Kirito and his fellow virtual reality adventurers to be portrayed by real-world actors.
Contrary to some early expectations, 2012 anime Sword Art Online didn’t achieve quite the same breakout popularity among mainstream western audiences as Dragon Ball, Ghost in the Shell, or Cowboy Bebop. Still, Sword Art Online proved to be a massive hit among the demographics it was tailored for: fans of animation, video games, and fantasy storytelling.
Based on an ongoing series of novels from creator Reki Kawahara, Sword Art Online’s popularity has been strong enough to fuel multiple anime seasons, manga retellings, and five video game adaptations. Now, the intrinsically multimedia tale of a group of gamers trapped in a virtual reality role-playing game looks to be heading into a new realm, as America’s Skydance Television has acquired Sword Art Online’s global live-action rights.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the California-based Skydance has announced it is planning a Sword Art Online TV series, with its pilot being written by Laeta Kalogridis, who will also serve as an executive producer on the project. Kalogridis’ eclectic writing credits include Terminator Genisys, Shutter Island, and the Oliver Stone-directed Alexander, and she served as a producer on James Cameron’s Avatar and White House Down. Kalogridis was also temporarily attached to DreamWorks’ upcoming Ghost in the Shell motion picture.
As is always the case with anime-to-live-action projects, the question arises of how closely the adaptation will adhere to its source material. For his part, Skydance founder and CEO David Ellison, who will also be a producer on the live-action Sword Art Online, sounds content to leave well-enough largely alone, giving his goal as to “build out a deeply immersive new universe of SAO in an authentic way that honors its well-established fan base.” The basic synopsis released by the company also stays similar to that of the original series, saying it focuses on a group of friends trapped inside a virtual reality game, with male lead Kirito’s name unchanged.
At this stage, the series has neither a cast nor network, but Skydance sounds committed to making it a reality. The company also says it is planning a Sword Art Online “virtual reality experience,” although given the ominous in-story connotations of such technology, existing fans may need some measure of courage to take the plunge and try it out.
While a number of Japanese animation series have been adapted into Hollywood movies in recent years, but Skydance’s TV plans are a unique alternative in anime-to-live-action undertakings. Whether this move comes in response to certain high-profile theatrical busts, or was made to better appeal to how young fans consume narrative-dense media in the modern era is unknown, but if the live-action Sword Art Online turns out to be a success, you can bet producers on both sides of the Pacific will take notice.
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