By Andrew Osmond.
If you haven’t seen the first volume of Gun Gale Online, we introduce it here; it’s spun off from the Sword Art Online franchise, but it’s quite possible to start with Gun Gale if you want. The end of the first volume set up the plucky Karen, known online as the pink pint-sized fighter Llen, preparing to enter her second “Squad Jam” tournament. Unlike the previous battle royale, when Llen was fighting beside the taciturn M, her teammate in this game is her best friend Miyu, who summons up her own cute-girl guise.
This time, though, there’s more than just a game victory at stake. Karen has learned that one of her online girl friends, the cheerfully lethal Pitohui, is obsessed with the Sword Art Online incident from a few years ago, when players who “died” in the game died for real. Now it seems that Pitohui may be planning to kill herself if she “dies” in the tournament, unless Llen can be the player who kills her…
Nonetheless, this volume mostly maintains the light tone of the first series. One of the gags, for example, has a player being late to the epic online battle because of a real-world problem – she’s got the runs! There’s also a very funny joke later, involving a legend as familiar to Western viewers as Japanese ones – the tale of Alexander the Great and the Gordian Knot, where the conqueror is perplexed by the title tangle.
The main joke, though, is the way that Gun Gale doubles down on the kind of “violence” usually associated with lurid war adventures or horror films, only here featuring cute girls. There’s no blood – the worst we see is red dots – and no-one actually dies in battle. So it stays a cheery show, even as limbs are severed or blown off, eyes are gouged, and dangly private parts are… well, you can imagine. The only truly queasy moments involve a couple of male sleaze-balls making extremely nasty advances to the “little” girls, suggesting that online game culture has the same issues in Japan as elsewhere.
Karen’s friend Miyu, who adopts the online name Fukaziroh next to Llen, becomes a major character in these episodes, using extreme methods to bolster Llen up. She’s voiced in Japanese by Chinatsu Akasaki, who took a rather similar role in the anime thriller Erased – she was Airi, the pizza delivery girl who supported the troubled time-traveller. (Akasaki’s other roles include Shinka in Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions and the girl thief Felt in Re: Zero.)
One other voice to listen for is that of a singer. Throughout the series, Karen and Miyu try to get tickets to see a girl idol called Elsa (whose name may nod to the princess in Disney’s Frozen, whose “Let it Go” song was as massive in Japan as elsewhere). Elsa is actually “sung” in Japanese by a complete newcomer, ReoNa, who grew up as a cosplayer and a Youtube singer – here she is covering “Stand By Me.” Since her debut in Gun Gale Online, ReoNa’s stayed with the wider franchise, performing at least two songs for the latest Sword Art Online series, Alicization.
Gun Gale Online, part two, is released in the UK by Anime Limited.