Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online, Vol. 1

By Keiichi Sigsawa, Kouhaku Kuroboshi, and Tadadi Tamori, based on the series created by Reki Kawahara. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks, serialized in the magazine Dengeki Maoh. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Stephen Paul.

The Sword Art Onlione franchise has done a lot of worldbuilding over the course of the series, detailing no less than four different games/VR environments. Some are more popular than others, but I think Gun Gale Online struck a cord with a lot of gamers, as usually these sorts of novels concentrate on sword-based fantasy RPGs – as indeed Sword Art Online did for its first four volumes. So the idea of combining that sort of immersion with a game filled with all sorts of guns, rifles, and lightsaber–sorry, beam swords was incredibly appealing. As for the publisher, I imagine having a spinoff series that did not have to be overseen by Kawahara as much as the others was a plus – the number of regular SAO cast in this first volume is zero. So if you want to read about Gun Gale Online but hate Kirito, have I got a series for you.

This manga is, like a lot of Sword Art Online, based off of a novel. Unfortunately, the novel has not been licensed here as of yet. It’s by Keiichi Sigsawa, who some may know as the creator of Kino’s Journey. Our heroine is Karen, an incredibly tall girl who went to a women’s college to try to change her self-conscious self, but found when she got there that most of the other students already knew each other, and she’s still huge, so she’s mostly a social outcast again. She decides to try to forget about it by playing a VRMMO… but every one she tries gives her another tall avatar. As a last resort, she tries Gun Gale Online, and finds that – finally – she’s short and cute. Now she and her pink gun (OK, Bambi) can have as much tiny fun as they want! (I am reminded of Log Horizon, where Akatsuki originally played as a huge male assassin because “games allow you to be something you’re not”.

We see Llenn (her screen name) gradually getting used to the game with the help of another player, Pitohui, who is the very definition of “obviously evil”, not that this seems to register with Llenn. As she gets a gun and starts to go after other players, she begins to have a lot of fun – botjh because her small form is very good at this sort of thing and also because, well, it’s a game, and in a game, killing others can be fun. That said, this is SAO, so we know those sorts of feelings are always dangerous, especially when helped along by Pitohui, who seems to be trying to make Llenn into a tiny little killing machine. (There is a very disturbing scene in reality midway through the book, showing a young woman (I really hope it’s a young woman, she looks far too young) on top of a guy, sexing him up while also threatening him regarding the upcoming GGO match. It’s heavily suggested this is Pitohui in real life, and does not bode well for our heroine. It also feels oddly out of place.)

The rest of the book is gun battle fun, as Llenn gets a partner who seems taciturn and scary at first but eventually shows he’s a nice enough guy. Are they good enough to win a tournament even though there’s only two of them? Even if their opponents look to literally be JSDF? What is Pitohui scheming? And can we really get through an SAO spinoff without Kirito showing up at all? Find out in the next thrilling volume!

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