Anime Boston 2013
Tomohiko Ito and Shinichiro Kashiwada Q&A

by Crystalyn Hodgkins,

Aniplex of America marketing specialist EJ Rivera kicked off the panel by announcing the two guests: Sword Art Online director Tomohiko Ito and Sword Art Online producer Shinichiro Kashiwada. The two came up on stage accompanied by two Sword Art Online cosplayers. Ito and Kashiwada then introduced themselves and thanked the fans for coming to the panel.

Rivera then showed a Japanese trailer for Sword Art Online before launching into the Q&A. Rivera asked the first question about what the two men thought about Boston. Ito said he has not really been able to walk outside much, but he loves the city's old-style architecture and noted it he thinks it is a very heart-warming place that would be easy to live in. Kashiwada said he also has not been able to walk around much, but it is very pretty with a lot of brick buildings and with both the ocean and rivers in the area. He said he'd definitely like to come back to visit when not on business.

When asked if there would be a season 2 of Sword Art Online, Ito commented that there is still more of Reki Kawahara's original light novel series that has not been animated yet, and he is interested and does want to do more, but since he is working on Silver Spoon, which premieres in July, he is not available right now. Kashiwada then said that he is also not available right now, but he was very grateful to able to work with a lot of great people on the project, and would like to see more of the stories animated, and he would definitely want to work on more of the series.

When asked if maybe the “Gun Gale Online” arc from the light novels might be animated as an OVA because it is popular, Ito said that if the staff was going to make more anime anyway, they might as well make a whole new season.

One fan mentioned that often in anime a 13-episode season will be made and then if it is popular enough, 13 more episodes may be made. The fan asked if Ito had difficulties creating the series when he wasn't sure if there would have been 13 more episodes. Ito said that they had decided from the very beginning to create a 25-episode series, and planned out how far they would get into Kawahara's light novel series within those 25 episodes from the beginning.

Ito was then asked about his progression from a storyboard artist to a director, and how that seemed a different path than those who are usually animators and then directors. Ito noted that there are quite a few directors that started as a storyboard artist instead of an animator, so he noted that he is not really in the minority.

Ito was then asked about Silver Spoon. Ito was asked if he used a specific town or college as a model for the upcoming anime, and he responded that the manga itself is based on a real agricultural high school in Hokkaido. Ito was then asked if it was different working on Silver Spoon as that is a slice-of-life series, and Ito said that actually it was not really that different because all the series he has directed – Occult Academy, Sword Art Online, and Silver Spoon – all have a few things in common: they do not have lots of girls running around and screaming, and none of the series are ostentatious.

The next fan asked Ito about a part of Kawahara's light novel series that was left out of the anime. During the Alfheim Online arc, there was a part in the light novels where Kirito and Leafa went to a city under the World Tree. The fan asked if that part might be animated as an OVA or something else at some point, and Kashiwada answered saying that right now it is difficult to give a straight answer to the question because currently they are not working on any future stories in Sword Art Online. However, since future events in the light novels hinge on that part of the story from the light novels, they would have to animate that part if there were to be a new season.

When asked what was the most challenging part about adapting the light novels, Ito responded saying that after he read the light novels for the first time, he thought that the novels were about a game in a fantasy genre, and while it is not like that now, in the 2000s fantasy was not very popular in Japan. Ito then went back and looked at fantasy series that were popular in Japan in the 90s like Slayers, and thought about how to make something that is Slayers but also isn't Slayers, and how can they make it so that fans appreciate it and fall in love with it. Kashiwada said that for him, he was challenged as to how to represent the game world of the light novels in an anime and also make it work and make it appealing. The staff realized they had to make the series a certain length because too much material in too short a time wouldn't work, and not enough material would make fans bored. They also decided that they had to animate the two arcs that they did, so that fans would not be left hanging.

Ito was then asked what he learned from Mamoru Hosoda, as Ito had worked with Hosoda on Summer Wars and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Ito said he learned a lot from him, specifically the unique style that Hosoda has in his production process. Ito added he is constantly trying to improve his craft and better himself as a director.

When asked what part of the Sword Art Online project was their favorite, Ito said that looking back, the entire process was enjoyable. He added that the moment when everything came together really felt like a big release. Ito also added that he enjoys when the staff holds a press conference to reveal the product, and when the audience sees the final product. Kashiwada added that as a producer, his number one enjoyable moment is when the show is finally shown to an audience and he can watch how excited people get about it. Kashiwada said that with this project he was blessed with a “trinity” of great talent that doesn't always work: Yuki Kajiura's music, Ito's directing, and Shingo Adachi's character designs.

When asked who their favorite character was in Sword Art Online, Kashiwada said his is Asuna, because he would like to be controlled by her. Ito said Kirito, because he is the main character, and as a director working intimately with the product, he kind of has to fall in love with the main character. As a joke, Ito added that his number one regret about the series is that he doesn't have a real-life Asuna in his life.

When asked where he made his mark in the process of creating Sword Art Online, Ito said that he doesn't feel that he has to put his own stamp on anything, and he doesn't want to put his own imprint on a work when it doesn't really add to the story. He said he may have added a few things into the story that he thought fans might enjoy, but he didn't think he put his own signature in it. Kashiwada added that the light novels are very popular in their own right, so the staff wanted to focus on that and not focus on anything that would detract from Kawahara's original work. Kashiwada said they regret not being able put in all the details of the light novel series, but they were restricted by the TV format.

When asked what the two would do if they were stuck in Sword Art Online, Kashiwada said he would not have played the game in the first place. Ito said he would like to make more weapons for Asuna, but he would probably be killed by a wolf right away.

One fan then mentioned that Sword Art Online involves one game in the first half of the series and another game in the second half of the series, and then asked Ito if he approached both halves differently. Ito responded that there was a very different mindset and focus in both halves of the series, because the scenery was different and the characters have evolved. Ito added that since there's also the real world of the series, he had to think about three different worldviews.

When asked what was the most difficult part of working on the series, Kashiwada said that the series has a lot of characters and action, and it is longer than a normal series. He said he thought it would be hard on the staff due the amount of work, but added that Ito oversaw the storyboard artists to make sure they were on time, so there actually wasn't a lot of delay during production process. Ito said that because of there being three different worlds in the series, there was a lot of things to put into place such as the characters in each setting. His fun answer to the question was that there was a scene in the series where Asuna and Kirito get married, and he actually had to ask his married colleagues about proposing since he himself is not married.

When asked about the decision process for how to choose what to omit and what to add to the anime from the original light novels, Ito said that they wanted to focus the story on Kirito and Asuna and developing their relationship and adventures, so they borrowed scenes from volume 8 of the light novel series and included them in the anime so there was more of the Kirito and Asuna storyline.

Rivera then reminded the audience that Ito and Kashiwada will be at the Sword Art Online dub screening on Saturday, and there will be a Q&A after the screening. Aniplex will be giving away merchandise after the screening. Both will also be hosting a special autograph session on Sunday.

Rivera then revealed that Kashiwada donated two rare Sword Art Online T-shirts from last year's Comiket in Japan for the charity auction. Ito also donated his personal scripts for episodes 2-13 of the series with production notes and autographed sketches from the character designers and a sketch by Ito himself.

Kashiwada closed by saying he was happy to have come to Boston and that the trip has been a lot of fun. Ito said he hopes he sees the audience again in the future.

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