The popular fantasy novel series “Sword Art Online (SAO)”, is to be made into a live-action TV series by a U.S. media company. The drama, based on the series of novels written by Reki Kawahara, will be produced by Skydance Media. The Hollywood company is known for its production of “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation.”
Kawahara began writing SAO around 2001 and initially released the novel online. The work eventually took on other forms — manga, anime and video games — to become a media franchise.
Publication in book form started in 2009, and 12.5 million copies have been printed in Japan so far. There have been 6.5 million translated copies printed in 10 foreign countries and territories. Kadokawa Corp., under its Dengeki Bunko imprint label, has published 22 volumes in the SAO series. The label features young adult fiction, also called light novels in Japan, with plots and narration tailored to the younger generation. Manga illustrations on the cover, as well as those accompanying the story, add to the appeal.
Laeta Kalogridis, executive producer of “Avatar,” will write the script of the drama’s pilot episode. The series’ broadcast schedule has yet to be announced. “I’m really excited and feel grateful for this unexpected development,” Kawahara told The Yomiuri Shimbun.
SAO is a tale of a young man named Kirito and a group of his friends who are trapped in a virtual reality online role-playing game. They fight their enemies with swords under do-or-die conditions: If they die in the virtual reality game, they really are dead.
The bond among the characters and the efforts they make to save each other, as well as their romantic relationships, seem to have won the hearts of a generation who grew up with video games.
In China, translated copies of the novels have been printed 3.72 million, followed by 1.45 million copies in Taiwan and 760,000 copies in South Korea. A combined 360,000 copies have been printed in North America and Britain.
The latest TV project will be added to the list of film and TV drama adaptations of Japan’s subculture works produced by Hollywood companies. Previous works include the “Resident Evil” film series based on the video game “Biohazard,” and the film “Edge of Tomorrow,” released two years ago, starring Tom Cruise and based on the novel “All You Need Is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.
Dengeki Bunko fiction and other light novels have attracted young male readers of middle and high school age in Japan by casting a lovable female character, or presenting a quasi-harem situation for the protagonists at school or in a parallel world as a backdrop. The popularity of such novels in other East Asian countries may be an indicator that this is a common preference.
SAO is different in this respect, as it also enjoys popularity among Americans, who apparently look at it from another angle. Kazuma Miki, editor of the novel, thinks it is the way the male protagonist remains committed to the heroine almost from the beginning of the story. “It goes against the mainstream of other light novels where protagonists are never committed to anybody in particular,” he said. “Such a relationship is probably more acceptable to Western readers.” He also said SAO includes adult characters and shows ethnic diversity, while other light novels usually depict a closed, young community.