There’s two things I want to bring up before we get into looking at the Gun Gale arc of Sword Art Online. Both are kinda important, so please, don’t skip down looking for pictures of Sinon’s butt. There aren’t any.
Kirito’s, maybe, but not Sinon’s.
First off, Lethargic Ramblings made a post a bit back about why all the arguments against SAO are more or less irrelevant. It’s all really well thought out and presented in a hard to argue format. They even managed to bring up some points about Suguha/Leafa’s character arc in Fairy Dance I hadn’t considered before. It’s a great read, and well worth the time.
Yes, every time I write one of these, somebody comes along and gives me reason to see things from a different perspective. Being open minded kinda sucks, ya know?
Second, I’ve mentioned in past SAO posts that Kawahara didn’t write the Gun Gale arc, and I was wrong. He did. It’s called the Phantom Bullet arc for the manga. The Gun Gale Online manga is unrelated to Kirito’s adventures in that setting, which I wasn’t aware of.
I admit I enjoy SAO. It’s a fun show. I don’t count myself as a dedicated fan, however. I’ve not read any of the source material. When I was doing my research into SAO, I initially focused on the Aincrad arc alone, and only saw references to the Gun Gale Online manga as being written by another author. Since I hadn’t planned to write about Fairy Dance, much less Gun Gale, I didn’t dig any deeper, and kind of skimmed over anything past Aincrad, and the background of how SAO got to be so popular.
Turns out, that was a mistake. Which is now biting me in the butt as I find myself on my third SAO post. Always do proper research, kids. Don’t be like Uncle Cain, who says something he later has to retract cause he didn’t pay attention.
So, yes, Kawahara did write the Gun Gale arc. That was my bad. As a side note, I’m kinda glad I was wrong. Gun Gale is a really great example of how talented a writer Kawahara actually is.
Of course, at this point, if I didn’t start an SAO post by apologizing for getting something wrong, I’m not sure just how I would start them. I think we can all agree it would be weird and disconcerting.
Probably should just go ahead and admit I’m gonna get something wrong here and end up apologizing for that when I eventually end up writing a Mother’s Rosario post, huh?
Yeah, I figured.
Anyway, all that out of the way, let’s look at the Gun Gale/Phantom Bullet/Girly Kirito/Whatthefuckever arc.
That girly Kirito thing is gonna get me in trouble, ain’t it? Dammit.
The Gun Gale arc is set a year after the end of the first SAO arc. Kirito is now seventeen and looking towards college, where he wants to work in mechatronics, and develop a new form of virtual environment that overlays with reality. Basically, the kids got goals.
All of that is expensive, however, and while his family isn’t poor, they aren’t rich, either. So when the member of the Internal Affairs Virtual Division who debriefed him after the SAO incident gets in touch with a possible paying job, Kirito heads over to speak with him.
Turns out, what Seijiro really wants to talk about is an incident that occurred in another VRMMO called Gun Gale Online. Apparently, a fearsome masked player calling himself Death Gun shot a player in the game, which killed him in real life. Seijiro wants to know if such a thing is possible, which Kirito denies. Mostly satisfied, Seijiro asks Kirito to do a bit of recon anyway, by going into Gun Gale Online and checking out the rumors surrounding this Death Gun character.
Since this is a job, and Kirito will basically be a government employee for the duration, he finally agrees, and soon finds himself in a more dangerous, and personal situation than he ever dreamed possible.
That’s the long and short of the plot, anyway. Fans will tell you that the Gun Gale arc redeemed SAO after Fairy Dance, while critics will claim it to be even worse than the previous two arcs combined.
First off, Fairy Dance, as we’ve discussed, had a lot more going for it than it seemed, so Gun Gale hardly redeems it. SAO in general wasn’t all that in need of redemption, according to the sales numbers of the manga, light novels, anime, and merchandise. Nor is it worse. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it elevates SAO a good bit by taking things to a new genre and different environment than we’ve seen.
Mostly, though, it manages to do a pretty good job of balancing plot and character, better than the previous two arcs. It’s a much better showing of Kawahara’s talents as a writer, as he slowly guides SAO into a more balanced and generally more even handed future.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of all this, though, let’s take a look at some of the complaints against the arc. These are just the ones I saw most while reading some other reviews, so it isn’t a comprehensive list by any means. Just the highlights.
Kirito is now so overpowered, he has ESP and can deflect bullets.
Right, so, both of these things are absurd, and if anyone had been paying attention, they’d know just how absurd. Kirito does not develop ESP. He is still playing with the same character build he had in SAO. Back at the start of the Fairy Dance arc, when he first went into ALO, he used his old NerveGear helmet, which still had his character data. Since ALO was a reskin of SAO, his character loaded up, and he basically has many of his old stats, skills, and at least one pretty important piece of gear.
Then he played ALO for almost a year, and leveled up even more. Then he went into GGO, with that same character.
Back in the Aincrad arc, the characters talk about the skills a lot, such as Listen. A high enough level would allow a player to eavesdrop through a closed door, which generally, the game did not allow. Kirito was constantly leveling any skill that improved his chance to survive, and any perception based skill would do that. He didn’t have ESP, he just had a really high listen and perception. That’s all it was. That’s actually consistent with previous pieces of info.
The episode even shows us this, as he closes his eyes, and just listens, allowing him to locate an opponent because he is rustling grass as he crawls to a new position. That, kids, is what show not tell looks like.
If you’re gonna knock a show for not being consistent, then don’t knock it when it is. For real.
The bullet deflection goes back to his reaction time. Dude’s spent almost three years now living in, or spending lots of time in VR. He has absurd reaction times, way beyond what anyone playing GGO has. Add in the bullet lines, and yeah, he could deflect them. That’s not strange. It is, again, consistent with what we’ve seen before.
Not to mention the guy’s life once depended on predicting boss monsters next attack. Predicting bullet lines is easy next to that, if you think about it.
Sinon is just another harem bunny for Kirito.
Yeah, no. Sinon never falls in love with Kirito. She likes him, yeah, and she respects him immensely, but she isn’t in love with him. I don’t even know where people got that one from. Cause she hugged him before the present grenade went of? Well, hell, if hugging somebody means you are in love with them, then I must be in love with my sister’s wife.
And my sister.
See how silly that got?
Girly Kirito is fan service.
How? He’s still a guy. He just has a somewhat effeminate character avatar. How is that fan service?
Does he use it to his advantage? You bet he does. All the guys think he’s a girl and don’t go at him full bore cause they think “she” is cute. Considering he’s actually in GGO for a specific reason, it isn’t that weird he’d do that, as it helps him with his actual mission. Guys are more willing to give info to girls they think are cute and into them. Kirito played it smart.
Especially considering the way effeminate men usually get treated.
His pants did look stupid, though. Like, really stupid. Roll your pants down, Kirito. You look stupid.
Kirito should have taken Asuna with him.
Uh, why? No, seriously, why? He was just going to look into some rumors about Death Gun, which he flat out said he didn’t buy being real. Why would he take Asuna with him for that? As for the Bullet of Bullets tourney, he barely managed to register on time, and when shit hit the fan, it was too late for Asuna to enter. She still would have been watching.
Remember, the situation with Death Gun went south really fast. Kirito barely had time to process it. By the time he realized Death Gun was for real, there was nothing Asuna could have done in GGO to help him, because she would have had to be in the BoB tourney with him, which she couldn’t be at that point.
That’s not a plot hole. That’s just something Kirito figured to be fake, turning real too late for him to call in his backup dancers.
Besides, he and Asuna are married, so they share item storage. Converting his character meant his items would be deleted. That’s from actual dialogue in the show. Asuna didn’t go so Kirito wouldn’t lose his gear, which stayed in her item storage. How hard was that to figure out?
Answer? Not very.
Death Gun’s plan wouldn’t work with just two people.
Well, it’s a good thing there were three then, isn’t it? Yeah, three people. They said it was three people several times. Three, not two. Learn to count.
Kirito’s breakdown confession should have been to Asuna, not a nurse.
Oh, c’mon! Really? Asuna was there at the Laughing Coffin fight. Odds are, she killed people, too. She already knows Kirito did. Not much of a revelation.
Besides, there are some things you can’t say to the person you love most in the world. No matter how much you trust them, no matter how much they trust you, there are some things you just can’t say, or bring yourself to say.
Kirito’s emotional collapse over what he did to survive in SAO was one of the strongest moments of the show, and proves the claims he is just a male power fantasy as the lie they are. Dude was traumatized, and put it out of his mind, so he could live with himself. That’s human, and normal.
Facing it, and admitting it, to a person he wasn’t likely to see much of later, was the only way he could do it. She could judge him all she wanted, because he knew, he wasn’t likely to ever see her again after this. That made it the safest way to deal with it for him.
Asuna, he sees every day. He wants to marry her, and spend the rest of his life with her. That’s totally different, no matter how you cut it, and would make most people choke up and hold back. Considering the biggest complaints against SAO are how unrealistic it is, when a realistic moment arrives, you can’t trash it just because you don’t get why it happened the way it did.
I did. I know. There’s some things you can’t say to the person you love and trust the most in the world. it’s too hard. It’s way easier to say to a stranger. Be grateful you’ve never had to experience that.
Besides, as I said, Asua was at that fight. Of course she’d forgive Kirito. What he needed was the forgiveness of someone who wasn’t there, and hadn’t had to do what he, and Asuna, did to survive. He needed a third party to absolve him. Why do think people go to priests, anyway?
Sinon’s mom shouldn’t have been disgusted with her.
Where did that even happen? Her mom is in one entire scene, and his no dialogue, so where do people even get this from?
The scene in question, part of Sinon’s flashback to when she was eleven, and shot a man who was trying to rob the post office/bank, is horrific. The look on her mom’s face is indeed one of horror. She was looking at her eleven year old daughter, sitting and holding a gun she just killed a man with, and covered in his blood. That’s a good reason to be horrified. Plus, she was in shock. Oh, and she looked shocked on top of horrified. Imagine that.
I mean, if my eleven year old had to kill someone, I’d be pretty damn horrified about it, too. That’s just being a parent. Nobody actually wants their child to have to kill someone for any reason.
Claims that Sinon’s mom should have hailed her as a hero largely come from American audiences, and we have a really weird gun culture here. That her mom didn’t do that are the basis for claims she was disgusted, but the gun culture in Japan is wildly different from the one in America, so no, she wouldn’t have done that.
Kids picking on her and calling her a killer is also just a thing kids do. Kids are bullies. They are nasty, mean spirited little bullies. Well, many, not all, but yeah, that’s a thing that would have happened. As is the bullying she got from the mean girls later on in life. They could walk all over her because they knew what triggered her panic attacks. No amount of being taken for ice cream and told she did good killing that bad man was going to change that, either. Because Sinon was traumatized by what she had to do.
How her mom actually feels about it, we’re never told. It never comes up. After that one scene, her mom isn’t mentioned again. So, no, her mother did was not disgusted with her. Just horrified at what her daughter had to do. Because she’s a parent.
With those out of the way, let’s look at what this arc did right.
First off, it has a strong, cohesive plot that ties back into the Aincrad arc in a believable way. Every event follows the next in a logical manner, and it keeps raising the stakes at every turn in believable ways. Enough foreshadowing of the identity of one of the Death Gun members was done that it was surprising, but not unbelievable.
Shinkawa mused about being strong to Sinon, while Death Gun declared he has true power. Shinkawa’s parents run a hospital, and he’s in training to be a doctor, but would rather be playing GGO. Death Gun’s weapon of choice for killing players was the same gun from Sinon’s past, which Shinkawa would know about as her best friend. All the threads are there, with the final one being that his brother was trapped in SAO, and joined Laughing Coffin, bringing the whole motive into focus. It was smartly written so that by the end, everything tied together.
That, and his GGO name was Speigal. As in Spike Speigal, former hitman turned bounty hunter. Bit of a tip off.
Tell me I’m not the only one who noticed that?
Kirito being involved is relevant in every way, as well. Death Gun’s previous identity in SAO was one Kirito has encountered, and dismissed, so running into each other now was a golden opportunity for Death Gun. Kirito not knowing his name in SAO, because he refused to speak with him, ties back into Kirito’s own emotional state over the lives he took, and tried to forget.
Sinon’s PTSD, which is really well portrayed by the way, ties into who Death Gun is, and why he uses the gun he uses, making her backstory relevant to the over all plot. It also makes her battle with her PTSD relevant, because it ties her character arc to Kirito’s, while tying both to the main plot, making all the parts move together the way they should.
That’s actually good writing, folks. As I said, Gun Gale is much more strongly balanced between the character work and the plot work than the previous arcs were, and this really is a solid arc overall. It makes the past part of the present, makes Kirito face his own inner demons, and introduces a new character who has similar demons, allowing them to work on healing together, because Asuna isn’t there for him to lean on, for reasons already explored.
Gun Gale gets to do what SAO should always do. Be a personal story, with stakes, and a clear resolution.
Granted, Aincrad and Fairy Dance had stakes. Gun Gale makes the stakes less about the central characters, and more about using what they have been through to deal with problems. They are growing up, and not every arc should involve one or all of them facing death or worse. Gun Gale is a more mature SAO in this regard, and that’s a good thing, too. The characters are maturing, and beginning to take responsibility for the world they have helped create, both by surviving SAO, and by releasing the Seed program into the wilds of the internet.
It gave Gun Gale a more thought provoking and mature attitude, as it tackled bigger issues than survival. It allowed the story to talk about PTSD, and the effects that kind of trauma can have on different people. Kirito, Sinon, Zaza and Shinkawa all deal with their trauma in different ways, and that’s pretty damn realistic. It makes dealing with trauma a central theme of the arc, as well, and allows that room to breath by keeping the character arcs of all the characters tied to the plot.
So, sorry SAO haters. Gun Gale actually is really well written.
A couple of other things I thought the show did well with this arc.
Kirito gets a lightsaber. No, listen to it. That’s a lightsaber. Kirito has a lightsaber. That’s cool. Especially since he uses it to deflect bullets away from his head and torso, which are kill shot zones in GGO. He takes a lot of hits to his arms and legs, because he can’t dodge or deflect every bullet, so he uses the lightsbaer to just defend his vital areas.
That’s pretty damn cool. Plus, it’s purple, which according to the Star Wars Wiki, means a Jedi who draws from the light side and the dark side, but is not a Sith. It represents aggressive, but not malevolent action. So, even Kirito’s choice of color is accurate. Crazy, huh?
Almost like somebody thought this shit out.
Sinon is a great character, and a welcome addition to the world of SAO. The difference between her in game persona and her real life one are dramatic, and well written in terms of exploring how we see ourselves, versus how we wish we were.
At the end, she has not gotten over her PTSD, but she has made a stride towards it. When the mean girls try to trigger her, she fights back, and channels some of Sinon, allowing her to move through that incident. Afterwards, she can barely stand, but it is an improvement, and a believable one. She isn’t magically better, and odds are, will never be fully over it. But she can learn to cope, and live again. That’s a great message to anyone suffering PTSD, and it makes Sinon a significant character.
Likewise, allowing her to see what her actions, the same ones that scarred her so deeply, did for another, is a great moment. As is the final message that she, and by extension we, have permission to forgive ourselves. It was a well framed scene that gave an excellent piece of closure that Sinon needed. Kirito is surrounded by his every day. Asuna, Liz, Silica, Egil, and Klein are all proof that his actions, no matter how awful, mattered. Now Sinon has that as well.
Because she began in a similar place to Kirito, ending in a similar place brings her story to a point we can recognize, understand, and relate to. If not because we have experienced it ourselves, then because we have seen Kirito reach that point himself. It was a good narrative choice to end on, tying all three arcs together in a common theme of moving forward, despite the odds.
Kirito, Leafa, and now Sinon, have all managed to begin the healing process because of Aincrad. Pulling all of those threads together is the master stroke of the final moments.
Now, that doesn’t mean everything in this arc works. There’s a few things that don’t. A lot fewer than in previous arcs, but they are still there.
Most of it begins and ends with Sinon’s butt. Now, as I’ve said, I haven’t read the source material, so I don’t know if the obsessive focus SAO has on girls butts is a Kawahara thing, or an A-1 thing, but damn, SAO never passes up a chance to have the camera frame a girls ass. Since Sinon is the main female character of this arc, she gets the camera rammed up her ass at every turn.
Which would be great if I was a proctologist. As a viewer, it’s pretty damn tiresome. I’m aware women have an ass. Guess what? I’ve got one, too. Can we get back to the story now, cause I’m pretty sure Sinon’s ass isn’t what’s going to save the day.
Girly Kirito’s maybe, but not Sinon’s.
With that touched on… and I just made a pervert joke. Promise I’m not a pervert. I don’t think anyone here is a pervert, actually. Except maybe Karandi.
And there’s my apology for the next SAO post. Good job, Cain!
Karandi is not a pervert, by the way. That I know of.
One of my other big problems with Gun Gale lies in the setting. It can’t decide if it’s cyberpunk, dystopian, or post apocalyptic. Granted, that doesn’t really matter overly much, since a game setting can basically be whatever it wants, but the vague nature of the world setting was a bit distracting to me. That’s probably just a me thing, though, as I love well fleshed out world settings. We got one in Aincrad and Fairy Dance, so it was a bit noticeably absent here.
Kirito’s back up dancers didn’t get a lot to do again this arc, but at least we got to see them, and they had lines. Except Egil, who continues to be the black sheep.
Yeah, I went there. You were thinking it, too. Don’t lie.
While I defended Kirito using his effeminate avatar to his advantage, I personally didn’t feel like it really brought anything to the story. It’s possible Kawahara was pushing back against claims that Kirito is a male power fantasy, or maybe he just thought it’d be funny to have the guy who saved the world suddenly be pretty. I can’t say, but I think it would have been a more interesting tack to take for Kirito to find himself in an actual female avatar.
While the arc did touch on the problems Sinon has being a female gamer, having Kirito experience those things first hand wold have been a strong statement as well. I grant that even acknowledging how female gamers are treated is a big step, and one I won’t dismiss.
Possibly having Kirito not be in a female av was the better choice when that is considered. It allows Sinon to hold the focus on that, and considering the skill she displays, shames those who would disparage her. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if having Kirito, repeatedly accused of being a male power fantasy, actually deal with being a female in a gaming environment, especially a a macho one like GGO, might have sent a message as well.
It could have been good, or bad, and there’s a lot of room for it to be either. In the end, though, I think having Kirito be effeminate didn’t really offer anything to the story, so it remains a weird occurrence I can’t quiet figure the reason for.
That, and he kinda looks silly, with his rolled up pants. At least get a rubber band for that mess of hair, man. You look goofy.
The rolled up pants really bugged me.
On another note, while having Sinon live alone was important to the plot, not having her talk to her mom was weird. We see her make a single phone call to a relative, and it’s her uncle. After what happened, I’d think talking to her mom would have been the smarter way to go for narrative reasons, as her mom would clearly be much more worried about her living away from home.
Last, Shinkawa’s mental break at the end is way overplayed. It was already obvious that he was obsessed over Sinon from early on, so his complete freak out actually drained tension from that final confrontation. He came across as looney, rather than menacing, and what we really needed there was to see the menace of the mind that dreamed up the entire Death Gun plot. It undercut his character too much, in the same way that Sugou’s was at the end of Fairy Dance.
Granted, a lot of these are minor points, which is kind of what I’m getting at. Overall, Gun Gale is a much stronger, more well written arc. Most of the criticism levied against it is based purely on already disliking the franchise, or minor details, because it is a stronger narrative that builds on the strengths of the previous arcs to present a character driven story with a solid plot.
Other details, such as Sinon slapping Kirito when she learned he was a guy, do make sense despite whining they are cliched. Sinon had a pretty good reason to slap him, after all, that is worlds better than the accidental boob grab of Asuna back in Aincrad. Always appreciate improvement instead of complaining about it.
There’s probably a lot of other things we could get into, both good and bad, but this has already gone on a lot longer than I planned. Mostly because I really did want to address some of the gripes I’ve seen against the arc specifically by pointing out how most all of those things are answered within the anime itself. Helps to put your phone down and pay attention, guys.
Gun Gale is an attempt to take SAO in a more mature direction, as well as explore a different genre, while also making the characters past relevant to their present. In all, it does succeed much more than it fails, and while your mileage may vary, from this writers point of view, it is the strongest of the three arcs thus far.
Now, one last thing. I’ll happily do a write up on the Excalibur arc and Mother’s Rosario arc, if you guys are interested in reading them. Odds are, since the Excalibur arc is so short, I’ll do them as one post, so be advised of that.
Now to see who points out something I need to correct when that time comes. Gotta keep the streak alive!