.
This question is for Kazuma Miki. You wrote a book— Omoshirokereba Nandemo Ari (If It’s Interesting, the Sky is the Limit.) In that book, you talk a lot about how important it is to cross promote light novels with television and video games and in films. Now Sword Art Online has all of that stuff including live-action Hollywood adaptation coming up. And I was wondering in your professional opinion, what is the most important of those. What is the most important for the long term longevity of the franchise.
Kazuma Miki: For me, there’s a definite answer to that, and that would be the original source of all the stories. And that is very much the light novel of Sword Art Online. And Mr. Karahara writes great stories, so I think it’s pretty much our task to come up with cross-media promotion so that the novels are better and best known to the world. I think the multimedia production is pretty much the way to promote the story so that there’s much more exposure to everyone, so everyone can talk about the story and say how great it is or how unimportant or something, or how dull or how great a story may be. And I think a multimedia development works because if we animate Sword Art Online, that reaches a different audience such as American anime watchers who may not have access to the light novels. I tasked it onto myself to go into that direction.
Afterward, we headed to the red carpet where a few of the English dub cast for the Sword Art Online series appeared along with a few cosplayers.
So how’s the movie overall? Honestly, it was a lot of fun and a nice change of pace for the series. It took a few more risks than it had in the series and focused heavily on the relationship between Asuna and Kirito. Stay tuned to see the full review!