Japan is in the midst of a love frenzy after the world’s most popular anime series, Sword Art Online (SAO), debuted in July 2016.
In 2017, SAO returned to theaters with the release of Sword Art Arden: Arcanum (Sword Art Online: The Official Movie) on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.
Sword Art Arcana: The Movie was released in theaters in April 2018, and Sword Art Academia (Sword Arden), a spinoff manga, also debuted in theaters that same month.
The series also returned to the silver screen with the 2018 film Sword Art Academy: The Animation.
As of this writing, the Sword Art online movie franchise has earned over $1 billion worldwide and has been viewed more than 150 million times.
“The show has a lot of things to do with love and happiness and relationships and how things work in the real world, and I think that’s really cool,” says David Mackenzie, a Japanese-born American film critic and author of the New York Times best-selling novels The New and the Not-So-New.
“That’s one of the reasons I’ve been a fan of SAO, because it is a love story, it is about romance, and it is so funny, and so heartfelt.
That’s really exciting.”
In addition to SAO and Sword Arden, Mackenzie’s New York-based company, MackLab, has been working to develop anime projects for the Japanese market.
In 2016, Mack Lab launched its first anime-based series, Love Is A Monster, which MackLab executive producer Keiko Sakuragi describes as “an action adventure, romance, mystery, and comedy.”
The first two episodes of Love Is a Monster are available now on the MackLab website.
Like SAO before it, Love is a Monster follows two college students as they investigate a serial killer’s murder.
MackLab’s anime projects are being produced by a Japanese studio, and they will be produced on a smaller scale than the blockbuster releases that have come out of Japan, including the latest installment in the Sword Arder franchise, Sword Magic: The Magical World of SAOS.
“It’s just one of those rare cases where you’ve got a Japanese company that is producing a really unique product that’s not quite mainstream, and that’s the best example of that,” Mackenzie says.
“If you were a fan, you were looking for something you could sit and read, and you were interested in a story that is not quite so well known in Japan, and in a way, it’s kind of an exception to the rule.”
In 2018, the first two anime films in the SAO franchise premiered on Japanese television.
Sword Magic, the film adaptation of the manga series, is scheduled to debut on September 22.
In addition, in 2018, Macklab acquired a film rights to the Sword Magic anime film, which is slated to premiere on September 27.
In October 2018, another anime film adaptation titled Sword Art: Arden was released, directed by Yoshihiro Ozu and featuring the voice talents of Masahiko Nakamura, Hiroaki Yabuki, Rina Takamura, and Aoi Tachibana.
While the first film, Sword Arsen: The Lost Generation, has received mixed reviews in Japan for its depiction of sexual violence, the second film, Swords of the Blood Moon, was praised for its portrayal of love and its strong female characters.
Sword Arts is a romance story, Mackler says, and his studio is hoping to release more of the series on the big screen.
“There’s so much passion for it, and we want to make it a great experience for fans of SAOs, whether they’re fans of the anime or the manga,” he says.
In 2018 and 2019, MackLAB has been developing a sequel to SAOs Sword Art series, the third film in the franchise.
The third film, called Sword Art V, will premiere in theaters on September 21.
The second film in SAO was released theatrically in 2018.
Macklab will be releasing more Sword Arts movies on DVD and digital platforms in 2019.
“Our next step is to get a big studio in Japan to make a new movie, and then it’s time for the international market to step in and make sure that Sword Art is coming back to theaters,” MackLab president and CEO Adam J. Mackenzie told The Hollywood Reporter in September.
“We are going to be taking a really long wait to get Sword Art back on the silver screens in the United States and Europe, but the next movie we make will definitely be in theaters.”
While MackLab will not be releasing SAO or SAO 2 on Blu, Mack Labs original series will be available on DVD in 2019 and 2019.