Sakura-Con 2016 – Reki Kawahara and abec Panel

Another panel to focus on a franchise popular in recent years, guests Reki Kawahara and abec of Sword Art Online sat in with one of the larger audiences I saw this con. I did not attend the movie event before this panel since I was content to wait for its release further down the line in the U.S.

Kawahara Reki is the original creator of the Sword Art Online novels, as well as Accel World. He is still working on SAO installments, and was present at Sakura-Con for a second time to promote the upcoming film.

abec is the original character designer for the illustrations of SAO television series and movie.

Q&A

*Any transcription below is provided first through a translator’s words, then paraphrased as needed by me.*

Q: How did you feel about how the fans reacted at the movie event?

abec: First off, I am very tired. As those of you who have seen it can relate, if it wasn’t for Klein, I wouldn’t have been able to pull off such a high quality production.

Q: Can you tell us who your favorite characters are from SAO?

A: Klein. Ever since the anime came out, I really like how Adachi draws the black-haired girls, like Suguha and her boobs.

Kawahara: When writing the book, my favorite characters depend on the part of the book I’m writing. If you notice in SAO, a lot of the girls have a straight across haircut, which is my favorite haircut. So I was thinking, who is my favorite with the straight bangs, the girl who unfortunately passed away, Yuuki.

Q: When creating and designing the characters of SAO, did Kawahara-san have certain requests?

A: SAO started out as web-based novels. Back then, Kawahara drew the characters himself, did them on his own. As far as the characters Kirito, Asuna, and son on, those were based off of Kawahara’s illustrations. As far as Klein and other originals are concerned, it originally looked as if they were going to kill someone. I ended up toning them down to a milder expression. As far as the aforementioned characters are concerned, they were expressed to be milder. For Asuna and others, I tried to retain their original tone with my own twist.

Q: Near the end of Volume 1, Kirito talked about struggling against the absolute. Bearing that in mind, did the works of Joseph Campbell, and the concept of the Hero’s Journey, have any influence on your work?

K: This is actually the first I’ve heard of that. Sorry!

Q: Kawahara, if you had a chance to remake SAO and alter things, what would they be?

K: When we started to discuss creating the movie, I was actually ambivalent about if we should remake the Aincrad arc, or if we should start something new. If we were to remake that arc, I probably would’ve made Kirito more faithful to Asuna.

Q: What was the journey like to get to where you are today?

K: I was originally writing novels, SAO one of them, and was publishing online novels. From there, it became a book, then an anime, then a movie. I just was very fortunate that such success came to me. In terms of struggles or hard work, the only thing I’ve been doing is writing and keeping writing. In terms of success of the book and television series, we can’t ignore the editor and producer and their hard work, because all I’ve been doing is writing.

A: Before I established myself as abec, I had worked as BunBun, which I used since I was nineteen, working under that name for six to seven years. Even before that, back in junior and senior high school, then university, I kept drawing and uploading them to the Internet, grabbing more of an audience from there. Under a different alias, I was drawing NSFW material, and that’s when the editor came across that. That’s how I got my job for SAO. It is thanks to that kind of work that I’ve been brought to this position. You never know what’s going to happen in life, and it may be a matter of good luck.

Q: Kawahara, with the afterword of the volume of Progressive, you mentioned 100 floors; do you mean to increase the pacing of your works?

K: One of the contributing factors is that while I’m writing Progressive, I’m also writing the main story. Once the main is completed, I can focus all on Progressive. With that, I should be able to go through more books, about five layers per year. I asked Miki-san, my editor, about completing Alicization, but he said to keep at it, keep writing. I might not be able to focus on Progressive immediately. The pace of Progressive may not change for the near future. It might take thirty to forty years!

Q: Kawahara, as a creator of such a beautiful world, pushing people to embrace it, is there anything as the father of this project that makes you happy?

K: I don’t know if you know the YouTube series, Man at Arms, where they actually make swords from various shows. When I saw they were making swords from SAO, it was really exciting to see them making an actual Elucidator. It was amazing.

Q: abec, from what we can tell from the previous panel, not only did you do the concept art, but also the background and the world itself. What were some highlights from translating the art from the works?

A: What I felt the most fun was drawing the monsters or one-off characters, like the old-looking guys, who would only appear once in the series.

Q: Starting out as a writer and artist, what would you say your influences are?

K: When creating SAO, in terms of creating the world view, once of my influences was Blizzard’s Warcraft. When playing WoW, if we’re looking at the amount hours, about 80% of my life was in that world. I was thinking, okay, I’m spending  80% of my life in this and there’s more to do. If I keep doing this, I won’t be able to leave this world. That’s when I stopped playing. But honestly, I have the urge to go back. Another big influence is Ghost in the Shell. The thought of the full dive experience and the mechanics of what’s used in the world is borrowed from GitS.

A: As an illustrator, I do have influences from various artists, ranging from YuYuHakusho, Slayers. In terms of fantasy art, I feel I’m mostly influenced by Slayers and Orphen.

K: Did you get any influences from your older sister?

A: Firstly, as background, my older sister works with KyoAni, with works like K-ON!, Tamako Market, and Lucky Star. Around junior high school, there was a significant difference in skill level. My sister wouldn’t show me things and would think I would copy her. In terms of style itself, I haven’t been influenced by my sister.

Q: Kawahara, as a creator of a written work, how do you feel about fan translation as people working without a publisher to get your work to people who don’t speak Japanese, like English, Spanish. Do your feelings change at all as an official publication comes out for the respective country?

K: First off, last time when I was here at Sakura-Con three years ago, I was asked about 16.5, and was surprised anyone knew about it. Seeing that, I found out they knew about it because of the fan translation. I thought that was cool. But from there, on a personal level, I think it’s nice that the fans have that much love to share the world and works.

Editor: Given that I work at a publishing company, from a business perspective, I have to take a negative stance on this. At the same time, I do appreciate the love and support of the fans and that they want to see it in their language. Given that Kawahara’s work was originally published online and there were already fans in the first place, it’s those fans who made that work grow and become what it is now. As long as the higher ups don’t yell at me, I’d like to think that I have some support for that activity.

Aniplex: We have to be very careful. This is not the company’s opinion, this is a personal opinion. All this fan work lives in the same space as the business. As that goes, if the question is if it’s good or bad, it’s in the gray zone. I’m not going to say it’s all bad and that we can’t have any of it; there’s probably some part where both can co-exist and benefit each other.

K: There are a lot of fans, like on Twitter, that say I want to translate your novels into this language, or make a game based on it. They’re asking me for permission, a position that I’m not in to give. At the same time, my personal stance is, I can’t stop you. I’m not going to hunt you down and say, no, stop that. That’s my personal opinion.

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