Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online
Episodes 1-3

by Theron Martin,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online ?

Though this series is a spin-off of the popular Sword Art Online franchise, it's also accessible both to franchise newcomers and those who are only somewhat familiar with Kirito's adventures. I can easily recommend this series even to viewers who might not have cared for SAO's main story, provided you're interested in watching a story that takes place inside an FPS-style VRMMO.

The first episode is predominately a tactical exercise to showcase the heroine, who appears in Gun Gale Online as LLENN, with a reveal about her incongruous real-world identity at the end. The second episode flashes back to show how Karen Kohiruimaki got established in GGO as LLENN, because the avatar was such a physical contrast to her uncommonly tall real-life body. (At 6 feet tall, she would be in the top .02% of the Japanese adult female population.) Karen is very self-conscious about her height, but in an amusing turn of events, her avatar's small stature and full-pink outfit accidentally led to LLENN being a successful enough PKer (Player-Killer) to earn the nickname “Pink Devil”; small and pink blends in as perfect camouflage on the game's colorful desert server. This fame leads to her meeting and befriending Pito, a veteran female player. Episode 3 then goes on to show how Pito introduces LLENN to M, the man that she teams up with in the Squad Jam event of episode 1, taking us full circle on LLENN's rise to GGO fame in three episodes.

The accessibility of the series is aided immensely by the way that LLENN is coached via automated tutorial and Pito's advice, keeping audiences completely in the loop on GGO mechanics and strategy over the course of episode 2. The script smoothly mixes in plenty of opportunities to empathize with Karen/LLENN and her plight in the real world, firmly establishing Karen as a likable heroine; even if she may seem timid at times, she adapts very quickly to new situations. While these episodes may have some fun at her expense (especially in the tutorial), they never treat her with deprecation or condescension, and both Pito and M are appreciably distinct personalities in their dynamics with her. Karen's experiences in GGO encouraging her to write a fan letter to her favorite singer Elsa make for a smooth development, although it's not hard to predict that Pito will turn out to be Elsa. Her mention of adding tattoos to her face to discourage unwanted male attention is an interesting little detail that I'd be curious to see maybe come up again, along with episode 1's suggestion that some participants are actual military using the tournament for combat training.

There are other fun details sprinkled throughout the series. The depiction of the sponsor for Squad Jam is a clear reference to source author Keiichi Sigsawa, as both a "gun freak and a novelist” in real life. Those who have watched the GGO arc of Sword Art Online II may also spot brief cameos of some Battle of Bullets participants in a video clip, and Pito makes clear reference to the outcome of Battle of Bullets from that story arc, which happened about a month before the events of this series' first episode. It's also not out of the question that Pito's mention of being taken out by a sniper in the preliminaries could be referring to Sinon, though that may be a stretch.

In general, the production effort by Studio 3Hz (Princess Principal) is sharp, with distinctive character designs, detailed background art, and meticulous weapon detail. The animation isn't flawless, but it's good enough to carry the action. While there isn't any overt fanservice, the camera is fond of panning over Pito's lithe form. Musical support is also solid, including a winner of an opener sung by Eir Aoi, who has also performed theme songs for previous installments in the franchise.

Overall, the series is off to a solid start, even if it's not yet clear where the overall plot is going.

Rating: B+

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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