Swords are out and guns are in with the latest arc in the SAO universe!
Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online returns us to the post-apocalyptic VR game where Kirito spent a short but traumatic holiday from the Norse myth meets fairytale world of Aincrad. This time things will be different. There are some pretty dramatic changes going into the newest iteration of Sword Art Online, most noticeably the lack of Kirito and his group and a new studio, but also a new studio, 3Hz, handling the production. Both of these pale in comparison to what will certainly be the biggest change. The action. For that, we have one man to thank, Keiichi Sigsawa.
You may have heard his name around this anime before, Alternative is based on a light novel penned not by series creator Reki Kawahara, but Keiichi Sigsawa, the acclaimed author of the Kino’s Journey series. A grand departure from his oeuvre, this could mean anything for his upcoming take on the Sword Art Online universe. His narrative prowess, citing the explorations of philosophy and human nature in Kino’s Journey are considered a point of interest for many. That’s great, but there’s something even more important about Sigsawa you should know. A fact that may change your expectations for Alternative entirely. He loves guns.
Keiichi Sigsawa is a famous gun enthusiast and the "famous" isn’t hyperbole. Alternative actually marks the second time he has worked on Sword Art Online. He was brought in by A-1 Pictures for the second season during the original Gun Gale Online arc under the auspicious title of “Gun Consultant”, assisting the studio in choosing and accurately representing the wide array of firearms used by Kirito’s opponents during the various battles. You may have noticed a number of glamor shots in the preview.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to Kino’s Journey fans. In addition to the philosophical ruminations of the light novel series, it’s also absolutely known for its many guns and firefights. Kino themself wields an impressive number of guns and the model, condition, and modifications to various weapons are described with loving detail. Kino also gets into a variety of battles against the series various protagonists which tend to read as strategic battles of outthinking and outmaneuvering the enemy.
But how will this change the dynamic of battle? Although Kirito's opponents certainly had guns, the swordsman forced his own brand of melee combat on a world of firearms with his ridiculous speed and laser sword. We can assume the protagonists of Alternative, Llenn and Fukaziroh, have no such advantages and are shown wielding a P90 and twin grenade launchers. The previews have also shown us a few choice scenes to indicate stealth and strategy are going to be important components of the upcoming conflict. The two, along with Sigsawa's own proclivities for writing combat, come together for battles relying on tactical savvy.
The entire premise is written around firefights, with Llenn’s ambition being to distinguish herself within the world of Gun Gale through competitive player vs player battles. Sigsawa definitely knows how to run a tournament, with the bloody Coliseum arc being one of the most well-known of all the Kino’s Journey stories. Alternative promises even more intense action since the format is group-based strategic combat spanning large areas similar to the tournament Kirito joined in his pursuit of Death Gun.
We all have high hopes for the latest chapter in Sword Art Online and what the story brings is anyone's guess (unless they’ve read the light novels) but the combat seems like a sure thing. A cutthroat tournament structure and an author with a singular dedication to firearms couldn’t be a more promising combination to deliver one of the most memorable action series of the season and a strong new addition to the Sword Art Online universe.
Peter Fobian is an Associate Features Editor for Crunchyroll, author of Monthly Mangaka Spotlight, writer for Anime Academy, and contributor at Anime Feminist. You can follow him on Twitter @PeterFobian.