It’s no secret that while Sword Art Online wasn’t the first isekai show, it brought huge attention to the mainstream anime audience. One may even argue it was the catalyst for the isekai genre becoming so mainstream and popular. Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying the Reki Kawahara built himself quite the franchise with his light novel series. The Gun Gale Online arc was a vast detraction from the fantasy setting we received in the Sword Art Online and ALfheim Online arcs. Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online looks to re-capture some of that magic from GGO with an all-new cast of characters. Does it succeed in doing so?
What better way than to jump right back into Gun Gale Online than through a battle royal called Squad Jam? We don’t waste any time with character introductions or the sort, but instead, we are simply thrust right into the action as we follow LLENN (pronounced Len) and M as they participate in this Gun Gale Online event. It is through their participation and interaction that we learn who these new characters are and I felt that was a nice and interesting way to not only introduce the audience to these new characters but to also give us their sense of personalities as well.
While M is not the party leader, he is the brains behind the two of them. Even though you can have up to six people in your party, LLENN and M choose to go it alone for some yet-to-be-revealed reason. M’s specialty is analyzing situations and, my God is he good at that. He can assess enemy teams by their composition, their behavior and even identify what type of weapon each teammate is using just from sight and/or sound. It gives you the sense that M is a very highly skilled and battle-tested member of the Japanese military or a former member at least. There is no way someone with his knowledge and skill can be just an average civilian… unless he’s just some insane gun nut who likes studying military tactics as a hobby. You never know.
LLENN, on the other hand, is highly skilled herself, but you wouldn’t know that from her attitude and appearance. She’s short with pink hair and has a child-like attitude that doesn’t like getting into conflicts, but M continues to use her as bait and/or decoy duty as he analyzes the situation. LLENN’s speed is her true weapon as she can dodge virtually anything, making it incredibly difficult to hit her.
During the opening moments of the battle royal, LLENN and M come across a machine gun-loving team who just open fire wildly on LLENN. Their reckless behavior gets them killed as a well-organized team takes them out. M immediately recognizes their skill and tactics as a group that could be JSDF members in real life. M formulates a strategy to let the other teams thin out the herd in an effort to draw this pro team to an isolated location to take them out. LLENN and M do set a trap that they eventually recognize, but by the time they do, it’s too late and LLENN uses her speed to take out four of the six members. The remaining two remark that this was a training exercise for them and note that it’s over, forcing them to resign and log out.
In the end, we return to the real world where there are a bunch of children watching the action from the Squad Jam event. They note that this person named Ms. Karen is the person known as LLENN in the game and that is where our first episode comes to a close.
I have to say that I rather enjoyed that. The show wasted no time getting into the action and, even without proper introductions, we learned who are two main characters are, what their personalities are like, their combat skills and everything else except for their backstories. The strategy involved was pretty sound, but the action wasn’t really a balls-to-the-wall fight like we’re used to from Sword Art Online. There were more tactics and strategies involved than face-to-face combat, but I felt that it was well-balanced enough to draw you in and keep you interested!
OP and ED Thoughts
It took me a couple of listens to determine whether or not I would enjoy this opening, but “Ryusei” Eir Aoi is, in fact, a great opening. At first, I felt that this was a song that relied on its chorus alone and it still kind of does, but the first verse did its job in setting up the feel-good, energetic chorus that most shonen anime shows are accustomed to having. I think it’s a good enough song to go out and get when it drops digitally on April 22, but if you want the physical release alongside her other new single Yakusoku, you’ll have to wait all the way until June 13 for that.
I didn’t care for the ending all that much, to be honest. “To See the Future” by Tomori Kusunoki (the voice actress of Karen/LLENN) was way too soft, somber and quiet for my tastes. The docile tones of the song don’t really fit the Gun Gale Online vibe as I felt it should have been a bit more dark and gritty. At least we have the opening to look forward to in a couple of weeks.
YES – Usually, spinoffs don’t really do much for me, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy this one. While it looks like we’ll get introduced a bit more to Ms. Karen next episode, thus slowing down the momentum as most typical shonen battle series do, I’m still excited to see more of this show just for the upcoming battles that we may/will see. Gun Gale Online feels like Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds on a much bigger scale and if this show is going to continue to hold people’s interests, we’re going to need more in-game action and less real-world fluff. We’ll see if this show can pull it off, but there’s no doubt that a Sword Art Online show WITHOUT Kirito is a breath of fresh air that I think we can all enjoy!