The VRMMO Gun Gale Online allows players to battle with guns in an immersive post-apocalyptic landscape. One of its major events is Squad Jam, where 23 teams of up to six participants can battle it out for supremacy. Team LM is a two-person team consisting of the hulking sniper M and the pink-clad pipsqueak SMG user LLENN, who’s technically the team leader even though M is more experienced. Under M’s guidance, they avoid battles against other teams on the field, looking to score an advantageous position against a team that M suspects is actually a group of pros testing their skills rather than taking the win seriously. However, in real life, the pink pipsqueak LLENN is actually a 6-foot tall college student.
SAO Alternative is a very strange combination of elements. It’s what you would get if you combined the main character from a “cute girls doing cute things” show with a “girls with guns” show and set it in SAO. The strangest part is that it works. SAO Alternative jumps straight into the meat of things with LLENN and M starting the Squad Jam, clearly assuming that you’ve seen the GGO arc of the main series. Unlike the confident and powerful leads SAO usually gives us, LLENN seems skilled but inexperienced. Much of the actual planning in the episode comes from her partner, M, while she simply executes it and reacts. It’s actually refreshing to see a character learning the game as the audience does instead of coming in as a top player, especially since Alternative has a decidedly more tactical bent than SAO’s usual spectacle-focused action. LLENN and M spend the entire episode outnumbered and outgunned, so their big advantage is understanding the enemy’s position and predicting what the other squads are going to do next. Of course, it wouldn’t be SAO without at least one flashy action scene, and Alternative more than delivers at the end. In spite of her lack of experience, LLENN is incredibly fast, dodging bullets and taking out the enemy squad by herself with her bright pink machine gun (which she calls “P-Chan”). It’s almost comical to see a small girl in pink fighting off a squad of soldiers, but cool none the less. LLENN’s outfit and dry commentary come off as a bit out of place in the gritty world of GGO, but there’s plenty of room for the show to work with that or turn it into a source of humor. Either way, SAO Alternative has a lot of potential as a “cute girls doing cute things with guns” show. It’s not a niche I ever expected to see, but it’s working quite well so far.