Sword Art Online Volumes 5 + 6: Phantom Bullet
Title: Sword Art Online
Author: Kawahara Reki
Published: Aug-Dec 2010
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi
Note: Spoilers for SAO and ALO arcs, light spoilers for GGO.
One day, Kirito receives a request to investigate strange happenings occurring in a VRMMO created from the World Seed called Gun Gale Online, where a player named Death Gun is apparently able to cause simultaneous deaths of a player in-game and IRL. Reassuring an alarmed Asuna that he’ll just be transferring to GGO from ALO temporarily, he decides to participate in a tournament named the Bullet of Bullets to attract Death Gun’s attention, aided by a veteran GGO player named Sinon.
This is the third story arc in the timeline, Phantom Bullet – I felt it was quite different to SAO and ALO in the sense that the danger value, or sense of urgency has been toned down a bit. It definitely fitted in line with Kawahara’s warning that the series would take a different twist and go off on a complete other tangent, and that is apparently the shift from swords to guns. This time Kirito’s foray into GGO isn’t to save Asuna or for some noble reason with many feels, but instead at the request of a government worker, Kikuoka who wants him to investigate the player <Death Gun> who may be causing real-life deaths. Like that, the whole show has deviated from a more fantasy-based setting to an adventure story in a VRMMO gun game. But fear not, Kirito is still the Kirito we all know and love.
The main female sidekick this time is Sinon, or Asada Shino, a girl with a slightly dark past that ends up escaping into the world of Gun Gale Online to get away from real life. It’s amazing how different she is as Sinon compared to when she’s in real life as Shino – one is a fearless sniper with the ultra-rare Hecate II, while the other is really quiet and withdrawn into herself, with few friends; one of them being Shinokawa Kyouji, who plays GGO alongside her. Unlike both Lyfa (Suguha) and Asuna, Sinon has a less outspoken personality, and is really reserved – even more so when she realizes that Kirito is a boy, despite his gender-bender avatar. I felt her past was a pivotal point in shaping the kind of person the ended up becoming, and if you’ve read it you’ll know exactly how ironic it is for her to be playing a VRMMO based on guns, when in real life it is the one thing she is absolutely terrified of – even a toy gun destroys her emotionally. Perhaps she’s in GGO to try and lose that phobia, or to escape to a reality where despite there being many guns, none of them are real, though I can’t imagine why she’d want to shoot bullets daily as a hobby. Anyway, she’s a good girl, and I do prefer her to Lyfa despite being tsundere about her feelings. You know, cause Lyfa was…practically Kirito’s sister.
So I hold no animosity towards the change from Lyfa to Sinon (though Asuna will always be #1) however I didn’t really connect to the gun world much, which is exactly what I expected. Guns are not something I’ve ever been interested in, and I’m sure Kawahara did a fair bit of research to understand all the terminology, the various types of gun as well as the things one can do with them. Of course, with Kirito as the protagonist deflecting bullets with his light sabre is not exactly something we’d be able to do, though it might be a different story if we had hax reflexes and they showed the trajectory as they do in GGO. Sword Art Online has always had a sci-fi element due to the virtual reality function, however it was very fantasy-orientated as well, with sword skills and monsters in SAO and then magic and flight in ALO. People who like that type of story probably felt more in tune with Aincrad and Fairy Dance, as when you take those elements away and replace them with guns, you get a more sci-fi, western feel which isn’t exactly fairytale-like or magical. Our friend Sinon once asked Kirito: “Why did you decide to come to this game full of dust and reeking of oil?”
It’s a bit hypocritical that she would say that given the fact that she’s played for a long time, but her point still remains. I know the World Seed left to Kirito by Heathcliff at the end of ALO was distributed worldwide and for free, and if GGO was made there’s a demographic for it, though I’m not a FPS type of gamer myself so I don’t see myself as having the right to comment too much.
I’ll avoid mentioning in detail about the Bullet of Bullets as well as the inevitable confrontation with Death Gun, but I can tell you that it was exciting. Similar to ALO there was a post-virtual confrontation in real life as well, and that provided much suspense as did the fight between Kirito and Sugou outside the hospital in Fairy Dance. Sinon really grew as a character by the end of Volume 6, and her development surprisingly fitted in with Kirito’s own goals as well. It was more in-depth and justified, whereas with the ALO arc it was just Lyfa falling in love then coming to terms with the fact that Kirito was her brother. Despite that I felt that I enjoyed the GGO arc less than the rest of the series for various reasons, be it that there wasn’t as much suspense as SAO and ALO had, or simply that it was about guns. It was a fun stint in another game, but in the end I’m glad Kirito’s conversion was temporary.