Interview: The Staff of SAO Alternative Gun Gale Online

by Jacob Chapman,

Just after Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online wrapped its first season simulcast, original light novel author Keiichi Sigsawa and leading voice actress Tomori Kusunoki (Karen/LLENN) flew into Los Angeles on the hottest day of the year for Anime Expo 2018. Before SAO Alicization brings the main story back next fall, we sat down with Sigsawa and Kusunoki to discuss the creation of this little spinoff with a ton of firepower.

How did the opportunity first come about for Mr. Sigsawa to write a story in the Sword Art Online universe?

Sigsawa: It started back when I read volumes five and six of SAO, the GGO arc. I loved it, and I wished I could have an opportunity to write about this universe. But at first, that was just something I kept to myself, since there was no opportunity. When the GGO arc got to be animated, I was hired as the firearms consultant for the show. That's when I pitched my idea for a GGO spinoff to Mr. Kawahara. After that, I gave a full-fledged pitch and offer to him, and he gave me the green light. This was also the first time for Dengeki Bunko to do this kind of work, so they had to give the green light to me as well.

How experienced were you with video games, when it came to translating your experience with airsoft strategy into game mechanics that would make sense in a virtual setting?

Sigsawa: I'm actually not much of an experienced gamer. I get motion sickness playing first-person shooters. So most of my background was drawn from my airsoft experience.

So was it a challenge to translate that into video game mechanics? Did you have to do a lot of research?

Sigsawa: Well, I did try to play video games a bit for research and it made me really motion-sick, so I decided to toss out any in-game perspective and just wrote the way I thought the world should be.

That's impressive, because it does make a lot of sense as a video game. The rules hold up, and it seems like there was a lot of thought put into it. So kudos, great job!

Sigsawa: Thank you.

2017 was a big year for Ms. Kusunoki as an actress. You gained a lot of roles very quickly. What has the learning curve been like over these two years, and what did you learn from playing Karen specifically?

Kusunoki: Gun Gale Online posed a very strong learning curve for me because I got to play both Karen and LLENN. They share voices, but they are very different in personality. So learning to play two characters at once was a very good learning experience.

Given that, do you feel that you are more like Karen or more like LLENN?

Kusunoki: Definitely Karen. I identify a lot with how she bottles things up, and also how she desires to change herself through the video gaming experience.

That was actually going to be my next question. Karen is very sensitive about her height, about being very tall. Did you find that relatable? Have you been in a place where you felt like there was something about your body that held you back?

Kusunoki: In fact, I never really liked my own voice. That's why I wanted to become a voice actor, so that I could learn about my voice more. But now that I have, I have come to terms with my voice and I accept it as it is.

Oh wow. Well, that's very inspirational, and I think you have a beautiful voice.

Kusunoki: Thank you so much.

On that note, I guess you could say that Mr. Sigsawa has a line in the show too. What was doing that cameo like for you? Did you have any consultation on how you got to be illustrated?

Sigsawa: The character was written as my alter-ego in the novel, so I had wondered if this character were ever to be voiced, if I would be cast for it. During the production meeting, I was asked if I would like to voice my character, so I said yes, then practiced and tried out a few things. It was a good challenge, and looking back, it was quite fun.

Did you approve of the animated likeness?

Sigsawa: I believe the details have been brushed up to make me prettier, and I approve.

If you were to play Gun Gale Online yourselves, how do you think that you would play the game?

Sigsawa: I think I would like to explore the ruins and enjoy myself that way.

Kusunoki: I'd like to play like LLENN, be a complex player who has quick footwork and goes on the offensive.

Being familiar with Kino's Journey, I noticed a lot of parallels between Kino and her Master and LLENN and Pito. So I wanted to ask if Sigsawa-san has a "type", and if that echoes in those characters?

Sigsawa: I wouldn't say I have a particular type myself, but I like depicting strong women, so I think that's a common theme that always prevails.

Since you find yourself to be similar to her, if Ms. Kusunoki were to meet someone like Karen in real life, do you think that you would be able to be friends with her?

Kusunoki: Actually, I used to have an inferiority complex about my own petite height as well, so I would love to befriend someone tall like Karen.

Now that the anime has concluded, are you looking forward to more being adapted? What do you most look forward to seeing animated, if more were to be greenlit?

Sigsawa: I would love to see a second season or a theatrical feature greenlit. There is still a third Squad Jam, and I'm currently writing the fourth Squad Jam. I would love to see any of those get animated.

Has Ms. Kusunoki read ahead then?

Kusunoki: Not yet. I read as much as I needed to play my character, and I'm saving the rest for later.

Since you don't know what happens, what do you hope happens for Karen in the future?

Kusunoki: I think she has been able to overcome many of her complexes in Squad Jams 1 and 2. So I'd love to see more of Karen developing as a character, not just as LLENN.

Sigsawa: Then that's what I will write.

Kusunoki: (laughs)

There's room for one last question, and I'm afraid I only have a silly one. So for people who have not read the novels, because not as many are out in English, can you say if we will see more of Clarence, the woman with the androgynous avatar who asks for a kiss from LLENN in episode 9.

Sigsawa: First off, Clarence has a much longer appearance in the book than the anime version if you get to read it. And Clarence will show up much more in the third Squad Jam. So if GGO gets translated into English, you will get to enjoy the character much more, and hopefully if there is a green light for more anime, I will request the staff give more screen time to Clarence as well.

Thanks to Anime Expo for the opportunity.


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