Sword Art Online is a “love it or hate it” franchise. There are some who worship the ground Reki Kawahara built with this franchise, there are some which would love nothing more than to see this franchise burn in hell, and then there are some that are a little more reasonable who can find the good and the bad in the series. When we heard that we were getting an anime this year that was nothing more than a spinoff, the majority of the people who have seen this series groaned. Original characters? Gun Gale Online setting? Why would I want to watch this? This just sounds like filler on top of filler levels of bad! However, was that really the case?
Karen is an unnaturally tall female who wishes nothing more than to fit in with people of her height. Her friend Miyu is a gamer and suggests that she try VRMMORPGs because there she can be someone of normal size… except that the Amusphere VR gear scans your body and tries to find an avatar that matches your body type. Karen tries game after game after game (which I’m assuming all have a free trial otherwise, I’d love to know what her revenue stream(s) are so I can copy them) until she stumbles upon Gun Gale Online. Gun Gale Online creates her as a small chibi character named LLENN that she absolutely falls in love with. She decks herself out in pink and buys a P-90 which she affectionately calls P-Chan.
Karen seems a bit uneasy in PvP but when she does engage in it, she usually destroys anyone who stands in her way. She built a reputation for ambushing people out in GGO’s desert wastelands, earning the nickname The Pink Devil. One day, she meets a player named Pitohui who makes a vow that if they meet each other in one-on-one combat and LLENN manages to beat her, then the two of them would meet in real life.
LLENN is set to take place in the first-ever Squad Jam tournament. It’s the same format at the Bullet of Bullets tournament from season two of Sword Art Online with one difference: teams will be competing rather than it being every man for themselves. Pitohui couldn’t make it to this tournament so she partners LLENN up with her friend who simply goes by the name of M. Together they win the first Squad Jam but the second Squad Jam is where things take a serious turn. Pitohui is sort of a death-loving sadist and vows that if she dies during the second Squad Jam then she will kill herself in real life. She goes to this extreme because she missed out on playing Sword Art Online, thus missing an opportunity to experience the ultimate thrill of a life or death game.
However, thanks to LLENN’s vow with Pitohui, LLENN is the only person who is capable of killing her without her having to die in real life. Thus, the battle between them begins.
Honestly? I wasn’t expecting much from the story of a spinoff series but Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online changed my entire perspective on side stories and spinoffs. While the story may not have been completely perfect, it was FAR more engaging and interesting than anything put out by the main franchise since the initial Aincrad arc. LLENN’s journey from just finding a way to fit in to completely absorbing herself into Gun Gale Online and have it change her perspective and her life was a more compelling story than I would have imagined.
Of course, the characters also drove the story forward and their individual contributions really supported the series’ story and world building perfectly!
This series only had a handful of main characters and some side characters which felt pretty important even though their only function was to be placed in a supporting role.
Unnaturally tall and sick of describes Karen in the beginning. Confident, skilled, ruthless yet caring could all describe her towards the end of the series. She’s still a bit timid and honest outside of the game but inside she becomes an entirely different person. Her determination and her fearlessness are nothing like what she is in real life and that’s really refreshing. One of the drawbacks to the original Sword Art Online is that a lot of the characters feel one-dimensional. Their in-game and their in real life counterparts feel nearly identical. There’s no variety or substance within them that regard. Here in SAOA:GGO, that’s not the case. Karen and M are both different in both worlds.
I really enjoyed Karen as a character. Obviously, her shining moments are when she’s LLENN because whenever LLENN is on the screen you know you’re watching something good. She’s a cute little ball of pink fury that is ruthless and merciless when she needs to be. She can also be crafty, cunning, or even diplomatic. She’s a very adaptable character and the obvious highlight of the series next to Pitohui.
Goushi, otherwise known as M, is in love with Pitohui in real life and swears that he will do anything to protect her. He is also her real-life manservant which is… odd… to say the least. In the game, M is a tactile mastermind. He can identify guns just by their sound, read opponents like they were books, and formulate winning strategies on the fly only after gathering minimal, yet necessary information. He is a “watch-and-see-then-act” kind of tactician and it pays off very well. Since he’s scare of up close and personal battle, he likes to stay hidden and snip his opponents. If need be, he can deploy a large armored ground shield to hide behind.
Goushi’s anxiety of dying is shown many times throughout the series. His reasons for doing so are justified once you get to know Pitohui as a character. This gave M a nice balance to him that set him apart from the other characters and made him feel unique. Even though he wasn’t my favorite, I really enjoyed him as a character.
I won’t use her real name (which his revealed in the final episode, by the way) because it will be major spoilers; however, if you pay attention to the subtle clues that they leave you (or other times, the obvious clues), then you can pretty much guess who Pitohui is. At first, she starts off as a sassy player who befriends LLENN and wants to have a bit of friendly competition with her. As the series goes on, you begin to see just how much of a sadist she really is. As I mentioned before, she regrets not taking part in Sword Art Online and states that she will kill herself if she dies in the second Squad Jam tournament
During the tournament, she grows impatient with M as he wants to observe and put his plan into action. She reluctantly obeys M and trusts his plan. When the time for action came though, Pito treated any and all of her opponents with very little respect. She nearly, single-handedly, wiped out four entire teams by herself. Not only is Pito insanely skilled, she’s also insanely insane! Every bullet that pierced an enemy, every slash of the knife, every death brought an ear-to-ear grin on her face. The rush of combat, the feeling of being outnumbered and that she could die at any time fueled her and pushed her forward. It became her driving force and she couldn’t get enough of it. That is the kind of person Pitohui truly is.
A lot of people have called her one of the best villains in Sword Art Online. Given the piss-poor reasoning of Kayaba Akihiko’s actions, the ineptness of Fairy King Oberon, and random backstory of Death Gun, it’s easy to call her the best villain. She’s the only one out of the four of them that have had a proper building and actual substance to her character!
She’s Karen’s best friend and is a huge gaming otaku. She’s pretty spunky, not afraid to tell things like they are and likes eating so much ice cream that she takes frequent trips to the bathroom (yeah, that actually happened right before Squad Jam 2). Since Miyu was the one who encouraged Karen to try VRMMORPGs, she agrees to be her partner in the second Squad Jam tournament. She falls in love with a grenade launcher and, together with Karen, coordinate attacks to wipe out enemy teams.
I found her brash personality to be a bit grating. I know she was supposed to add some comedy to the show but I think the volume was turned up a little too high on her. She came off more obnoxious more than anything and even though she’s pro-gamer level, she just wasn’t portrayed in a way that gave me any reason to believe in her as a skilled player. Out of all the characters, she was the toughest to try an accept… at least for my own tastes.
Art, Animation, and Sound
A-1 Pictures typically handles the Sword Art Online series so I was rather surprised when I saw that Studio 3Hz was doing the honors this time around. Honestly? Comparing the main series to this one, you couldn’t really tell a difference at all! The characters looked to be in the same art style, the backgrounds, the feel of the show and the overall atmosphere felt like authentic Sword Art Online. That is a nice testament to the phenomenal work that went into the production and my hat is off to Studio 3Hz for pulling it off. A lot of times, when an anime switches studios, there are always noticeable differences but I just didn’t see any in this case.
That doesn’t mean that the series was without its problems. The biggest and most glaring issue with the series was the final battle between LLENN and Pitohui. Not the actual fight in Episode 12… that had some sakuga goodness splattered all over it. What I’m referring to was the vehicle battle in Episode 11. It’s pretty obvious that they used CG for the vehicles but when they went to the top-down eagle eye view of the battle, it was just absolutely HORRID. I can hear Gigguk screaming “BAD CG!” at the top of his lungs as I watched that scene. Two very CG-looking cars unnaturally spinning and swooping about against a bland, blurry desert backdrop with no tire tracks, no kicked-up dust, nothing. If there was any scene that would take you out of the action and break your suspension of disbelief, it was that one scene.
Jin Aketagawa headed up the sound direction while Starving Trancer did the OST for this series which made me a bit sad since Yuki Kajura did an amazing job with the OST for the first two seasons. Those depressing feelings went away throughout the show because this OST also knocked it out of the park and best of all, we didn’t have to listen to, yet, another rendition of Swordland to get those emotions pulled out of us! The OST was lighthearted when it needed to be and it drove it home during those tense battles which gave you that adrenaline rush which watching the coinciding action on the screen. This is one of those OSTs that I can’t wait to pick up and listen to because it really brought out the emotion and enhanced the anime nicely.
Then we had the opening song “Ryusei” by Eir Aoi. She also performed the first opening to season two and this song blows “IGNITE” out of the water, hands-down. I know a chorus is supposed to amp you up and get that blood pumping but this chorus does all that and more. It sends a chill down your spine and hypes you up more than it typically should. Aoi’s powerful vocals match the driving sound perfectly and it just all comes together in the best way imaginable. As good as the OST it, the opening is one that you could instantly recognize in a heartbeat… plus that piano rendition in Episode 12…. SO GOOD!
This show took me by surprise. When we think Sword Art Online, we think of our little overpowered asshat Kirito pulling every plot device out of his ass to save the day. Problem? More like No Problem! I’ll just whip out my plot sword and save the day! Here, you don’t really get a sense of that. In fact, we don’t even get Kirito’s name mentioned even once throughout this entire series! We came close when they talked about the Bullet of Bullets tournament and how the co-winners killed themselves with a grenade. Hell, Sinon got a mention in the show but Kirito’s name was never dropped once and I loved it!
If I could sum up Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online in a single word, it would be “refreshing.” This show breathed new life into the Sword Art Online franchise because it offered something different and it showed us the potential that this series could reach when someone other than Reki Kawahara is put in charge of it. I don’t mean to make that sound as if I’m dragging Kawahara’s name through the mud, though but you have to admit that the Sword Art Online series has become really contrived and so far removed from the original plot that you have to question if it should really be called Sword Art Online. I mean, we went through ALfheim Online, Gun Gale Online and we’re about to enter the Alicization arc this October. None of those series had anything to do with the original Sword Art Online game. It makes you wonder why you titled it that way when knowing full well that your franchise would become far removed from it.
In any event, if you want something with the Sword Art Online label that will try hard to redeem the franchise, this is the show to watch. Characters with actual depth, an interesting story, great action, banging soundtrack, killer opening theme, and bad CG. This show has all of the things which make an anime great. My only complaint is that while great, it’s not perfect and it’s not one of the best of all time. Still, it shouldn’t disappoint or fail to entertain!
Also, for those of you out there (especially in the geek culture journalism world) who wish that someone… anyone… would turn this anime into a game, they already have. Go play Sword Art Online Fatal Bullet. Even though you have to put up with Kirito & friends once again, it’s still a pretty good game. Plus, you might actually see a few familiar faces from the anime!
That about wraps up my thoughts. Before I go… one thing I will say about this series is…
Until next time,
Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online
Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online breathes new life into a series that has become a bit contrived. It’s amazing what the series can do when you subtract Kirito and company and build upon all-new characters! It isn’t without its faults but it’s still a much better entry into the series than we are used to getting!
- Engaging characters
- Great action
- Interesting plot
- P-chan is alive
- Bad CG in Episode 11
- Miyu as a whole