Interview with Kawahara Reki

SUTORAIKUanime joined several other media outlets in a press conference conducted at Sakura-Con 2013 with Accel World and Sword Art Online novelist Kawahara Reki. We are pleased to share this interview with our readers, as it was a rather amusing session to take part in, and we hope some of the answers provided may serve to quench your own curiosities regarding Kawahara Reki and his works.

If SAO was to be turned into a real MMO, would you play it?

As long as it's not permadeath, I might.

This is your first convention in the United States, is there any kind of food or anything you want to try while you're in Seattle?

I had for the first time in my life, real oatmeal this morning and it was very delicious. I'd like to try a real, American-sized T-bone steak.

In a recent interview, you said that coming up with the simple idea of players trapped in an MMORPG was the easy part, but that finding the mechanism was the difficult part. You also admitted that the Nerve Gear system did have its faults thus creating plot holes. If you had more time to add to the story and fix the little things that you were finding had fault, what would you add or change?

One of the things that I heard about was, wouldn't it be possible to somehow instantaneously destroy the Nerve Gear that the players are using to make it inactive in time before it would kill the player? That's one of the things that was brought up to me. In order to combat such measures, one of the ideas was to have Kayaba announce that should anybody attempt this, or even succeed, another player randomly will pay for that action.

Asuna is a bit of a tricky character. She starts off as an incredibly strong fighter, important to the political system of Sword Art Online. But in Alfheim Online, she is caged and sexually assaulted. What would you say to the critics who find her role problematic, especially given the often misogynistic climate of anime and gaming?

As I said previously, the character of Asuna I might have created a little too perfectly for Sword Art Online. When teamed up with Kirito, there were hardly any problems the two as a pair could not overcome. In order to increase the sense of urgency during the Fairy Dance story arc, I needed to have her be unable to help Kirito and in caging her, I do have some regrets about putting her in the situation in order to build up the sense of danger for Kirito's adventure in the Fairy Dance arc. As recompense internally, I made a story as a followup called Mother's Rosario where Asuna was the main character. Should there be more animation, I would really like to see that story depicted.

How much of Kirito's personality and character is based off your own personality and character, or characters you've played in other MMOs?

I don't tend to put myself into my characters, but if I had to say there was a point of similarity between Kirito and myself, it is the fact that neither of us are good at forming parties. We tend to play solo in these games a lot.

This question has been asked several times before, but there is legitimate speculation that shows some kind of connection between Accel World and Sword Art Online. For example, in the 9th volume of the Sword Art Online light novels, Kirito talks about going to America to study and research a new type of Dive Technology, which is the brain implant chips. Additionally, in episode 22 of the Sword Art Online anime, the end card illustration shows Kirito holding a sword that very closely resembles Silver Crow's armour while Leafa is holding Black Lotus's sword. Whether or not there is an actual connection between Accel World and Sword Art Online is still uncertain, but were these similarities intentional? Or were these implemented to sort of create a sense of the same in both of these stories?

First I'll start by explaining the end card illustration in episode 22. The picture in the end card illustration of episode 22 came from the fact that the illustration was done by the mechanical designer of Accel World, Kabashima Yousuke, and in his connection to Sword Art Online, was being playful and created that illustration. At this point, the two shows are separate, as an author I consider those two titles separate. However, there may be some varied similarities and points that connect between the two shows. Now, that's not to say, should some issues be resolved with both storylines, possibly there will be a third series that has ties to both titles, but I can't say for sure at this point.

Between 2002 when you first submitted Sword Art Online for the Dengeki Shosetsu Taisho and the actual publication date in 2008, what did you do?

During that period, I was serializing Sword Art Online on my homepage, and eventually that was picked up for publication, reworked, edited, and released in 2008. And I have to say, I've only done the entirety of what I wrote on those pages in the novel series.

Explain the process of how your work was turned into a multi-platform media, a transmedia property. Be it the series, the manga, how did you intention it to start?

Well first of all, if I had thought it would be a multi-media phenomenon, I might have made the main character in Accel World, Haruyuki, a little cooler. In the beginning, I was more worried about whether or not I would succeed as a writer, let alone even thinking ahead of that to an animated version of my novels. When my editor came to me and said hey, do you want to animate this? I was shocked for one, but very very pleased to hear that somebody wanted to see it animated.

The Sword Art Online novels aren't readily available in English, so there's a group of fan translators that take it upon themselves to translate the light novels from Japanese to English, and publish them online. What are your thoughts on this?

First of all, I have to say I'm very happy to hear there are fans overseas who want to read the light novels to the point of having translations made. I brought this up to my editor and said, why isn't there? He replied, as soon as a publisher in the United States makes us an offer, I'm definitely willing to consider it.

You've mentioned in the past that there wasn't really that much left out from the anime compared to the light novels. However, there were a few things like the Underworld arc in Alfheim Online and also during Murder Case, the epilogue was heavily truncated. A joke was left out where Suguha slips snow down the back of Kirito's shirt, as well as foreshadowing during Murder Case when Kirito storms in with his horse. Do you feel anything was missed in the anime, and once Progressive is completed, do you have any intentions to include those scenes if you had the opportunity to do so? 

The root behind that was, when I was originally serializing Sword Art Online on my homepage, that scene didn't exist, but when it was novelized, it didn't have enough pages! So I kind of tacked that on.

Obviously Sword Art Online is heavily linked to MMOs. What is your own experience with MMOs and do you have any favourites?

The game I played most was World of Warcraft, but recently I'm enjoying Diablo III quite much. I'm a big fan of Blizzard's games, but I'm kind of sad that Japanese versions of these Blizzard games don't exist!

You've said that you feel very fortunate to meet your editor. Are there things the two of you couldn't agree on at certain times?

My editor is fantastic. He would never raise his voice or get angry over any disagreements we may have. But, he's also the kind of person who won't back down from an idea. As a result, when we don't see eye to eye, it becomes a very, very long conversation.

By leaving Kayaba, the main key story in Sword Art Online, Alfheim Online and the side story arcs, out of Gun Gale Online, would you have preferred him to have a part in it? In Alfheim Online, Kayaba had a hand in Kirito's success of saving Asuna. In Gun Gale Online however, we don't have any information on Kayaba. It's almost as if he had lost his importance. Would you have given him more importance if you were to redo Gun Gale Online?

If Kayaba is the ringleader in the storyline for every story arc, it might start falling into a set pattern. I intentionally left Kayaba out of the Gun Gale story arc so that it didn't fall into routine.

How were you able to craft such a believable, virtual game within your stories, while in many other shows such efforts are unrealistic and trite?

I was able to make the virtual world of Sword Art Online by studying various Western sci-fi novelists and movies in the United States that featured virtual reality. Learning from those, I was able to incorporate a lot of what I experienced into my world. The founding roots of Sword Art Online came from James P. Hogan's novel Realtime Interrupt about a character being trapped in a virtual reality world.

In Accel World, Black Lotus's name is never revealed. Would you be able to go into why it was never revealed? Or if you would in the future like to expand on the story to reveal that?

To frankly answer the question, when I wrote the first volume of Accel World, there were no plans to write a second volume. Therefore, the first volume ended with Kuroyukihime about to reveal her name, and didn't. Eventually when the second volume came around, I felt like I lost the moment to reveal the name, so it's sort of in the limbo state that it's in right now. If I ever get to the last volume, I'll reveal it then.

Right now, you're very busy with your success. What do you like to do when you're not busy, and actually have some time off. Do you have any hobbies?

In my answer, if I take online games out of that equation, I really like riding road bikes. I've recently purchased a Trek bike and when I heard about what happened to Lance Armstrong, I felt very saddened.

In a recent interview, you stated that you tend to use strategy guides for RPGs. If you were to create one for Sword Art Online, what would you include and what kind of advice would you give other than not to die?

If I can't put in don't die, or other than don't die would be, don't leave the town.

In Accel World, Haruyuki was an underwhelming character who turned out to be extraordinary, while Sword Art Online's Kirito is handsome, smart and skilled, turning out to be even more so in the game. What influenced the drastic difference between the two characters, did your age at the time of writing the two stories play a role?

Honestly speaking, the character of Kirito existed first, but because that character was seemingly very perfect, Kirito has his weaknesses inside, whereas Haruyuki has his weaknesses on the outside, but has extreme strength on the inside. Both of them have their strengths and weaknesses and I never really considered one or the other to be inferior or superior to either one.

When was it that you decided to become novelist, and you decided that this is the career you would like to follow? Did it begin in your childhood days, was it simply a love for writing or reading stories that led to your debut as a writer?

I've always liked creating stories since I was young. The initial profession that I wanted to strive to become was a game scenario or story writer. However that dream never came to be, so at some point I had become a writer.

At which point did you switch from wanting to become a game writer to a writer?

When I was a student in school, I definitely still wanted to be a game writer, but there was a big hurdle that I could not overcome. In order to become a game writer you had to have worked for a gaming company, and getting hired at a gaming company was an extremely high wall that I was unable to climb over, so I found myself becoming a writer. This was in my 20s, after being a student.

What kind of difficulties did you face when writing Accel World and Sword Art Online?

One of the difficulties I had was the fact that in Accel World, when you go into the virtual world, you're moving at a thousand times normal speed. I had a hard time calculating! Okay, if it's this many hours in the virtual world, how long has it been in the real world? And vice versa. I also really lament the fact that, why does one one minute have to be 60 seconds instead of 100 seconds, which would have mad the calculations much more simple.

Looking at sales figures for the anime adaptions of Accel World and Sword Art Online, and if by any indication, Sword Art Online has sold considerably more DVD/BDs per novel volume than Accel World has. Judging by the numbers, Sword Art Online is still significantly more popular than Accel World. What is your take on the discrepancies of the sales? Is it possible that because Sword Art Online is perhaps geared more towards female audiences due to Kirito's presence, which generated more DVD/BD and PSP game sales? 

It is true that the fan base for Sword Art Online in the various age groups is very high, including female fans. But for me, I wrote Accel World directed towards a younger audience, so seeing discrepancies in the numbers personally, I'm a little disappointed in regards to the sales figures for Accel World. However, worrying about numbers is the worry of our publishing company and the animation company Aniplex, so I myself try not to think about sales figures.

What did you expect coming into Sakura-Con? Did you experience anything strange or new to you?

I have to say, at Sakura-Con, I was very happy to see so many Kiritos! Seeing the panel room filled with so many fans, and so many fans reacting so positively and openly in such a forum, was a big surprise, a very uplifting experience for me. I can't even imagine such an event happening in Japan, in the middle of a large city, at such a large venue, and the fans having the type of reactions that they expressed here in Japan.

When you were creating the Alicization arc in Sword Art Online, was the technology used in the Alicization arc carried over as a foundation to Accel World?

It is true that the technology used in Alicization could be, or is the foundation of the technology being used in Accel World, but at this point, like I said, it might be similar technologies having a similar technological chain, but it hasn't been made clear that it is in fact the same world. The two worlds could just have a similar technological advance. Also, as I noted before, if I were to clearly state the two worlds are the same, the number of things that need to be resolved in order for such a thing to be clearly possible is, the numbers are tens of thousands of times greater than I can even hope to do right now! Seeing a movie like The Avengers, where it took a bunch of properties into one cohesive title, I have to say that the creative staff on that movie is quite amazing.

This marks the end of the interview


  1. Just for clarification, I was actually talking about when I was talking about the Underground. The name of the place had escaped me during the conference.

    Also, are the missing questions going to be added or were they left out because they were too spoiler heavy for people who aren't reading the LN?

  2. Thanks Bastille, I will update this post shortly.

    To answer your second question, a few details, and as a result questions were decidedly left out to make this interview more easily accessible to those who have not had a chance to read through the LNs or watch much of the anime.

  3. Could you make post with spoiler-ish questions and answers or something that we, who read all the light novels and werent on sakura con, could read those questions? Thanks in advance

  4. Not in this post, but we will share the two questions and answers on our Facebook page, as per request!

  5. Is there more information if Accel World manga/anime or Gun gale anime are coming out soon?