Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online: 3rd Squad Jam: Betrayer’s Choice (Part 2)

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

As with most of these volumes, I find that this volume of SAO Alternative starts slow and gradually gets going till a 2nd half that verges on fantastic. The first part of the book briefly checks in with all the other teams, showing us what they were doing while Llenn and company were having their adventures by the train depot in the first part. They all gradually get the same notice: one of them is a traitor, please report to the traitor area for debriefing. The reactions range from vague dissatisfaction to rage to deep sadness, and then there’s Pitohui, who is OVER THE MOON. The story then moves to a massive ocean liner that is grounded on the island… except the island is sinking under the ocean, so gradually it becomes a real boat. Can everyone get to the boat before they drown? Can they defeat this new team made up of “betrayers”? And will the betrayers really work together anyway?

There are some nice moments with characters other than the two leads, I will briefly admit. The soldier that Pitohui fought in the 2nd Squad Jam gets a name and some righteous fury, not that it does him much good. SHINC are still the best huge Russian women who are really cute middle schoolers out there, and I really loved it when Llenn and Eva teamed up – if they can’t have their long-awaited battle (and it’s become clear by now the narrative will ALWAYS stop them in some way), this is almost as good. Fukaziroh is also a lot of fun, with quips at the ready, though she also functions as a good sounding board for Pitohui to actually (gasp!) open up. And the final battle between Fukaziroh and Eva is almost as good as Llenn and Pitohui’s. But not quite. Because, once again, we’re here to read about these two girls and their twisted relationship.

A warning for those who love reading SAO spinoffs but hate Kirito: he’s not in this book, but a flashback shows Pitohui, as a beta tester for SAO, fighting a swordsman who is very clearly him. I’m very glad that Pitohui missed getting trapped in SAO despite what it ended up doing to her already somewhat broken self, as I suspect she would have ended up in Laughing Coffin. (So does she.) But it’s seeing Pito’s vulnerability that’s the best part of this book – admitting to Fukaziroh that she’s terrified of Llenn, her real-life bodies own limits impacting her performance towards the end, and her own latent attraction to Llenn, who is not only cute and lethal (especially when in a rage-filled haze as she is towards the end here) but also in real life tall, athletic, and pretty. Sadly, Llenn still seems to have no interest.

I left out the book’s big spoiler, as it’s a very well done twist. And the ship’s AI was wonderful. Other than that… well, people read Alternative for the gun battles, and there are certainly a lot of those here. I read Alternative for the characters, though, and it was great to see some development with them as well. Will we get a 4th Squad Jam next/ Or something else?

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