It is early sunday morning and raining outside, when I enter my darkened room. An eerie sense of calm enters my body when I switch on my xbox 360 and television, take up my controller and place my headset on my ears. The screen shows the logo of the game, Unreal Tournament 3, and I scroll through the menu to select the gametype: Deathmatch. The word alone causes fear amongst players. Not to me though. I press enter and after a small loading screen I get taken to the arena where the match is about to start. Three, two, one…..play! I move slowly trying to get my bearings and then the first opponent appears. I make a show as if I am trying to raise my weapon: Bammm…I’m dead! Five minutes into the game and I haven’t made a single kill yet. I can hear players laughing and calling out my name: “ Haha…this Raistlin guy is such a noob! He must have just bought the game, what a fool!” With five more minutes left a grin of mischief appears on my face. Like a demon I start playing the game in earnest. My opponents are dropping like flies, and the overhead voice thunders” Massacre……” A thirty plus kill streak without dying…in just a few short minutes I have completely taken over the lead and win the game…….
So you are probably wondering what the hell you just read. Or if I am just making up a story. Well….no. During my gaming days there was one game I was good at: and that was Unreal Tournament 3, an online first person shooter where I at one point was number 10 on the worldwide Xbox 360 ranking lists. The scene I just described was something I did a lot in that game. Pretend I was a total klutz, only to turn the tables on every one later. So why bring this up now? Well the anime I am about to review is about a shooting game as well, though much more advanced then the ones we are used to playing right now. You might recall that in the second season of Sword Art Online Kirito entered a new virtual reality game called Gun Gale Online that used guns instead of swords (although that did not stop Kirito from using one anyway). In this spinoff series we again enter that dark gameworld, but instead of focussing on the main cast we get introduced to a new group of characters.
Karen Kohiruimaki is a university student who is abnormally tall for a woman, a fact that she has never really come to terms with. But then she discovers the Gun Gale Online game which allows her to create a character that is the exact opposite of what she is in real life. Her alter ego, or avatar called Llenn is a very small and cute girl, dressed in pink. Yes, not exactly someone you would find in a brutal shooter game. But Llenn is someone who should not be underestimated. After playing for a while Karen gets better at the game, and Llenn gets a reputation and the nickname “Pink Devil” .Soon she meets up with a mysterious woman called Pitohui, who apparently is an ace in the game. The two of them team up, and also make a promise: if Llenn ever manages to defeat Pito they will meet each other in real life. The warriorwoman introduces Llenn to the squad jam game type where groups of players will try to defeat each other. But it soon becomes clear that Pitohui might have a completely different agenda….
Well let’s get this out of the way first: This show is not as good as Sword Art Online. There, I have said it. Is that a bad thing though? Nope, not in the case of this anime anyway. What we have here is very light show that focusses more on action than on the story itself. Which is not to say that there isn’t a message hidden inside this one if you look hard enough. Karen manages to overcome her complex of being tall by playing the game. And I for one could very much relate to that kind of story. I was never very good at sports, but by playing games such as Unreal Tournament I managed to create a kind of confidence in myself that I was good at other things. We all probably have things in real life that we have a problem with and might even cause us to lose faith in ourselves at times. But sometimes it’s nice to just disappear for a while in a make believe world and in that way discover things inside yourself you might never have thought you possessed.
As I said, the story does take a backseat in this anime, but the action more than makes up for that. There are some really cool gunfights in this show, and one battle in particual where Pitohui takes on a enormous group of enemies pretty much by herself is truly memorable. As far as the characters go they just aren’t as interesting as the ones in the original series. Llenn is a very cute character, and a good fighter and you do grow to love her over the course of the series. But..she really hasn’t got much depth to her. Then there is M, a sidekick of Pitohui that reminded me of Billy in the movie Predator. He had an interesting kind of background but they could really have done much more with him. It was Pitohui however, that definitely was the driving force of the show. I just loved her (except when she started laughing hysterically, that just grated on my nerves). In a way her character arc was pretty tragic especially when the series progresses and you find out more about her motivations.
All in all this 12 part spinoff series was a pretty pleasant surprise. The animation itself, while not groundbreaking was good enough, and the numerous action sequences offer some truly edge of your seat moments. If you are a fan of Sword Art Online, it’s hard to say if you are going to like this. There are a few very small references made to the second season arc of the show, which are also kind of fun to discover, but otherwise this series stands on it’s own. As I am a fan myself and enjoyed the entire SAO series I would say that if you did not have a problem with it’s second season, you might want to give this one a try. Don’t expect this to be a third season of the main show though but keep your expectations low. And if you are not a fan, it all depends on whether you like action heavy animes. For me this show worked, but I can also understand people that gave this one a pass or stopped wathing it.
I give Sword Art Online Alternative Gun Gale Online a 7 out of 10 score.