After the massive disappointment that was the Death Note movie, it was understandable for fans to be wary about Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Sword Art Online. Death Note was not only a victim of whitewashing but it was also rushed, poorly-paced, and tried too hard to make Light sympathetic, though they did make him more like the anime version near the end.
While it’s too early to tell if the SAO live-action, Laeta Kalogridis, a writer/producer who has worked on a number of sci-fi projects like Altered Carbon, quickly addressed the whitewashing issue.
During an interview with Collider, Kalogridis quickly mentioned that the SAO live-action Netflix series will star Asian actors. She mentions how the series is based on a Japanese property and that neither Netflix nor her has no intention of whitewashing the series. Though she mentions that the series will have an international flavor, due to the massive online world, Kirito and Asuna will be Asian.
“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.”
It’s good to hear this from Kalogridis, given Hollywood’s history of whitewashing characters. Hopefully, Netflix also works on the flaws of Sword Art Online, which is far from perfect. Lead character Kirito is one of the most unlikeable anime leads ever made, while Asuna starts off strong and ends up becoming a typical damsel in distress by the end.
Similar to .hack, Sword Art Online has players trapped in an online game by an unknown force. The worst part is, if they die in the game, they will die in real life. Starting out as a visual novel, it quickly got a popular anime series and plenty of video game adaptations. No release date for the Netflix series has been announced.