OK, I shouldn’t have to stress about how me and this particular franchise has been for the past 5 years or so but for those new here, I’m giving you the short version of this:
I fucking hate Sword Art Online.
And before you go, “Well, there’s worse shows than this,”….First off, I’m not talking about other shows, it’s about this one (and it’s sequel) and how much of a good idea and premise can be ruined by the execution to its uneven pacing, a bland protagonist that’s too OP for his own good, superfluous fan service, unneeded sexual assault scenes that thinks it’s being edgy and mature but it’s actually too dumb and insulting for its own good. Oh, and the emotionally manipulative parts that tries to get you to feel anything but it’s never genuine and is actually cheap. (But hey, that’s just me. If you like or love it, more power to you.)
SAO 1 got me annoyed, SAO 2 got me pissed off and I already said that I’m not tuning in to SAO3 this season (and no, I didn’t catch that movie and don’t plan to). But wait…. there was a spin off this year and according to the original source material, this was actually done by Keiichi Sigsawa, the author of Kino’s Journey and also known to be a gun enthusiast and also by a different anime studio.
Now I decided to check this one out from pure curiosity. If something SAO can be good without the involvement of Reki Kawahara and Kirito. Well, let’s see about that.
Karen Kohiruimaki always felt out of place in the real world. Due to her extreme height, she found it hard to make friends with other girls her age. Everything changes when she’s introduced to VR and Gun Gale Online. In GGO, Karen is free to play the cute, chibi avatar of her dreams! Can Karen find friendship in this bullet-ridden MMO…?
OK, having seen this show during the Spring 2018 season (a very packed season of anime, mind you) and watching this week after week and my first thoughts about this are…..even if this show was average at best, it would still be better than the first two series and guess what?
This show is good. Yeah, I said it. For the first time ever, I, MAK2.0 aka The Blue Hybrid, has said something positive about something affiliated with SAO (well, something that’s not the English dub bloopers of both shows and SAO Abridged). I genuinely think this entry managed to make me understand the appeal of Sword Art Online, just through a main character that can actually be relatable to people and not just a standard Shonen character with black paint on them.
Karen Kohiruimaki aka LLENN actually feels like somebody we have met or encountered before you felt the way she was in the beginning. A shy girl who has a complexity of her height, being tall and all and how sometimes she wants to be short and cute and also low confidence as well, which does build up to her getting into VR games although she’s cautious since after the disaster that was Sword Art Online and after a few mishaps of them designing her character avatar for her (seriously, I thought you can just make your own) and she’s now the short, pink girl that can move fast and kick some ass…..well, 6 or 7 months into playing the game. Yes, it takes time for the girl to actually git gud at the game, and not just suddenly be a badass instantly.
That’s actually what I was liking in this show. Yeah, that initial premise of “You die in the game, you die in real life” may have been intriguing in the first series but then again, if that was the only thing going for it, then it should’ve been one and done in the first place. It didn’t need some overarching plot of some guy going around killing players or rehashing the shit over and over again and then followed by some very weak fluff material.
Basically, it’s Karen finding escapism outside the real world and into the world of GGO and how she’s enjoying herself being LLENN in GGO and making some friends while she’s at it. Especially one friend in particular but let’s call her Pitohui. She’s a character that’s basically a thrill seeker in the gaming world as she really loves to be in danger and all that shit considering she was originally a beta tester for SAO but she was the lucky one to not log on on the day of the official release but to her, she missed her chance and she’s not too happy on that……oh and did I mention she’s psycho as fuck?
Yeah, the escapism of Karen is more of the positive side but with Pitohui…. it’s the other end of that spectrum and yeah, she does become the antagonist in the latter half of the series and was LLENN’s friend at first when introduced. Actually, when M talked about how threatening she can be in midpoint of the show and how she would kill him in the game, it sounds like she was really some psycho SAO-obsessed killer…..thankfully, it doesn’t go down like that. Yes, she’s a killing machine when it comes in the battlefield but not like “I’m killing your ass IRL” type of shit.
Oh, and to mention other characters, Karen’s friend Miyu aka Fukaziroh added some spunkyness in the show, especially with one scene of her confronting this one guy in the game and one of the teams in the game, SHINC, was also an interesting addition to the show as in the game, they are some big, tall, strong women in there but in real life, they are a group of high school girls in a rhythm athletics club and they often pass by Karen every day and one of them wish that she was like her being tall (yeah, quite the revelation in that.) In fact, this show does its female characters with better character development and interaction than its original counterparts.
Even though this is animated by another studio apart from A-1 Pictures and that is Studio 3HZ, the studio responsible for titles like Flip Flappers and Princess Principal and having seen those shows and their animation was really great on those, this feels like they’re going for what the series already have and that’s OK by me. The original show’s animation wasn’t all that spectacular apart from the visuals and this show is very on par, animation-wise.
Also, I can say the same music-wise as while I liked it better than the original score (and considering Yuki Kajiura did the score to SAO1 and 2 and I like Kajiura but that score was weak and bland as hell), this one is just your typical electronic video game music score with some epic sounding parts to it. The epic-sounding part is very associated with “Ryūsei” (流星 Meteor) by Eir Aoi and the more chill and feel-good J-Pop sound is on the ending song, “To see the future” by Tomori Kusunoki.
For the English dub once again directed by Alex Von David and I’m pretty sure with this and SAO3 getting a dub (you know it’s getting a dub, don’t joke about it), he’s very set on that and I’m liking this dub. The highlights of this dub is credited to the VAs of Karen/LLENN, Pitohui & Miyu/Fukaziroh and they are Reba Buhr, Allegra Clark and Faye Mata, respectively. I like the energetic feel of Buhr’s LLENN with her softer side in Karen; With this and Jinyu in FLCL Progressive, Allegra Clark excels as Pitohui and I absolutely love Faye Mata’s performance as Miyu. There’s also other actors like Ray Chase as M and also it’s nice to Xanthe Hyunh in something SAO-related again and this time, playing a character that doesn’t die in the first half.
FINAL VERDICT: So yeah, I liked this show. I’ve finally liked something SAO-related but to be completely fair to myself, I liked it because of the fact that Kawahara is nowhere penning the original script and Kirito is nowhere to be found here and also that we found out more about our characters in here rather than “I’m a badass that can suddenly master the game!” or have that development, only to have it squandered away to build up the protagonist more and nothing else. This also feels like you’re having fun….something I have never encountered within SAO1 and 2 and that’s what something involving video games should feel like.
Granted, I hear some SAO fans not feeling this series but I don’t know what to do with that. So, an inverse if you will.
But for me, I would give this a recommend, especially to those that aren’t feeling the first 2 seasons.
SWORD ART ONLINE ALTERNATIVE: GUN GALE ONLINE is available to stream on CRUNCHYROLL, HULU and coming soon to NETFLIX. A home video release has yet to be announced.
I’m MAK2.0 aka The Blue Hybrid and I wonder how this review will go afterwards.
SWORD ART ONLINE ALTERNATIVE: GUN GALE ONLINE – animated by Studio 3HZ/ licensed by ANIPLEX OF AMERICA