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

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.

This is the 13th volume of the SAO:GGO series, and I’m pretty sure it has probably gone on longer than Keiichi Sigsawa originally planned it for. The nature of the series, after all, is basically “death game” only for once it really IS a game so we don’t need to worry about death. Which actually helps with the longevity. The cast here is large, and except for our main group we may not remember everyone all that well, but Llenn is not the only one who’s gotten famous, she’s just the poster child. We’ve also grown to see David’s seriousness as he tries his hardest to finally achieve something in a Squad Jam and always seems to not quite get there. There’s Vera, who took the series’ funniest running gag (the machine gun bros) and made them into the most dangerous team out there, taking out more of our main characters than anyone. And there’s SHINC, of course, who still don’t get to face off against Llenn. Alas.

The last volume ended with the shock of Shirley sniping Pitohui and removing her from the game. But there’s no time to dwell on that, as Llenn still has a bounty on her head and everyone wants the money associated with it. M, Fukaziroh, Boss, and Anna are trying to protect her while also getting to the center of the castle that is their final battlefield… because they’ve been told that the rest of the castle except that battlefield will soon ALSO drop off and doom everyone still in it to death by extreme falling. Clarence is holed up in a tower with good defense, but can’t really move. And Shirley has had her fondest wish granted, but is finding that “Sniper” is not really a good choice for the REST of this game. And wait, are those… ghosts?

Usually there’s one part of each book in this series that I am surprised, and here it was Pitohui returning as a ghost. I thought for sure she’d be back sooner, and torment Shirley, but no – the ghosts don’t show up till the climax, and she and Shirley never interact. Instead, the series does one of the things it does best, with is provide some ridiculous death, badass deaths, and badass AND ridiculous deaths in one book. The climax of the book is hilarious, exciting, and thrilling – I was not actually sure if Llenn really would get killed off by someone else or not till the last few pages, and everything about the rivalry between Fukaziroh and Anna – and, let’s face it, Fukaziroh in general – makes me giggle. There is even a smidge of depth here, as Karen/Llenn starts to realize, and later is told point blank by Fukaziroh, that she’s not the same shy wallflower she was at the start of the series – the game has been good for her in real life as well. It’s therapeutic.

We’ve caught up with Japan, so I’m not sure when we’ll get another of these. It’s a satisfying finish for fans of the series, though.

Sword Art Online, Vol. 27: Unital Ring VI

By Reki Kawahara and abec. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Stephen Paul.

Last time I said that it was a good book but the plot progression was minimal, and I’d say that the plot progression is even more minimal here. It’s also not quite as good a book. Stuff happens, don’t get me wrong. Lives are put in danger, especially in the Underworld, and there is a return there of a villain that I really didn’t care about when they were around in the main Underworld arc and care less about now that their descendants have returned. On the Unital Ring side, we’re headed up to a new level, and we’re interacting more with players from different games, but I sort of feel like Kirito is a metaphor for what Kawahara is trying to do with the series. He’s trying to juggle 3-4 plots at once and can’t devote all his attention to any of them. Frankly, I’d rather that he and Asuna try to figure out if Kizmel has been magically brought back to life (clearly implied near the end) than anything with dragon spaceships.

We pick up where we left off, with Ronie and Tiese staring at Eolyne and wondering if he’s just Eugeo wearing a mask, but the answer to that is still – so far – that he is not. They all then bond in a big bath scene, but then Kirito and Asuna are dragged back to Japan while Alice gets to stay and bond with her sister some more. They head back to Unital Ring to find that everyone else is tacking the floor boss, with Lizbeth staying behind so that someone can bring them up to speed. They then arrive on the new floor… the third “game” to do so, after Asuka Empire (which Yuuki and her friends played) and Apocalyptic Date (where the players are anthro). Unfortunately, these new gamers know Kirito’s reputation, and they’re also desperate because of some poor decision making, so they decide to kidnap Yui. Also a poor decision. And back in Underworld, Alice’s reunion is interrupted by a full-blown invasion.

There were a few scenes in this book I enjoyed. The entire sequence with the robot kitten was not only adorable but also showed off the issues that AI is running into – I loved it when we were told that, if it ran on AI, the kitten would start walking around on two legs like a human. I also liked Asuna and Kirito’s brief panic on returning to Unital Ring, which was sort of darkly funny – was everyone killed off while they were gone? But honestly, the main issue with this book was that there was simply too much going on, and it didn’t give me enough depth to really care about one thing over the other. This is especially true on the Underworld side, where we still don’t quite know who the main villain is, but the ones behind the invasion are frankly a group I would have been delighted to never see again. At least it wasn’t the return of Gabriel Miller. Yet.

If you’re still reading SAO, I’d say keep going. Eugeo payoff looks like it will be coming next time, and hopefully we get some dark elves as well. Just… not in this book.

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

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.

This review spoils the climax of this volume, but only after the cover image, so FYI.

I have had my complaints about this series, too numerous to mention, but the one thing that has always been apparent and appreciated is how much fun Keiichi Sigsawa is clearly having writing it. Leaving aside his annoying author avatar (who comes up with a light novel title parody for the ages in the afterword), all of the gun battles and backstabs and double backstabs in this book make you smile and imagine the author typing away, pausing only to pump his fist and go “Yes!”. It oozes a sort of testosterone, which is interesting given that most of the main cast are all women. It also does not have to deal with any of SAO’s issues. No one is trapped in the game. Death is fake. There are no NPCs, and you don’t need to worry about sentience. It’s a giant sandbox to play in. That’s why everyone is here.

As you’d expect given that this is the middle volume of a Squad Jam, there’s no plot here to deal with except “watch Llenn try not to get shot”. She manages to defuse Fuka and the two of them reveal just what they’re carrying as their alternate, swap out weapon, which is genius and also relies on the two of them being besties. Pitohui gets to simply sit in a tree, shoot the occasional passing enemy, and amuse herself imagining Llenn panicking. M teams up with one of the Russian girls, Anna, in what ends up being a very nasty game of Wacky Races. Shirley is in in her element, sniping in the snow. And Clarence also hooks up with a Russian girl, though mostly their plot is “hide behind a rock”. Eventually, almost everyone meets up, but there’s a new problem: the final climax will take place in a castle, and to make everyone go inside it the ground starts to vanish!

Since the start of this series, the author has delighted in having the character want to do something and then finding ways for it not to happen. The obvious example is Llenn wanting to fight SHINC, something that she’s certainly done a few times, but never in the “fair fight, no weird tricks or rules” way that she desperately wants. (She needs to not do this in a Squad Jam, frankly.) But she’s not the only one with constantly frustrated goals, as we’ve watched Shirley desperately trying to get to the point of “snipe and kill Pitohui” and forever being frustrated, to the point where they’re mostly allies these days. And that’s what makes the end of this volume stunning, as for once one of our characters gets what they want and is satisfied. Imagine! And then there’s the capper, as I was wondering what the next volume would do without Pitohui in it, but it seems that the author has a way around that, so it should be fine.

These volumes tend to wildly swing between “excellent” and “deepl frustrating”, and this one is the former, which pleases me. The next volume wraps up the arc, and also catches up with Japan, as it only came out there three months ago. Mindless fun, in the good way.