Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online: 5th Squad Jam: Start

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.

It’s been about a year since the last volume of this series, and many might be forgiven for thinking that it ended. Including the author, who admits it was supposed to end about here. I mean, in terms of plot threads to resolve, there aren’t many left. Karen is no longer being forced to get married, though the denouement for that may not appeal to her. Elsa’s issues are, for the moment, somewhat resolved. The real world has never really been a big part of this series, but even so, I would not blame the author for wanting to move on and write a few more Kino’s Journey books. But here we are anyway, with another Squad Jam, and the sense that Dengeki Bunko is asking the author to please keep the series going because it’s selling well and Llenn merch is cute. As a result, we get this new volume, the first of a two-part (?) story which seems to have one purpose: mock the author mercilessly.

OK, technically every single volume of this series has done that, but this one really makes the effort to get nastier. There’s a new squad jam, and the teams are the same (meaning Clarence and Shirley are still part of the squad). There’s complicated new rules which basically amount to “one team member gets to carry alternate gear for another team member”. Oh yes, and there’s one brand-new rule that is sent to everyone BUT one player. Yes, after essentially being the poster child for every single Squad Jam since the start, Llenn has gotten TOO famous, so now the added rule is that she has a bounty on her head, and whoever kills her in this game will get a pile of REAL money. Now she not only has to try to survive, but she has to find the rest of her team – they were all separated as the event began, and there’s mist everywhere!

For all that everyone in the book hates the author for not just letting them fight, this is a fairly clever setup that allows for what people REALLY want to see in each Squad Jam, which is something different. Separating everyone in particular is a great idea, as it allows us to get interaction we would not normally see, as Llenn forms a reluctant alliance with Vivi, the leader of the machine gunner’s squad. Speaking of which, this is just a game, unlike the original SAO, but there’s still a fair amount of violent death or near death. Vivi’s fate towards the end of this book is horrifying, and would likely have to be edited from the anime if one ever gets to this point. There’s a small attempt at plot, showing Vivi and Fuka are rivals in another game, but that just sets up a cliffhanger more than anything else. It’s pretty much pure action scenes and small characterization.

So yeah, as a book it’s light as air, and you’ll be hungry again right after reading it, but it serves its purpose. Maybe wrap it up soon, please, though?

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