In the world of guns and steel that is Gun Gale Online, LLENN has been a devoted, female solo player. She is obsessed with two things: donning herself entirely in pink and honing her skills with consistent game play. She soon discovers her love for hunting other players (a.k.a. PK), soon to be known as the “Pink Devil.” Meanwhile, LLENN meets a beautiful yet mysterious player, Pitohui, and the two click right away. Doing as she is told by Pitohui, she enters the Squad Jam group battle.
WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Sword Art Online: Not Complete Shit Edition because of reasons.I was planning to avoid this because... Well... It's Sword Art Online, I've had enough shit just watching the original series, no need to waste my time with a spin-off that's probably even worse. That's what I originally thought, but then people kept talking about how it's made by a Studio 3hz, a different staff from the original SAO, has a different story with different characters, and most importantly, a different writer: Keiichi Sigsawa, the author of Kino no Tabi, no less! As someone who loves Kino no Tabi, I decided to give this Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online thing a chance, then, maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised at the lack of SAOness here since this time around we're talking about a much better writer than Reki Kawahara, I even managed to convince a friend of mine who hates SAO to watch this one with me, she accepted with the condition that if she didn't like episode 1, she would leave and I would have to watch the rest alone. Fortunately, Gun Gale Online did enough to keep us watching together and we actually had quite a bit of fun with it, so it's already better than the original SAO just for that. But okay, it's better than the original SAO. So what? I don't think that's much of an accomplishment to begin with, so I'll refrain from comparing GGO to SAO for the remainder of this review unless I feel it's necessary to make a point.The story takes place sometime after the whole SAO incident, the NerveGear was recalled and destroyed and VR games lost their popularity because people understandably got afraid of playing a VR game and ending up in a bad romance anime again. However, with the launch of the newest VR gaming device, the AmuSphere, and the assurance that the incident won't repeat itself, the popularity of VR games saw a ressurgence as thousands of rich neckbeards got their hands on this new device. Our protagonist is Kohiruimaki Karen, a socially-awkward university student with a complex about her "abnormal" height, being taller than most people at her age and implied to have been bullied for that in the past, as such she has a hard time interacting with others besides her family and close friends. One day, Karen heard about these VR games that allow people to experience an alternate reality with alternate versions of themselves to boot and it caught her attention, with the help of her gamer friend Shinohara Miyu, she tried a lot of games who gave her different randomly-generated avatars, but all with the same tall height until the shooter Gun Gale Online gave Karen the short loli avatar she was looking for. Wow, I mean, you have these fucking advanced VR games that literally let you BE your own character in a virtual reality and there's no manual customization to how you'll look like? What the hell, VR game designers? Get your shit together! By the way, Karen's avatar is named LLENN... I don't know why her name is LLENN or why it's in all-caps, but alright then.Once Karen becomes LLENN, she at first uses GGO just to play around as the cute little girl she always wanted to be (though I still find her real life version cuter) but eventually she decides to play GGO seriously, and after completing the tutorial and hunting some monsters, LLENN buys submachineguns, a new outfit and changes the color of both the guns and her outfit to pink in an effort to look cute and more girlish. LLENN's pink outfit actually blended well with the desert environment she chose to hunt around and she started to ambush some unaware players using that as well, which led to them calling her the Pink Demon. Eventually, LLENN comes to know another female player named Pitohui and the two become friends and LLENN buys two P-90 machineguns which she ends up nicknaming P-chan, and they play GGO together as a team and hunt some more monsters, and one day Pito tells LLENN about a GGO team tournament called Squad Jam, where a lot of teams fight against each other until the last one standing is declared the winner, and she wants LLENN to participate in the tournament along with her partner, a player called M. Back in real life, Karen isn't sure if she should participate on the Squad Jam or if she should even keep playing GGO, so she ends up asking Miyu for advice again, and Miyu came up with this idea that she was planning to get tickets for them to see a popular singer named Kanzaki Elsa in concert at the same time the SJ would be happening, and if she doesn't manage to get the tickets, Karen should participate on the SJ then. Well, considering the first episode of the show actually shows LLENN and M already shooting out against other teams in the SJ, you'll probably guess what was the outcome of that little dilemma. Also... Pitohui won't be able to participate on the SJ herself, the SJ will happen around the same time Elsa will play on her concert... Sure, that's probably just a coincidence, of course it is.If you didn't notice, GGO is a lot more slice of life-ish compared to SAO, which works better to me because SAO's attempt at having a plot and especially the antagonists were by far the worst parts of it, so we're off to a good start here. That being said, I really do like GGO's first half, it still tackles the theme of escapism and virtual relationships this series became known for addressing in a half-assed way, but this time the main character is well-written and relatable! I mean, I don't really relate to Karen's reason to play GGO, my height is just about the average 24 year old man's height, but as someone who has crappy social skills and tends to use video games, anime and even social media to escape real life problems for a bit and have some fun, I can totally relate to Karen's attitude of playing a game to enter a different reality where she can be whatever she wants and meet a lot of other people who may very well be on the same boat as her. Karen is a timid girl, she deliberately avoids interaction with other people in fear of standing out due to her height and possibly get ridiculed by them, which may seem a bit silly to some people, but there's a lot of real life people who develop social anxiety for that kind of stuff, like people who are fat, poor, have an unusual hair type compared to the others, etc. Hell, I've met some real life dudes who say they don't like tall girls because being tall is kind of a masculine feature, imagine a tall girl such as Karen hearing something like that from a guy she happens to like, it would definitely make her feel terrible for being tall, which is something that's not even her fault to begin with! So, I can definitely understand and sympathize with Karen, the show really emphasizes how much more comfortable she feels as LLENN in GGO, after all a little girl will always be viewed as cute by people, as opposed to a tall one, LLENN is considerably more outgoing and extroverted compared to her real life counterpart, which is actually how Karen's personality truly is when she's around other people without her complex getting in the way. The other characters also play GGO for specific reasons that are mostly related to their personal lives, but they're not explored as well as Karen is, which is kind of a shame because most of them are pretty likeable despite the show not giving them much focus, I thought M was kinda boring at first, but when it's revealed that he was roleplaying as this stoic military veteran who's all business the whole time and in actuality he's a beta loser who cries and begs not to be killed, it was unexpected and also fucking hilarious!I won't delve into GGO's game mechanics because it's a fictional video game that's primarily there to provide some cool action scenes, so I'm willing to suspend my disbelief to an extent, as long as the game doesn't contradict stuff it previously established when convenient to the plot like SAO did, and GGO for the most part works fine within its own rules. Since shooting is the name of the game here, the battles lean more on the tactical side, to win the SJ it's necessary to pay attention to the other teams' positions when the game shows them in the radar, use the knowledge of the terrain to your advantage and attack at the right time, although LLENN obviously have some special skills since she's the main character, being short makes her slightly harder to aim at compared to other players, and she can go full Sonic the Hedgehog and run really fast to avoid bullets and surprise other players. I'm not sure why LLENN has these skills, but since this is an online game with a stats system, I'll assume she built herself as an agility-oriented character and doesn't carry any heavy equipment, which helps her move fast. Anyway, LLENN may be somewhat broken as a player, but she's not Kirito, she's not so broken that she's capable of soloing anyone who dares to fight against her and elminating whatever tension her fights couls possibly have, GGO is still more tactics-oriented, and LLENN isn't exactly experienced in that regard at first, which is why she basically just does whatever M tells her to do in this SJ, and even then she still actually struggles in her fights, literally the only reason she even managed to win the SJ was because M helped her in the nick of time and... Some hardcore plot armor. Yeah, sometimes GGO likes to remind us that it's a SAO show and gives its main characters plot armor so thick that even Naruto characters would find it absurd. That's probably my biggest gripe with both Squad Jams in the series, they have some really good action scenes, but the final battles they lead to have LLENN winning in such a bullshit way that it kinda undermines the whole tactical combat that happened before. Stuff like LLENN being able to block bullets using P-chan and not get hit by a single one and the opponent only shooting specifically where LLENN is holding P-chan even though her whole body is still unprotected made me actually cringe while watching GGO and really stretch out how far my suspension of disbelief can go. I get it, LLENN is supposed to be lucky because she's like a rabbit and even her hat has rabbit ears, but there's a limit even to how lucky someone can be, and this goes way beyond that limit.Regardless, after the Squad Jam and the whole time she spent playing GGO, Karen started to get more confident about herself, she even talked to a group of girls from a high school affiliated with her university, which just happen to be the last team she fought in the SJ, they're members of the school's Rhythmic Gymnastics Club and played GGO at first to improve on their teamwork, as well as their boss is a girl who wishes she was taller and less girlish. Although it's nice to see how Karen got over her complex and all, I feel she got over it way too quick, it's a complex she had for years, and yes, GGO was an unique experience for her and all, but still, I'm not to keen on her overcoming her complex so soon. However, I know why they made her overcome her complex already, it's because the second half discards the slice of life aspect of GGO and tries to have somewhat of a plot as what drives the main characters to play the game... Aaaaaand that's when the show starts to get progressively weaker, because the plot of the second half is really stupid. Basically, Asougi Goushi (M in real life) wants Karen to participate in the next Squad Jam because Pitohui is actually a maniac with a death wish who regrets missing out on SAO since that game put its players lives at a risk, and if LLENN kills her in GGO, Pito won't kill herself, but if another player kills her, she'll commit sudoku and it's bye bye for her... And Goushi is actually in love with Pito, so instead of calling the police or whoever can help Pito with this inexplicable obsession with death, he decides to bring in Karen and Miyu into this and begs them to kill Pito in the SJ... While he will be playing on Pito's team. As I said, it's a fucking stupid plot, Pito was a decent character before, but now the show turned her into a stock edgy villain for the sake of bringing a plot and an antagonist into a show that didn't really need one, so the second half is almost entirely in the SJ. But it's not all bad, Miyu enters GGO as LLENN's partner and becomes another loli named Fukaziroh, her weapons of choice are grenade launchers and it's fun to see her blowing shit up, I also like how LLENN learned from M in the previous SJ and becomes pretty good at making up plans to engage the other teams, once again the action scenes in this SJ are pretty good, I would say even better than the previous one. This show isn't visually amazing or anything, but the animation in the fights is really good and the soundtrack also contributes a lot to them as well.... But just like the first Squad Jam, this one becomes horse shit near the end, at the precise moment when Pito takes a sniper rifle shot to the head, survives because of fucking course she was going to survive, and then she becomes DAMAGED personified. Seriously, she starts acting like every shallow edgy anime psycho you've watched before, she just wants to kill everyone and later she starts using a goddamn Sith lightsaber! I'm not making this up, she starts murdering people with a lightsaber, even though the other characters have guns and could shoot her, they never manage to hit her because she has an ever stronger plot armor than LLENN did in the previous SJ. It gets really ridiculous, and there's no actual reason to why Pito acts like that or has this obsession with death, she just does, after the SJ is over we discover that she's exactly who you thought she was the whole time and she's perfectly normal. Was she just roleplaying as an edgy retard this whole time? Was this supposed to be a spoof of internet edgelords who are actually tame and inoffensive in real life? I don't know, but I would prefer if GGO kept going on as a slice of life show where Karen deals with her personal issues while playing GGO to distract and have some fun, maybe explore other characters with their own lives and reasons to play the game, make Karen meet Pito sooner so the two of them can have a relationship outside of the game as well. For the love of God, anything but this asinine plot the second half had and the cringe-worthy edgefest that were its last episodes.Overall, I have some pretty mixed feelings on this show. The first half is pretty good, Karen/LLENN is a great protagonist, the other characters are likeable, the action scenes are fun to watch and the show's first half balanced slice of life with gaming similar to how a sports anime plays out, but the second half is only worth watching for LLENN and Fukaziroh's battles against the other teams before things get unbelievably dumb. Still, I managed to enjoy GGO for what it was, even though it could have been much better, I would watch a second season of it no problem, assuming it's going to be more like the first half of this one and not the second half, at least. If you didn't like SAO, there's a chance you may enjoy this spin-off, although... Depending on what exactly you hated about SAO and how much you're tolerant to it, there's also a chance that you may dislike GGO as well. I dunno, give it a try and see what happens, at least the first half I can definitely say I would recommend watching.
Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online is a decent little side story that doesn't have much at all to do with what seems to be the staples of a SAO story. There is no rapey evil character. No lasting death. No ultimate death games.But that is where this anime shines. It's a brilliant story that just so happens to take place in the SAO universe. Light hearted and not so edgy.
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