The first couple episodes of GGO dropped us into the main tournament this story revolves around and introduced us to our heroine Karen and her character LLENN, blessing us with her in-game friend Pitohui along the way. Episode 3 continues right around where episode 2 left off, with Pito explaining
Squid Squad Jam to LLENN.
Pito goes into detail of how Squad Jam originated, essentially it’s inspired by Two Certain Characters who paired up and–yeah, they aren’t named, but Kirito and Sinon invented squad mode in Gun Gale Online when they semi-cheated by working together in a solo tournament. GGO peppers in little winks to its mother series (like there’s also a “You’ll die in real life” joke in this same conversation), but here we have a substantial connection beyond the setting that shows SAO‘s characters being direct catalysts for this spinoff.
The rules for Squad Jam are also given in detail, mostly through Karen’s research online. Pretty much all of them were discussed or shown in some way in episode 1 except the map setup, which is the same as Battle of Bullets, the tournament in SAO II. These rules aren’t presented in an exciting or flashy way, but at least Karen manages to keep her monologue at almost exactly one minute. Still, I question why we need that recap when we’ve already seen some of the tournament and aren’t returning to it until next week. This scene is presented at a time when Karen is debating even entering the tournament, and it cuts from her looking at the rules to her friend failing to get tickets for them to a concert, effectively locking her into Squad Jam. It’s not like the rules affected her decision in any way, so why is this scene needed there, or in this episode at all?
Regardless, Pito can’t make it to this Squad Jam so she introduces LLENN to her really skilled (but kind of crazy) friend. And so M enters this flashback foray, and we learn what LLENN has learned about him so far, which is slightly more than nothing. I hope, someday, we learn what “M” even means. He puts LLENN through what I can only describe as a training camp montage and lectures her about different guns for an exorbitant amount of time (and goes on a similar tutorial stint about knives later on), which is a little silly since, aside from gun names, LLENN seems capable of matching him in skill and strategy. He’s got her beat on the weapon otaku front, though.
In the last part of this episode, Karen starts taking strides in her real life, building up the courage to write a fan letter to her favorite singer, Elsa Kanzaki. In it, she describes her quest for cuteness and her GGO exploits, and how Elsa’s music has made her feel cuter even while playing a grungy game like GGO. Somewhere in trying to escape into VR games, Karen has found the motivation to reach out to others in real life and improve herself. Karen recognizes her flaws and is doing what she can to improve them, which makes it super easy to root for her and, personally, makes me feel proud of her with each new step she takes in her social life.
GGO can be a little clunky, but the extra sprinkles of cuteness and Karen’s growing confidence keep me watching!
Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online is currently streaming on Crunchyroll on Saturdays!