On January 18th, prominent Japanese video game news outlet Dengeki Online published a group interview between Bloom Into You artist Nio Nakatani, Sword Art Online (SAO) author Reki Kawahara, and voice actress Ai Kayano, who voices Alice in SAO and Sayaka in Bloom Into You. The three share their thoughts regarding each other’s work, such as the similarities between two writers in different genres and the impressions the authors have of the voice acting aspect of the anime adaptations of their respective series.
During the interview, Kawahara and Nakatani begin to discuss the role of ‘heroes’ and ‘heroines’ in manga and anime after Nakatani notes that she could see the influence of works such as Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Ghost in the Shell in Kawahara’s work. On this subject, Nakatani compliments Kawahara on the strong female characters in SAO, to which Kawahara responds that female characters will become more prominent in the future.
According to Anime News Network, who translated the original Japanese interview, when asked why the female characters will become more prominent Kawahara states that it is due to fan pressure from the West:
When Kayano asked what sparked this decision, Kawahara shared insight into his evolving mindset as an author. He said that when he went to overseas events, he received feedback for his writing, and he came to the conclusion that he should write stories with “political correctness” in mind to a degree. For this reason, he is trying to give his female characters more agency.
Kawahara said that the gender-neutral words “protagonist” and “antagonist” are used overseas instead of the gendered words “hero” and “heroine.” He said that he agreed that a character’s gender shouldn’t determine their role in the story, and that it is wrong to treat female characters as trophies.
At this point, there was some discussion about how the word “heroine” is used in Japan. Nakatani said that she believes that the word “heroine” is used to refer to female characters who function as motivations for the protagonist. Kawahara said that one thing he admires about yuri manga is that both characters in a yuri couple take on the role of “protagonists” and motivate each other, instead of one female character being relegated to the role of “heroine.”
Kawahara’s position divided members of the SAO fandom. While no one has had issue with the characters being given more agency, some fans expressed their fears that Kawahara will heavy handedly focus on political correctness going forward and end up ruining the series. As this interview was published only one week ago, it has yet to be seen what effect Kawahara’s new direction will have on the overall series.
This is not the first time that Western sensibilities have prompted action regarding SAO. Last year, a scene depicting sexual assault was censored in Western broadcasts of SAO. Kawahara himself received threats of violence from Western fans due to the content of the episode, prompting him to also apologize to the voice actresses for writing the original scene.