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1. For those of you who’ve never gotten involved in Sword Art Online, particularly the sequel series SAO II, allow me to introduce you to the world of Gun Gale Online. In a universe where Virtual Reality MMOs are king, GGO has gained popularity by fetishizing dystopian landscapes and letting players go all Call of Duty on each other’s faces. Normally I wouldn’t cover SAO, but I do like the sci-fi setting of this game (compared to the other two the original series focuses on), and I was interested to see what creator Keiichi Sigsawa (Kino’s Journey) would do, given a chance to work with this universe. Apparently, the answer to that question was: talk about guns. A lot.
The first few minutes of the first episode spends about as much time talking about the different kinds of guns in the game as it does detailing the actual world design. One of the main characters–a tall, stoic sniper known simply as “M”–is able to tell what specific guns enemies are using according to the sound the gun makes when being fired. It’s an impressive ability, but it’s also just him rattling off gun names for no reason other than the author really, really wants us to know he knows his weapons. But then, if your pen name is “Sig Sauer” it’s hard to expect anything else.
2. SAO Alternative’s source material is a light novel that’s existed since 2014, and it simply didn’t get adapted until this year. But that’s actually pretty well timed. The first episode is centered around something called a Squad Jam, where a number of teams are all placed onto a single map, and they compete against each other to see who can be the last team standing. Every ten minutes, the map is scanned and the locations of team leaders for opposing teams is beamed to a device all players have. For gamers, that’s going be pretty familiar, as it sounds similar to the popular battle royale game, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
There are quite a few key differences, like the fact that Gun Gale Online has strong RPG elements, but they do a pretty decent job of emulating the tense feel of most battle royale games.
3. Aside from M, our proper main character for this series is LLENN, a very tiny young woman dressed in all pink (and with an adorable pink P90 submachine gun). Llenn and M team up for the Squad Jam and wind up in a forest location. For most of the episode they basically try to avoid combat as much as possible, due to the unfortunate surprise of a team of combat professionals!
Our two protagonists spend most of the episode on the run from them, allowing other teams to be sacrifices while they escape as best they can into safer areas. The pros tear through other teams, and along the way we learn a bit more about the game of GGO–seemingly, if you’re good at a skill in real life, you’re naturally great at it in game, allowing you to do it much better than you would if you just “bought” the skill as an upgrade. M picks up on this when he notices the team’s snipers are able to rappel down buildings much faster than the game’s Rappel ability would normally allow. How that works isn’t explained, but presumably having actually done it they’re able to control their movements with greater precision? It’s unclear, but Llenn and M both sure have their work cut out for them!
4. Seemingly, most of the people playing in this episode don’t know how to play the game. In the middle of the map, after several teams get into extended firefights that we (unfortunately) don’t get to see, one player manages to survive a heated showdown. He heals himself, then starts yelling to see if any of his teammates are still alive. Hilariously, he gets tricked by someone from a completely different team, and is immediately gunned down for being an idiot.
I can understand how someone might get flustered, but even Llenn and M spend most of the episode conversing via a communicator. It’s baffling to see a player so off their game they decide to just start yelling and giving away their location.
5. Unfortunately, the fight at the end of the episode has a pretty anti-climatic ending. The pro team goes through a wide variety of player types you’d normally see in games like this: a team of muscle-head jocks obsessed with big weaponry and boasting no strategy, legitimately talented players, and everyone’s favorite–the guys who want to sit out most of the fight and pick off easy kills in the hopes of lasting until the end.
Eventually, M and Llenn are forced to go head to head with the pro team. Some helpful camouflage in the form of a small briefcase allows Llenn to lure in most of the team, and she uses her super speed to take out four of the six players in barely a few minutes. But the remaining two members watching from a distance…simply give up when they realize Llenn’s character is exhibiting abilities that they’d never run across in real life. Viewing the training as useless, they resign and allow the game to continue without them.
In real life later Llenn’s actual player is hanging out with friends who are impressed at her abilities, but near as we can tell the team she beat were intentionally handicapping themselves so they could experience combat as close to real life as possible. Kinda takes from her victory a bit, but on the bright side it is the start of the series. There’s a lot of room for her and M to grow yet!
Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online is available for streaming on Crunchyroll.