Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online: Second Squad Jam: Start

By Keiichi Sigsawa and Kouhaku Kuroboshi, based on the series created by Reki Kawahara. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Stephen Paul.

If you read the first volume of this series and thought “I’m here to read deep characterization and cool gun battles, and I’m all out of deep characterization”, then I’ve got some good news for you. Now, there is some attempt at character, which I’ll get into later on, but for the most part you are not here to see what makes Pitohui tick or reading about Llenn’s desire to save her. You are here to read about guns, and fights, and gunfights. And in this regard, the Second Squad Jam offers just what the first did, and does a very good job of it. There may be a few too many long descriptions of makes and models for my taste, but the concept and strategy of what’s going on here is top notch. You can tell this is the main thing Sigsawa wants to write – in fact, he wrote so much of it that this is a two-parter, with the second half due out early next year.

On the cover we see Llenn with a new partner, Fukaziroh, who is Karen’s real-life best friend Miyu. Miyu is not meant, so far, to have much depth. She is in this book to be FUN, and she succeeds admirably. She’s bubbly, extroverted, acts before thinking, and is also hellaciously strong in game, so is a good contrast to Llenn’s speed and agility. Llenn’s former partner, M, can’t pair up with her as he is pairing up with Pitohui, and this Squad Jam is – stop me if you’re surprised in a SAO title – a matter of life or death for the both of them. Why that is has a lot to do with Pitohui’s twisted personality, and also a lot to do with the original Sword Art Online, which Pitohui was not involved with – in fact, that’s the problem. This is handled pretty well, though if I hear yet another thing tying into Laughing Coffin again I may scream. M has a plan to fix things, though we don’t hear the specifics, for the sake of suspense.

These are not the only returning characters, of course. The squad of huge muscular women who turned out to be cute Japanese schoolgirls is back, and anxious to have a rematch with Llenn. That may have to wait, though, as Llenn is on a direct course to confront Pitohui, who we finally see in action, and it is both amazing and terrifying. She’s sort of broken, but the fact that this really IS just a game means that her cruelty and callousness comes off merely as cool rather than as any form of sociopathy. We also see the paramilitary unit, as well as the machine gun idiots. Now that we’ve gotten the plot out of the way, I expect the back half of this two-parter to be incredibly cool fights from beginning to end. As this is the first volume, there’s a lot of necessary setup that gets in the way.

Still, this is frothy fun. It’s never going to win awards for depth or emotion, but if you need a light novel equivalent of Pixy Stix, then by all means this SAO spinoff is absolutely the title for you.

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