‘Altered Carbon’ Creator Laeta Kalogridis on Avoiding “Whitewashing” in ‘Sword Art Online’
If you’re a sci-fi fan, the name of Laeta Kalogridis is one that should become very familiar to you in the weeks, months, and years ahead, if it isn’t already. Kalogridis, whose work as a writer/producer goes back to the early 2000s, has a sci-fi heavy slate of projects at the moment, with Netflix’s Altered Carbon being foremost. Our own Christina Radish will have more with Kalogridis about the series’ first season and its excellent adaptation of Richard K. Morgan‘s tome and a heaping helping of cyberpunk standbys, but it’s to another of the writer/producer’s projects we turn to today.
From Christina’s interview, Kalogridis addressed the upcoming Netflix series adaptation of Sword Art Online, the Japanese light novel series originally created by writer Reki Kawahara and illustrator abec back in 2009. The story follows Kirito and Asuna, two players of “Sword Art Online,” a fully immersive virtual reality game, who find themselves trapped within it. To make matters worse, an in-game death results in a real-world death. S.A.O. has gone on to enjoy great success and a number of expansions and continuations of the story, but the biggest Western audience the property will enjoy will be when Skydance Television’s Netflix production makes its debut. Kalogridis wrote the pilot and will serve as executive producer for the series. But since Western adaptations of Japanese creations tend to be a sore spot when it comes to “whitewashing” the cast of characters, Kalogridis is already addressing the topic head on when it comes to Sword Art Online.
What would you like to see with the live-action English version of
[Sword Art Online, the] popular Japanese novel and anime franchise? What do you think the best English version of that is?
KALOGRIDIS: 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.
With that out of the way, Kalogridis also talked about the storytelling approach to adapting the manga/anime, especially as compared to Altered Carbon:
The second thing, in terms of what I would like to see for SAO, is that I feel it’s a much more aspirational story about hope and much less about darkness than Altered Carbon is. Asuna is sort of the savior of the world, in my mind and in the mind of the showrunners, [Patrick] Massett and [John] Zinman, who are doing the show. There’s a real ability to explore a fantasy-based The Lord of the Rings / Game of Thrones kind of world through the lens of these people who are trapped in it and don’t necessarily want to be there, but who have to learn how to survive in it. What I’m most interested in is all of the human stories, when everything else falls away and it’s life or death, in a place where you were never expecting to be trapped. That’s what I loved about the original anime and that’s what I love about the live-action adaptation, as we are currently envisioning it.
Sword Art Online offers a truly massive area to explore, both in terms of in-show geography and in cutting-edge storytelling. Bringing a cast that best reflects that characters that fans have been following for nearly a decade will best serve that story. And if Altered Carbon is any indication as to how Kalogridis and her team can translate super heady sci-fi stories to the small screen, I think Sword Art Online fans are in for a treat.
Keep an eye out for more with Kalogridis this week! But in the meantime, be sure to let us know your thoughts on the Sword Art Online adaptation in the comments.