Summer Reading: Gun Gale Online Discussion

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online

It is time for a discussion of the first volume of Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online, featuring me and Justus! This post will contain lots of spoilers, so it's recommended you read the book first. (Amazon -- Barnes and Noble -- Book Depository -- RightStuf)

To check on the Summer Reading Program 2018 schedule, click here.

Vol 1 — Squad Jam

Cho: Welcome gamers! Let’s start the Squad Jam
In this volume, characters participated in the Squad Jam
How did you like the Squad Jam?
Justus: It was fun. The gun battles were well written, and I felt like the “game” aspect of this world was far better portrayed than in the main series.
Cho: You’ve read the SAO books I believe, so you’ll be able to compare this spinoff to it
Justus: Yeah. It’s a very different take. In the main series, Gun Gale Online is used more like a murder mystery setting, so the focus is more on Kirito and Sinon hunting this one shadowy character to see if he can really kill players in real life through the game. This book just takes all that real “threat” out of the story and just lets players play.
You can really feel that Sigsawa is a gun fan and is using this setting to have fun
Cho: He says as much in the afterword
Justus: Absolutely. So on that level, I think he accomplished his goal 😉
Cho: I guess with that in mind, you could say this has a pretty specific target audience
Justus: I’m not sure about that. It’s definitely targeting the SAO fanbase. But I don’t know how many gun nuts are going to jump on board
That said, I noticed a couple of airsoft gun stores prominently featuring the P90 while the anime was airing
Cho: Where you’re at? (Or in Japan?)
Justus: Here in Canada. I was in Markham, which is a very dense Asian community, and it was there.
Cho: I see, very interesting!
Justus: Yeah, but they weren’t pink though 😞
Cho: Just dip it in a bucket of paint a few times
Justus: LOL!
Cho: Regarding target audience though — I am still wondering who would get the most out of this story. My thinking is that it could appeal to fans of sports and competition-style anime and manga?
Justus: Maybe? But I think it’s more targeting gamers who play FPS like Call of Duty and the like.
Which, again, not sure if that translates into the SAO fan base or not
Though, I’ve read the books & watched the anime, and I play FPS games, so I guess it works out
Cho: It seems like something that’d click with you more than me then, ha ha
I imagine a lot of SAO readers are also into our current-day games, so I’m sure there’s overlap
I think the reason I bring up the sports and games subgenre though, is because the conflict and stakes seem comparable here
Justus: Yes. The stakes in this book were actually my biggest complaint about it. For me, just the point of “winning” didn’t involve me emotionally enough. I wanted Karen to have a reason to play and win.
I think it works better in a visual medium like anime
Because the excitement of the visuals keeps you engaged
Cho: You could probably argue that for action series in general — it’s more engaging to watch a Jackie Chan fight than to read about each kick and punch
Justus: Very true. But if Karen had a reason to play, like she needed the prize money, or there was something significant on the line, I would’ve enjoyed it more.
Cho: I’m not sure if I’d say the stakes of the book are my biggest complaint, because going back to comparing this to a sports story, the main conflict (on the surface at least) is generally just “will the protagonist win or lose”
Justus: I guess that’s fair. But then, I’ve never been a huge fan of sports anime, so I guess I want more.
Cho: Most sports/game stories will also have some kind of character-related inner conflict as well though, which ties into the main plot of the competition
And I think that might be where I have a bigger problem with this one

Justus: But here’s my thing. I don’t need it to have some huge stakes, like she loses her house or some thing. I just want the game to have a larger emotional resonance. Like, at the end, she seems to be more comfortable in her own skin because she faced trials in the Squad Jam. But that wasn’t really brought up while she was playing.
It just seemed to be a convenient side-effect
Cho: We might be thinking along the same lines
The story starts with a conflict: Karen is tall, and has trouble making friends etc because she’s self-conscious and has low self-esteem
There are two aspects to this conflict: the first is her height, which gets resolved right away via the Gun Gale Online game
That’s a quick and easy solution, so that won’t carry the rest of the story — Karen herself IRL needs to change in some way, e.g. become more self-confident
Justus: Yes, which is never tied to her experiences in the game as the story progresses. Hence my argument there are no real stakes
Cho: The problem I think is ~95% of the story is about shooting guns at people in a video game, so… I didn’t ever get a sense of her character developing since everything was so focused on the game itself
(And I have mixed feelings about shooting guns as a path to feel more self-confident, ha ha)
Justus: Exactly. She’s playing the game for a vain and superficial reason. She wants to exist somewhere where she is her ideal body type. But it doesn’t seem to teach her anything.
Except for a throwaway line near the very end.
I mean, she isn’t even playing GGO because she WANTS to, she’s playing it because it granted her her ideal avatar.
Cho: Which, TBH, kind of confused me because the story took the time to say one can transfer an avatar into other games
Justus: Well, technically not the actual avatar. It’s the avatar’s stats I think that transfer. Each game causes some alteration to the character
Cho: I see. (TBH, the entire concept of all VR games randomizing your character is complete nonsense, but I’ll set that aside for now)
Justus: I’d have to go back and check the exact wording. I know in the main series, the characters can move between games keeping their stats, but their appearance alters in each game
Well, especially ones that tie directly into your brain. I think only Log Horizon ever addressed how your mind would be confused if your body was suddenly altered
Like your balance and gait etc would all be thrown off
Cho: I feel like that would be the case at first, but people can be surprisingly quick to adapt?
IDK, I did read a book on the early history of VR recently, and it was interesting how quickly people were able to work out moving extra “phantom” limbs for animal/alien avatars
Justus: Probably. I do find it hard to believe players would accept a game that didn’t allow for control over your appearance. Though I guess I could see a company charging more for the option.
Cho: yfw you must gacha roll for each step of character creation
Mobile games have a bright future in VR!
Justus: Total cash scam…

Justus: What about Karen’s body issue, though? Does it seem significant enough to make you run away to a VR world?
I’m average height, so I wouldn’t really know
Cho: Well, I think Karen’s issue here is something a lot of people can relate to in general. Many teens wish they looked different from how they do. It doesn’t seem a stretch to me that people would use VR to live a different life, and perhaps that will make the next generation 95% hikikomori
But we’ll all have robots to take care of us, so it’ll be okay
Justus: Probably. Especially if the game is fun 😉
I guess I’m used to my main characters suffering more. Aside from her height, Karen seems to have a wonderful life. She has friends, she is pretty, her family loves her, she comes from wealth. I mean, it isn’t exactly the top setup for “I need a different life.” But maybe that’s the point? That even something lesser than other issues can still have an impact and scar a person?
Cho: I don’t feel we know too much about Karen’s real life to be honest, so it’s hard to comment. I think it’s fine to have stories with smaller conflicts though — anime and manga have lots of great “slice-of-life” stories
And while I wouldn’t call this book slice-of-life, it’s certainly not “the hero’s journey”
In future volumes, I would hope for there to be more focus on the characters, how they relate to one another, and how the VR games affect their real-life selves.
Justus: Yes. That would be good.
Speaking of other characters, what about M and Pitohui? Any thoughts on those two?
Cho: It’s hard for me to say much about them either
Justus: Do you think M’s meltdown was legitimate? Did it make you more curious about Pito, or just feel indifferent because there isn’t enough to go on?
Cho: M seemed genuine there
I think the idea is that Pitohui is a loose wire, perhaps has some kind of trauma. She can let herself go wild in the VR game as a way to cope
I’m not sure if such a concept will be delved into with delicacy here, but it could at least add more tension
Justus: Yes. It would give a different kind of “why I escape to VR games” angle.

Cho: The thing is, this volume was almost entirely devoted to the tournament, which was a whole lot of action scenes one after another. But we haven’t really touched on that. How well do you feel the author handled the gun fights in this?
Did you feel there was enough variety to keep it interesting?
Justus: From a game POV, I think it worked well. The gun battles were true to a gaming experience where getting sniped out of nowhere, or having an opponent pop up and surprise you are all things that happen. I liked how he incorporated the gun knowledge as well. Again, from a gamer’s POV, different guns in a game handle differently. Which weapons you choose has an impact on how you play. I thought he portrayed that. Again, this felt much more like a game than any world in the SAO main series ever has.
But can he keep it interesting for 7 more books? Uh, I’m not sure.
I think that’s a particular challenge working with a guns-only world.
Cho: Well, I think with just about any subculture, you can find fans who can discuss a single tiny facet of their hobby for hours and hours
Justus: Very true. And with him having a small team of only two players, Llenn and M, it meant them adopting different tactics than they would’ve with a larger group
I think focusing more on the strategy side of things is what will give this series legs
Cho: The author seems to know his stuff, and it would not surprise me if he could write a dozen more of these
I personally had to gloss over all the details about every single gun though, and had to skim over many of the action sequences
Justus: Well, we know he’s an accomplished writer with lots of experience. And his gun knowledge seems almost frighteningly vast.
Cho: It’s a somewhat fascinating contrast with his more famous work, Kino’s Journey, which I’ve personally enjoyed.
Justus: I’ve never had the chance to read Kino’s, and I’ve sworn off watching the anime in hopes we get the books.
Cho: The stories for Kino are short, to-the-point, and very thematically-driven. (So, the opposite of this.)
Justus: I think, as we said earlier, this is just a series for him to indulge a personal passion with reckless abandon
Cho: And that’s certainly how it reads! As such, it’s probably something I’d only recommend to those who are up for reading a few hundred pages of a Halo Let’s Play
Justus: Yes, that’s pretty much exactly what it is!
On my review on my YouTube channel, some commenters did say the stakes and character development increases in the later volumes
Cho: That wouldn’t surprise me, because I’d imagine said stakes would relate to the character Pitohui
I’ve probably covered most everything I can think to say about this volume though. Do you have any questions you’d like to throw out?
Justus: No, I think we’ve talked about most of it. As you said, it’s like reading a gameplay as opposed to watching it. Not a bad book, it had fun moments, but it’s not going to satisfy everyone. Definitely one I think that would enjoy wider appeal as an anime.
Cho: I think they’d offer different experiences — perhaps in a way that I think the Tanya the Evil books and anime would offer different experiences
For example in a novel, the author can write about topics at length that a TV show wouldn’t be able to (and indeed, wouldn’t want to)
Justus: Yes. In this case, I’d say it’s the gun info.
Cho: I do wonder if the anime copied the book’s formula of giving us every action scene twice
TBH that was something that kind of drove me mad, ha ha
Justus: Well, I think he was trying to widen the book’s scope by altering PoV. But it did get a little tedious at times.
Cho: In an anime you should be able to show both sides’ PoV as the action is happening though
Justus: Yeah, that’s why I think this works in a broader appeal as an anime. Gun battles are more exciting to watch, and anime gets right to the action
Cho: And I’d assume the author got to help with that as well — the afterward mentions him helping out with the gun-related arc in the original SAO anime
Justus: Yeah. I’d have to check the credits. But I can’t imagine he didn’t get involved somehow.
Cho: Maybe we’ll get some comments on this from some of our readers! I know there has to be a few out there who watched the anime 😛
Justus: Hopefully! But hopefully they’ll stay clear of spoilers concerning the next two books, as the anime covered volumes 1-3 😉

Cho: That's it for our discussion on Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online volume 1. Now it's your turn! What are some of your thoughts on this book?

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