Unpopular Opinion: SAO Part 3- Mechanical Mayhem

If you’re reading this I assume you have already read parts 1 and 2.  If you haven’t you can find them here and here.  This post will only concern itself with Gun Gale Online but don’t worry that still leaves plenty of stuff to talk about.  And with that let’s examine the premise and how GGO mishandles the delivery.

The premise of GGO is simple, someone is killing people in a video game again and the government wants Kirito to investigate if such a thing is really possible, which would almost be reasonable if not for the initial arc where thousands of people die in a video game.  The premise on its own is a bit much to swallow however, after all asking a minor to risk his life doing detective work for a government investigation is not how modern democratic governments work.  Like why isn’t there some government agent playing the game and doing the investigation?  I assume it’s because the government workers are sane and want nothing to do with VRMMOs after two back to back incidents of serious VRMMO abuse, and so the government has no choice but to turn to Kirito since he loves his games so much.  Anyway the most glaring problem in the premise is that it forces Kirito into the role of a detective, even though nothing about him and his skill set is in any way related to detective work.  Normally that would mean Kirito’s the wrong man for the job but don’t worry Kawahara has him covered, he just adds master detective to the list of skills Kirito has no business having.  Another problem with the premise has to do with the way SAO’s stories are constructed.  In each arc Kirito must go out and slay the bad guy just like most simple hero stories go.  However now we have a story where Kirito is supposed to find evidence of killing and stop there.  Kirito doesn’t do that though.  He follow the simple hero route and confronts the bad guy long after the conflict becomes meaningless insofar as Kirito has already proven that Death Gun is killing people and narrowed down the suspect pool to a mere handful of people, before he fights Death Gun.  The fight is also meaningless because we know Kirito will win.  Ok so Kawahara has written a story that doesn’t play to its MC’s strengths, but did he finally get the MMO right? No.

Where Alfheim’s setting was one step forward from Aincrad’s, GGO’s is three steps backwards.  The game GGO is a confused mess of nonsensical mechanics, some of which have no bearing on the story, others which contradict each other and some that only exist because plot.  Let’s begin with how this game handles itself as an MMO before I tackle the Bullet of Bullets tournament.  So GGO apparently has monsters but we only ever see them once, in a flashback where Sinon solos a dungeon boss by hiding beyond its attack range.  One, that boss needs to be patched, two it actually makes less sense for this game to be an MMO if you think about it for a second.  See one of the big attractions of this game was that it had a healthy professional population and you could earn money.  This set-up, when combined with the Bullet of Bullets, is more reflective of a MOBA or Call of Duty style FPS than a MMO.  This is reinforced by the fact that the MMO mechanics are poorly thought out.  In GGO monsters are more vulnerable to energy weapons while players are vulnerable to normal guns.  In other words the PvP is clearly imbalanced and player killing would be way more worthwhile than farming monsters since you can just kill the noobs carrying energy guns and steal their loot.  Not that it matters, energy weapons only show up in one episode anyway.  Then there is the character building.  Ostensibly you spec your characters towards attributes like, Strength, Agility, Dexterity, etc.  However these attributes and how they affect your character are never really explained beyond simple commonsense stuff like Agility people move faster, Strength people can use bigger guns, etc.  Moreover it appears that changing your character’s build is impossible and building it in the first place takes forever.  None of this stuff is explained by the way, it can only sort of be inferred from that interview at the very beginning of GGO.  There are more mechanics to talk about but they are connected to some other bullshit so I’ll get to them later.  Let’s talk about the pacing instead.

SAO has always been quite terrible at pacing itself, though that’s usually A-1’s fault because they adapt the light novels like idiots.  This time the problem is still with A-1 but its slightly different.  GGO takes up 14 episodes and it spans 2 light novels.  Light novels typically translate to 3-5 episodes of anime, so in terms of how much Kawahara has written there is only 6-10 episodes worth of material in GGO but A-1 is trying to stretch it into 14 episodes.  I’ll get into detail in second but let me give you my overall impression of the results of A-1’s efforts, GGO is hands down the hardest 14 episodes of anime to sit through that I have ever watched.  It is so bloated with unnecessary bullshit that its almost depressing.  I went into GGO knowing it would bad, even being prepared to enjoy how bad it got.  And somehow it surpassed my expectations so magnificently I just wanted it all to end, it was too bad to even be funny.  By my estimation I think GGO had 6-7 episodes worth of content, so doubling that was a terrible idea made no better by how A-1 chose to fill the time.  GGO is so full of reused footage and recap exposition, that it turns itself into a giant snorefest when nobody’s shooting.  And the worst part is that even Kawahara seemed to be padding out the original story.  In GGO there is an ungodly amount of exposition dumps, usually in cafes.  Exposition dumps are pretty terrible on their own because it takes effort to make them engaging but setting them in cafes is amateurish.  Exposition  dumps in cafes are so tired and cliché, they are boring which is why most major authors don’t use them.  Let’s compare Kawahara to the Urobutcher for a second.  Both authors tend to have a lot of exposition in their work but they handle it very differently.  Kawahara just throws us in plain cafes and spurts out the info.  The Urobutcher puts exposition scenes in settings like make sense, like police briefings where information is exchanged, or at bare minimum tries to make the exposition scene visually appealing ala the Fate Zero scene where the expositors are walking in circles around Kotomine Kirei and the camera changes angles all the time.  I don’t think I need to explain why one is better than the other.  So here we are in a series that’s at least twice as long as it should be, with tons of recycled footage and exposition.  Can it get worse?  Oh yes it can.

Remember those stupid mechanics I never explained, they’re back.  Let’s start with character appearance.  In GGO you apparently can’t customize your random avatar even though real MMO’s have been constantly expanding customization options because players love to do it.  This is stupid for three reasons.  First its immersion breaking, second it only seems to apply to Kirito because everyone else seems to fit their avatar super well and Sinon’s avatar is basically a blue haired copy of her real body, third it exists solely to give Kirito a girly avatar because they wanted to sell fem-Kirito merchandise and he would never choose to take on a girly avatar.  Another reason I call major bullshit on this mechanic is Death Gun himself.  His avatar is super unique, doesn’t look at all like a person and has a wristband or bracer with a symbol of a guild from an entirely different game on it.  If that shit ain’t custom made then GGO is officially breaking copyright law, but let’s face it, that shit was totally custom it looks nothing like the outfits other people have.  Likewise Pale Rider’s outfit looks totally out of place because almost all the other costumes are made from browns and camouflage greens but he has a white suit.  Again the only real reason this mechanic exists is so we can see fem-Kirito.  Moving on.  There is this super convoluted money transfer scheme in GGO that gets hand waved because the company occupies a “legal gray zone” when in fact it sounds like it’s just an international company and therefore has clearly defined legal codes.  I won’t get into this too much because it’s not well explained but this money transfer bullshit exists solely for the murder scheme cooked up by Death Gun.  The whole stupid setup exists quite literally because plot.  But if you think that maybe the murder scheme justifies the mechanic you are seriously overestimating Kawahara.

Death Gun turns out to be a three man team made up of two former members of Laughing Coffin and Sinon’s friend Shinkawa.  They basically break into low security houses where people live alone, then when Death Gun shoots a player one of the others poisons their real body.  The problem with this plan is that information can’t be passed from GGO to the real world.  The only times this plan would work would be during the Bullet of Bullets where there are cameras showing the action.  Otherwise the real world people can’t see what the fuck Death Gun is doing and could never poison someone in tandem with him shooting the target’s avatar.  That means all the murders that happen before Kirito gets involved could not have been staged properly and this scheme falls apart at the outset.  But even in the Bullet of Bullets this plan would fail.  Keep in mind that during the Bullet of Bullets even if the murderers can see Death Gun, he can’t check up on their status.  That means if one of his partners in the real world gets stuck in traffic or takes too long to break a lock and poison a target, Death Gun will totally look like a fake.  So their setup is  designed for failure.  Even worse, they would only be able to pull off this trick once.  Hospitals carefully log and monitor dangerous drugs and that means the Death Gun trio would only get one chance at most to steal any before security got raised way up.  But if they stole a lot of dangerous drugs, then the hospital would contact the police and once someone was killed via dangerous drug the Death Gun mystery would solve itself.  There is literally no scenario where this plan would produce the results is does in GGO.  The only thing dumber than this murder plan is how Kirito literally speculates the entire plan after looking at a lizard with two tails during the Bullet of Bullets, so let’s move on to that.

The Bullet of Bullets, which really should be called the Ballet of Bullets because that makes way more sense, is a mechanical nightmare.  It’s played on a huge map with radar that sweeps over the battlefield every fifteen minutes.  However the radar can easily be hidden from if you hide in a cave, hide underwater or have a game breaking invisibility cloak like Death Gun.  That cloak is also the only one of its kind for some reason because no one else has it or even knows about it.  I suppose I should mention that the map is so huge that you could probably avoid someone forever when it got down to two or three people.  The whole thing is a huge mess though, the mechanics I listed above do not mesh together well, they actively sabotage each other.  The huge map favors snipers and camping, the radar favors movement and tactics, and the ability to hide from the radar favors sniping and camping even though everyone usually fights in the open.  You also can’t log out while in the tournament unless your heart spikes to dangerous levels.  It’s nice to see that these games are still dangerous.  And with that I think I nailed all of the stupidest mechanics, time to look at the characters.

In true SAO fashion, GGO’s characters are a bloody mess.  The people who inhabit GGO are so one dimensional and stereotypical it hurts to watch.  But our main characters are more problematic by far.  In addition to gaining master detective skills, Kirito is given some PTSD from killing people in SAO.  I don’t mind the PTSD, I just think if he had it, it would have hit him earlier.  Not that it matters the nurse who we barely know dispels his PTSD in the space of a short talk.  Sinon on the other hand has to deal with a wildly inconsistent PTSD that cripples her character.  Sinon is introduced as a strong female lead, even if she takes her games way too seriously.  But she has perhaps the weirdest gun related PTSD you can imagine.  In real life it’s so severe that even a finger gun can set her into a panic.  But she’s like a gun expert in the game and isn’t bothered by them until Death Gun pulls out the exact gun she used to kill a man years ago.  After seeing that particular digital gun, she freaks the fuck out and needs big strong Kirito to save her.  That wasn’t a joke, she literally begs him to protect her forever at one point.  So there goes our strong female lead.  Aside from the PTSD there is very little to Sinon’s personality.  She leans tsundere but only in the game, in real life she’s pretty bland.  Speaking about Sinon’s PTSD I just want to bring how stupid it was the way Sinon is treated by the people around her.  After killing a man in self-defense, Sinon’s mom treats her like a monster and people bully her at school.  Excuse me?  Even if her mom, who I have been told was kind of crazy, can’t accept Sinon, society would step up.  Sinon’s story would be something people would praise and respect not shun and bully her over.  You hear stories of everyday heroism all the fucking time and they are spun in a positive light, I can’t imagine Sinon’s would be handled any differently.  This brings us to our most problematic character Shinkawa.

Shinkawa is cast as Kawahara’s signature blatantly crazy, rapey guy but if you examine his actions in more detail it makes no sense for him to be this way.  So Shinkawa introduces Sinon to GGO and persuades her to try it as a form of therapy.  This seems to be the act of a friend trying to help Sinon.  If you think this is just Shinkawa setting up a situation where can murder Sinon, even though he clearly wants to rape her, think again.  At this point the murder scheme hasn’t even been conceived yet, let alone put into practice.  In order for Shinkawa introducing Sinon to GGO to be an act of malice he must have the foresight of a dark and twisted god.  Likewise for the early parts of GGO Shinkawa seems like a genuine friend of Sinon’s even if he clearly wants to get into her pants.  He only goes full crazy towards the end of the show, and then is given a backstory that makes him go crazy long before he actually appears to go crazy.  It doesn’t make any fucking sense.  Also I should note that Shinkawa’s reasons for killing people are stupidly flimsy.  He wants to be the best player in GGO and is frustrated by how he isn’t leveling fast enough and his answer is to have all his competition killed.  Ok, that solves no problems at all.  In order for this plan to work, Shinkawa would have to kill a lot of people and continually kill any newcomers with more talent than him.  This game would get shut down long before he became the strongest or he would get caught long before he became the strongest.  His plan would never work.  Let’s move on the conceits we’re expected to buy into and wrap this up.

Alfheim expected us to just accept some pretty stupid shit but it had nothing on GGO.  We already have to ignore a stupid amount of mechanical failings and schemes that literally can’t work.  But in addition to that we have the final fight.  In the final fight there are three instances of utter bullshit.  First the idea Kawahara wants us to buy into is that Kirito can’t defeat Death Gun until he remembers his real name.  Putting aside the fact that combat skill has nothing to do with names, the only reason this exists is because in Aincrad, after the raid on Laughing Coffin the man who is now Death Gun was about to tell Kirito his name and Kirito tells him he doesn’t need to know because they will never meet again.  I guess it’s supposed to be some kind of ironic karma moment in Kawahara’s head but it comes off as cheesy at best.  The next thing is the gunblade skill.  In the final battle, the creators decided it was time to have a sword fight in a gun battle.  I suppose I should mention now that it makes no sense at all for the Light Saber not to be a popular weapon by the way, gamers love energy swords and Kirito has clearly proven that it was a viable weapon to begin with.  Anyway so to counter Kirito’s light saber, Death Gun has made a rapier out of spaceship battle plating using the gunblade skill.  Now gunblade is a fancy way of saying bayonet and bayonets never even got close to rapier sized, they tend to be similar to knives in shape and size.  So the fact he can even make a gunblade that size is dumb.  He also isn’t using it as a gunblade, he just straight fights with it like a sword.  In order for the gunblade skill to be a thing, the fighting style would actually have to mimic bayoneting techniques or end up something like the exotic pistol style Karen Low uses in the anime Jormungand.  It makes no sense for a “gunblade” to be used exactly like a sword.  Furthermore bayonets have never been placed on sniper rifles because of the way the barrel is shaped and the power with which it fires, so someone speced towards sniping would have no use for the gunblade skill.  And finally we’ve seen light sabers cut through heavy spaceship battle plating so long as the Jedi put in some effort.  A twig like Death Gun’s rapier would withstand a few hits at most before Kirito would cut through it. And yes I’m using Star Wars as the basis for this, if GGO can steal light sabers and their sound effects from Star Wars I can apply Star Wars logic to GGO.   The final conceit is Goldeneye Mode and it returns in fine form.  Kirito figures out Death Gun’s name, takes some time to believe in Sinon’s incoming attack and then gains his signature Goldeneye Mode, which he uses to crush Death Gun.  That was dumb but I think the best part is that Death Gun’s body, upon being cut in half, explodes and then it cuts away to show that his remains are untouched by the explosion in any way.  It’s not really an important detail, but just so stupid.  And with that we put this series to rest… for now.  Thank you all for reading.  I hope you enjoyed it and that I will see you in further posts to come.


One thought on “Unpopular Opinion: SAO Part 3- Mechanical Mayhem

  1. I’ve wondered about Sinon’s PTSD myself and how she was treated by others. All I know is that gun laws in Japan are very strict with few exceptions. It’s hard to say, but such an incident would probably be perceived differently.


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