Isekai, Ranked

If Anime is escapism, there is no better way to escape than Isekai’s theme of plunging Into Another World, where our niche skills and routine possessions may shake the fabric of reality! From MMO-inspired, to hard fantasy, there are many types of Isekai on this list. However, there are no movies, nor series we haven’t seen recently. Bring all disagreements to the comments below!

1. Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World
Re:Zero takes Isekai’s love for fish-out-of-water stories on step further: through brutal, expectation breaking blind sides, it makes the viewer a fish out of water too! Dripping with fantastic animation, Re:Zero’s true strength is the balance of its highly detailed world without over explaining its magic system, time loop mechanic and political systems. It also earns bonus points for  limiting the application of its protagonist’s powerful magic and technological advantages.

2. Sword Art Online (1st season) 
In the narrowest of second places, SAO pairs top shelf animation with an approachable cast and easy to appreciate central conflict. Put its lovingly constructed MMO setting aside, and Kirito’s mistakes and occasional darkness elevate him above his potentially generic good-at-everything character type and Asuka plays the strongest heroine/love interest on the list.

3. Now and Then, Here and There
Imagine if Digimon told a bleak story about sex trafficking child soldiers trapped on a waterless world with a maniac king? NTHT’s intense swerve from adorable into darkness is on par with Re:Zero and, much like Natsuki Subaru, HTHT’s Shu must rely on ‘durability’ and ‘heart’ to make it through. While some of it’s later tragic moments are predictable, this f’ed-up little anime scores major points for telling a complete story and having that story grow Shu from simpleton into a conflicted young adult.

4. Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet
While Ledo’s post-earth scifi origin may stretch the common definition of Isekai, being trapped in a primitive culture that treats him (and his AI-driven mech Chamber) like a hero of old does not. Beautifully, Gargantia flips the script and makes Red’s overwhelming power, and killing in general, counter productive and at odds with the local people.

5. Yōjo Senki / The Saga of Tanya the Evil
Give us World War I with magic, a gender swapped villain as our protagonist, and God as our antagonist, and you’ve given us something pretty damn original. Like Gargantia, this reborn in another world captures thinking differently about the world can be as powerful and terrifying as unworldly strength. Without question, Yojo Senki’s cast is the most uniquely imagined on this list.

6. No Game No Life
Like Tanya, the Blank twins piss off god and are sent to another world as punishment. However, their punishment is much more stylish and… harem. Underneath NGNL’s acid-soaked panties, over the top protagonists and the psychedelic color pallet, is a show featuring thoughtful puzzles and imaginative spins on classic gamble-to-win story telling. Sadly, its story ends unfinished…

7. KonoSuba
One part jab at Isekai and one part love letter to the starting town of every fantasy MMO, KonoSuba is all parts ruthlessly funny! While this reborn in another world (with a goddess!) show is not as smartly written as NGNL, and it becomes repetitive after a time, the constant frenetic action more than makes up for it.

8. Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
Quiet, thoughtful, and full of sadness, this hard fantasy Isekai doesn’t care if its heroes are reborn in another world or trapped in a dungeon crawl afterlife. Building family bonds and connecting with people who would not normally be friends is all that matters… and it’s lovingly animated to boot!

9. ReCreators
As a reverse Isekai, ReCreators distinguishes itself by bringing the other world to us. The experience is fantastically animated and packed with clever dialog that somehow breaths sincerity into a profoundly silly plot. The cast is quite diverse, both in design and personality, which keeps the action fresh, yet somehow cohesive throughout. It’s only major flaw is, the final act, which is way to drawn out.

10. The Devil is a Part Timer
No I’m not kidding! This reverse Isekai’s premise that the Devil is trapped in our world and must work at McDonnald’s to get by is charming. While DiaPT’s humor isn’t particularly specific to the devil, the jokes are punchy, and the overall plot develops at a respectable pace. As an added treat, the opening gothic fantasy fight scenes are surprisingly well animated.

11. Log Horizon (1st season)
Most exposition heavy, trapped in an MMO themed Isekai featuring ‘top ranked’ players crumble after a few episodes. More often than not, these shows try too hard to sell the coolness of their game worlds, user interfaces, and central characters. Miraculously, Log Horizon gets better mid season with a simple question: if former NPCs have personalities, can grow and learn, and even die, are they more human than the former players that dismiss them as background texture? Still, it takes Log Horizon six episodes to get going and good lord is it gray looking…

12. Overlord (3 Seasons)
This transported into an MMO Isekai mirrors its main character: it is competent but not sure what it should be doing at any given moment. Sometimes the protagonists are villains and sometimes they are heroes. More often than not, characters are given lavish screen time to develop, only to be slaughtered whimsically. The resulting narrative is full of call backs and revealed foreshadowing… yet hasn’t gone very far in 3 seasons and hasn’t asked any interesting questions along the way.

13. El Hazard – The Magnificent World (OAV/TV)
Predestined paradox, trans-dimensional time jumping high school students (and their drunk gym teacher) are trapped in an Arabian Nights’like land besieged by sentient bugs, a secret tribe of assassins from another dimension, and a death star like eye of god orbiting nearby. If you watched anime in the 1990s it will all be familiar but it still manages to feel original yet cohesive production. The character abilities are wonderful, the tragedy is nice, and plenty is left up to your own imagination to fill in the blanks. A bland, fault free, protagonist and a boy-crazy harem vibe are the only reasons it isn’t higher on the list.

14. Gate: Jieitai Kano Chi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri
This invading the other world Isekai flips the script to deliver political intrigue, clash of culture, and commentary on Japanese society. It loses points for being a overly harem, relying on super dumb/super evil antagonists, and a dull protagonist but it’s fun enough to watch.

15. Juuni Kokuki (The Twelve Kingdoms)
This brought back to the world you actually were born in Isekai begins with a whiney good-girl who doesn’t want to be queen pissing off her not-friend, who would really like to live in another world, but no one cares, because she’s not the chosen one. Whiney protagonist who has limited agency over the plot aside, that central theme, and the magic and political intrigue around it grow nicely over time. Sadly, the second arc introduces a new character, tons of vocabulary heavy exposition, and just drags. The result is a slightly dated looking show but completely watchable show.

16. Drifters
Stylishly violent, strikingly ugly, historical character filled and utterly bonkers, this reborn in another world Isekai’s uniqueness will hold your attention. Even if you do not want it to.

17. Rise of the Shield Hero (2 Seasons)
On paper, this transported to an MMO world Isekai’s “treat the hero like crap,” “watch him accept the role of a slave-buying villain” and ultimately “rise to become the true hero” concept is great. Revealing that the world he’s saving may be less redeemable than the world the invaders are trying to save is also great. Too bad its padded and many of the arbitrary delays and narrative dead ends feel like cop outs.

18. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime
While it lacks the initial hardcore’ness of Shield Hero, this reborn in another world Isekai is pleasantly animated and full of heart. The idea that naming monsters grants them power is a pretty neat mechanic too. It just sort bounces from idea to idea without a sense of purpose of resolution. One minute it’s a story of unlikely friendship, then magic destiny, then town builder, then harem, and onto magic school and isn’t about anything in particular until a hastily thrown together plot ties it up at the end. It scores points for making its hero a slime… although the reborn aspect never feels played with or justified.

19. Angel Beats!
If the gun fetish, kids fighting a loli-angel instead of attending school in the afterlife plot weren’t so dumb and drawn out, this rebirth story’s touching moments would push it much higher. There’s a really good tale of life cut short, reunion after death, and again after rebirth here and it gets major bonus points for finishing the story it had to tell. Totally squandered.

20. Death March / Kara Hajimaru Isekai Kyousoukyoku
Like Shield Hero, this reborn in an MMO Isekai is actually quite good looking. However, its Gary-Stue protagonist, harem and absurd narrative padding make it far less interesting.  OMG how many episodes are about making lunch?! That’s too bad because the concept of code-like “copy and paste” magic system is pretty neat.

21. Wiseman’s Grandson / Kenja no Mago
Despite opening with a modern day man being killed, this reborn into a fantasy world Isekai is more Magic School than Isekai. The only thread that connects the protagonist’s lives is that he can look at magic with an eye for process instead of outcome. The result is harmless easy watching but harem elements, a slow pace and lack of getting anywhere narratively hold it back.

22. How Not to Summon a Demon Lord
This summoned into an MMO Isekai starts off as charming, but ecchi-heavy, before abruptly turning dark at the end of the season. We’re talking ‘make a child watch as her best friend is slowly tortured to death’ and creepo ‘finger-bang a loli cat girl in order to give birth to the demon inside her’ level dark. While those elements elevate HNtSaDL above niche appeal of its harm and MMO content, they aren’t so interesting to earn my recommendation.

23. Problem Children are coming from Another World, Aren’t They?
T
he non-ecchi poor man’s No Game no Life features a talking cat that only some characters can understand and dreadful music. TFW smooth jazz? There’s some cuteness to be had, and the solutions to gambling games can be clever, but the overall vibe is low energy. It loses drama points because its protagonist is as smart as a god and physically stronger.

24. Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks?
This poor man’s Konosuba is occasionally funny, satire of RPG conventions and family relationships. Mama’s skill that interrupts whatever her son is doing, no matter what it is or where he is in the game world, is particularly charming. Unfortunately, there’s no avoiding the creepo factor of sexualizing that family relationship.

25. Restaurant from Another World
My mom is secretly from another world and my restaurant’s front door connects back to that world each day is certainly unique, but it’s structured more like a food-porn show than Isekai. While the linkages of each patron become clear over time, few characters are not aware of those connections themselves. The result never feels like it gets anywhere.

26. Dot Hack//Sign
This stuck in an MMO Isekai dedicates too much animation and story to grunting, chuffing, whimpering, and sighing. Combined with a grotesque color pallet, hilariously terrible early 2000’s character designs, and awkward ‘weapon up’ pose each character takes, and it just bleeds out before you can invest in the character drama.

27. In Another World With My Smartphone
Stories without risk are still watchable when they immerse us an interesting world, or delve into niche details like food or how magic works, or hilariously us with harems and sex appeal. Smartphone fails all of these things. Worse, it does nothing with it’s one idea: protagonist Touya is reborn in a fantasy world with smartphone. Except, GOD GIVES HIM GOD TIER MAGIC FROM THE GET-GO! Ironically, Re:Zero and No Game No Life both use of a cell phones in more interesting ways, and Tanya’s God isn’t even comparable. Unoriginal, unfunny, not dramatic, not sexy, not worth watching.

28. Maou-sama, Retry!
This transported to an MMO Isekai’s trash production values, and bizarre characters are hard to take seriously. The results are sometimes so terrible they are funny, such as incompetent background music transitions and detailed horses hiding at the edges of the frame. Sadly, a bland harem and complete lack of narrative objective kill the mood.

29. Isekai Izakaya
Imagine a low energy, public access style show, with a tourism theme, that featuring a modern Japanese restaurant that serves fantasy world patrons…

30. Isekai Cheat Magician
A loveless summoned to a fantasy world Isekai who’s protagonists are the most powerful and purely good characters could deserve a niche rating. Not this one. The narrative sort of ‘skips the boring stuff’ and, in doing so, skips character development. Hilariously, what the narrative does show is poorly animated, always underwhelming magic battle scenes or people standing around talking.

31. Endride
Without dialog, this stumbled into a magic world Isekai’s vibrant color and crisp art would be watchable. The fact that the world is somehow inside of Earth’s core and the sparse use of mythology are unique, but its dumb-as-bricks whiny teen protagonists have the maturity of a small children. There are many unintentionally funny moments like scientists using gigantic laptops or the king’s magic weapon looking like a safety pin. Ultimately, the cast is so unlikeable that the show itself is unwatchable.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 12 – A Place to Have Fun

Last week set up a final, hand-to-hand showdown between LLENN and Pitohui, and after a little friendly ribbing, LLENN manages to strike a nerve and get Pito to let her guard down. The thing is, even cutting her in the leg and throat doesn’t come close to bringing her down, and she has an iron fist waiting for LLENN’s face. She even eyes LLENN’s discarded P-chan, and has no qualms about using it to kill its master.

P-chan self-destructs rather than let that happen, but M is nearby with Fuka as his hostage. Pito’s rationale for killing M before Fuka or LLENN is that he betrayed her by bringing his love into what she wanted to be a true “death game.”

Fuka frees herself with the dagger in her hair, rushes Pito, but doesn’t attack her; instead, she cuts off LLENN’S hands and kicks her just right so she’s able to, essentially, tear out Pito’s throat. Pito admits defeat and agrees to honor the promise they made to meet IRL if LLENN killed her.

Unfortunately, the very distracted LLENN and Fuka are taken out by the last remaining team (T-S) who end up winning SJ2, but LLENN’s primary objective was never to win, but to save Pito, and in that she was successful.

After having tea and sweets with real-life SHINC, Karen and Miyu meet up with Goushi (of whose looks Miyu immediately approves), who has agreed to take them where real-life Pito is.

On the way, he describes how he was once a pathetic fatty who stalked Pito, and ended up being captured, restrained, beaten, and turned into her manservant, all of which he’s fine with, because “M” stands for masochist.

After watching Elsa Kanzaki play guitar and sing at her secret concert, Goushi takes Karen and Miyu backstage to meet the real-life Pito…the club owner. But Karen isn’t fooled; Elsa is the real Pito, because she knew things only someone who read her letter could know about her.

Elsa congratulates Karen for seeing through their admittedly half-assed little ruse, and gives her a big kiss that makes her very uncomfortable (though Karen herself gave her a big hug just before that).

When next we see the two, they are LLENN and Pitohui, only now they’re on the same side, enjoying GGO not as a Death Game, but a place to just have fun. And after her first and only encounter with Elsa IRL, Karen is somewhat reluctant to agree to any future ones.

So ends a usually entertaining, occasionally clever, but ultimately inessential edition to the SAO/GGO saga.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 11 – Humvee Jousting

LLENN is initially worried MMTM will kill Pito, but she had nothing to worry about, because Pito confirms that old adage about cornered and wounded being the most dangerous animal.

With a remnant of M’s shield and her Darth Maul-esque double-edged lightsaber, she gruesomely dispatches MMTM one by one. They’re simply outmatched in intensity and insanity. LLENN is finally feeling the weight of promising kill…THAT.

LLENN stays crouched in the brush trying to think of a plan, but coming up empty. Meanwhile, Fuka and SHINC decide the only thing for it is to charge recklessly, which they do, and M and Pito fill them with holes. One by one the Amazons fall, but they fall smiling, figuring that if they were never going to win the SJ at this point, they might as well go out in a blaze.

Fuka, meanwhile, has all her limbs blown off but still won’t give up, irking M and Pito but also making them respect her. Eventually, going over everything that went wrong in this SJ, LLENN has had enough, bursting out of the brush, but away from the cabin, not towards it. Her friends succeeded in unlocking “Psycho LLENN”, the only kind of LLENN who’ll be able to kill the even more psycho Pitohui.

Pito and M give chase in a Humvee, but when they charge her she slides underneath its generous ground clearance, and they crash into a pond. Unfortunately for LLENN it’s a shallow pond.

Pito and LLENN get into a shooting match, and LLENN is hit and almost gives up, but Fuka, her limbs regrown, arrives in another Humvee to rescue her. Turns out she got pretty good at driving from video games as well.

After a brief but thrilling car chase (the lumbering Humvees, while capable, eventually run out of fuel), LLENN is forced to rush at Pito using a willing P-chan as a shield. She stomps Pito in the face and disarms her, putting the two in close quarters with no guns. Pito is grinning ear to ear; LLENN…isn’t.

In the most prestigious tournament of a game about shooting guns, the final showdown may come down to knives, fists, feet…even teeth. That is, unless Pito is hiding other weapons in that suit of hers. The question is, who will be the last woman standing?

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 10 – She’s No Gentleman…But She Could Be a Sith

LLENN and Fuka are saved when SHINC opens fire on MMTM, hoping to take them out, but they escape. Eva wants to have a proper duel with LLENN, but Fuka lets slip the reason she can’t: the possibility of Pito dying.

Meanwhile, Pito agrees to a ceasefire with KKHC only to immediately shoot them once they turn their backs, rejecting the fact they had a “gentleman’s agreement” for the simple fact she’s not a gentleman.

Only one KKHC member escapes, whom Pito doesn’t consider a threat because her teammates said she doesn’t like shooting people (one wonders why she’s in a game where that’s the whole point…unless she’s only interested in the tactics). But this green-haired girl decides it’s okay to kill “vermin” like Pitohui who would so heartlessly slaughter her comrades.

SHINC agrees to work with LLENN and Fuka on a pincer attack of PM4. SHINC demonstrates their proficiency with moving to avoid sniper fire, even from a rifle that can shoot from over a kilometer away.

Before M knows it, they’re shooting one of their own in order to use her big body as an immortal pedestal on which to mount an even bigger, more powerful sniper rifle, and anti-tank gun that takes out M’s shield piece by piece and forcing him to retreat to a cabin.

LLENN is standing by not too far from that cabin, and on Eva’s signal, she moves in to kill Pitohui. Only the green-haired girl gets a shot in first, all because Pito didn’t take her seriously as an enemy. She’s shot through the head, and even a curative doesn’t seem able to stop her HP drain.

However, she does not die. She loses it a bit, most likely because she’s using an SAO-era NerveGear and isn’t being automatically logged out due to extreme neurological stress. LLENN kills the green-haired sniper, but her quarry is interfered with once more when MMTM moves back in and raids the cabin.

Believing the end to be near, M (Goushi) leans in to kiss his beloved Pitohui, still recovering from her head wound. But just as MMTM reaches the door to her room, Pito whips out her latest weapon: the same photon sword used by Kirito when he played GGO.

Looking more sinister than ever in the red glow of its blade, and with MMTM eviscerated, Pito looks not-at-all ready to go down easily to our petite pink P90 pusher.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 09 – Lucky Girl

Pitohui seemed to be talking a bigger game than of that which she would’ve been capable last week, but she holds true to her avatar name, killing everyone she touches (and quite a few she doesn’t) taking out over twenty of the nearly thirty allied opponents all by herself. The episode is called “ten-minute massacre” but her work doesn’t even take that long, and just like that, seven teams and their leaders are taken out, thinning the SJ2 field considerably.

With the number of teams holding Pito and M’s attention dwindling fast, LLENN takes a safe and stealthy route to them through the inside of the Dome, which has a savannah theme of high grass perfect for hiding, especially if you’re tiny like LLENN and Fuka.

When their position is suddenly exposed, they use speed, pink smoke grenades, and a silencer on P-chan to defeat their foes. Fuka gets a bit too cocky and ends up emptying a clip from her handgun without hitting her target, but she draws from her fantasy RPG background to blugeon the guy to death with a rifle.

Throughout SJ2, we’ve gotten color commentary from the peanut gallery, which is a bit tiresome considering how misogynstic many of their comments are. However, I’m willing to tolerate it to a degree because this is, after all, meant to be a Boy’s/Man’s Game with women players seen as upstart outsiders.

In the cases of Pito, LLENN and Fuka, they’re showing they can not only hang with the boys, but dominate. Speaking of women dominating, “Sinon”, AKA Asada Shino, is mentioned as having cleaned up at the last BoB.

We meet a new woman character in Clarence who LLENN and Fuka initially believe to be just another lecherous dude, albeit a more androgynous one. Turns out she’s a pansexual woman IRL and wants to meet them both. LLENN just wants her magazines, since they’re compatable with P-chan.

She agrees to a kiss (a peck on the cheek) in exchange for the ammo and Clarence’s resignation. She gets both, but they’ve been chatting so long a team has manages to sneak right up to them and initiate an ambush. That team is MMTM, one of the contenders for the SJ2 win, which means LLENN will need every one of the bullets she got from Clarence (who promptly dies) as well as the hope she won’t run out of her famous good GGO luck.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 08 – When in Doubt, Add Grenades

In terms of LLENN accomplishing her goal of quickly killing Pitohui, SJ2 is off to a rough start, as Team LF is about as far away from Team PM4 as is geographically possible on the game map. Fukaziroh also commits a rookie (or J.R. Smith-esque) mistake by walking right into a booby trap that takes out her legs.

In the two minutes that it takes for limbs to regenerate, it’s all up to LLENN to eliminate the six-man team attacking them…and she does so with girm efficiency and a variety of moves, from run-and-gunning to a crotch-stab. Fuka kills the sixth man with a short-range grenade, and soon has her feet back.

As for the other favorites to win, MM are holed up in the snowy mountain forests, waiting to see how things unfold, while SHINC is going after the closest enemy teams with no mercy. Also camping is team PM4, and though Pitohui is extremely impatient and bored, even to the point of questioning M’s courage, M has a plan, and since he’s the leader, what he says goes.

As they slowly make their way closer to PM4, LLENN and Fuka find another team at a train station, and Fuka decides to make up for her previous blunder by taking out their opponents without LLENN having to fire a single shot. All she has to do is serve as a spotter as Fuka rains grenades down from a place of safety, and it works like a charm…at least against an anonymously subpar team.

The next scan reveals that seven teams have formed a massive 42-person alliance and is nearing PM4’s position. LLENN is worried, and runs as fast as she can, but even at top speed she won’t make it, and soon trips over herself.

Fuka tells her all they can do is trust in Pito and M’s ability to survive, and the pair head towards the friggin’ gigantic domed stadium. For Pito’s part, she’s not running from this allied group. On the contrary, she intends to massacre each and every one of the 42. After all, she’s got a lot of pent up energy from all that waiting around.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 07 – A Formidable Foe; an Erratic Ally

Miyu enters GGO as “Fukaziroh”, and immediately takes to the game, exhibiting a jaunty joie de vivre in testing how many guys chat her up and jumping at the chance to avail herself of their “sugar daddy” Goushi’s ten million credits.

Fukaziroh ends up blowing over half of that on twin MGL-140 grenade revolvers, which are actually a real thing, as well as being bonkers. She doesn’t hesitate to use them against LLENN, since SJ2 will be far scarier than any training for it they undertake.

The diminutive members of team SHINC are excited by the prospect of LLENN changing her mind and entering SJ2, which will be different from SJ1 because the team names will be on display for all to see, making it easier for LLENN and Fukaziroh to locate their primary target, Team PM4, containing both Pito and M.

Karen, while initially worried about what should happen should she fail, is encouraged by Miyu not to worry to much about it and focus on the mission. By the time the day of the start of SJ2 comes, she’s fully determined to kill, and thus save, Pitohui. And when they do, Miyu wants prime tickets to an Elsa show.

Two of the stronger teams in SHINC and Memento Mori come face to face and exchange cordial salutations and hope for a good fight. But when Pito and M arrive with a team of masked comrades, Memento Mori’s leader tells one of his current teammates about his past experience being Pito’s teammate.

Suffice it to say, it wasn’t great. Pitohui, named for a poison Polynesian bird that kills anyone who touches it, apparently treats her allies like shields and pawns, and will abandon or kill them at the drop of a hat if it means she’ll survive and win…and smile about it in the process. Similarly, she has no qualms about dying (and smiling while doing that too).

Whoa, watch where you’re pointing that thing, LLENN

He saw Pitohui as having a “death wish”; wanting to forget life while he wanted to remember (and respect) death. This is just one guy’s analysis of her, but it certainly sounds like the Pito LLENN has met, and considering the conditions of Goushi’s appeal to her, she hasn’t changed much.

But as SJ2 begins, LLENN gets no answers from Pito, who claims not to know what she’s talking about when she voices her commitment to doing her best. But this isn’t just about killing/saving Pito; it’s about a repeat victory, this time with a rough-hewn new partner in Fuka.

She doesn’t get off to the best start when she gets the runs after consuming nine pints of ice cream, almost making them late. She can either only improve from that, or reach an even lower nadir; say by accidentally grenading LLENN. We shall see.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 06 – Karen Meets a Crazy Person

We’re back to the time when Saki and her teammates visit Karen, watch her win the SJ on her enormous TV and introduce themselves. As a rhythmic gymnastics team, they had a hard time operating as a cohesive unit due to personal differences. Playing GGO changed all that; now they’re a well-oiled machine, and care more about progressing in the game than with their real-life team!

The girls voice their hope Karen will face off against them in the next Squad Jam, and when Karen says she has no firm plans to do so, they’re both happy that they won’t have to face one more strong opponent, and sad they won’t get to have a rematch and the opportunity to beat her next time. Karen heads home to Hokkaido and hangs out with her friend Miyu; on the plane back to Tokyo she learns Squad Jam 2 is officially on.

Karen is then confronted by M’s player, the extremely odd Goushi Asougi, who tells her that Pitohui is planning to commit suicide IRL if she loses SJ2, which means Goushi will kill himself soon thereafter, since he is utterly devoted to her and always defers to Pito’s will, no matter how crazy. That, in turn, pretty much makes him crazy as well.

They say love makes you crazy, but there’s a strange superficiality to Goushi’s behavior; like he’s trying too hard to be extra-kooky. Then there’s the whole idea of recruiting Karen to beat them, and in exchange he can guarantee Pito won’t kill herself, which means he won’t die either.

Considering the suddenness of all this information, it simply doesn’t carry that much weight for me, even though it’s clear Karen’s favorite musician is the one with these psychological problems. It seems like a very random and not-at-all emotionally earned excuse to raise the stakes to live-and-death, like SAO.

Karen agrees to participate in SJ2, even if that means validating and facilitating the questionable behavior of two mentally unstable strangers. Both Goushi and Pito’s player seem like they need actual help, help that’s beyond Karen’s abilities. And Goushi doesn’t bother explaining why Pito losing to anyone else means suicide, but losing to Karen doesn’t. I dunno about this…

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 05 – Run, Close In, then Win

After running from a somewhat pathetic display from a suddenly sobbing and Raving M (who actually believes Pitohui will murder him IRL if he loses), LLENN decides she’ll have to win the SJ all by herself, despite her opponents being very smart, crafty, and downright scary in their relentlessness.

Her foes look tough and grizzled, and aren’t afraid to rain bullets down upon LLENN in order to spring her from her hiding spots. The only thing is, she’s so small and quick actually getting a killshot proves most difficult. Despite her wavering confidence and the near-arrogant attitude of her opponent, both parties are on the same level here.

Perhaps due to her critical HP level, LLENN starts to hear her P90 “P-chan” glow, talk to her and even sprout eyes to make a face, which is definitely the most demented and terrifying thing GGO has shown us thus far.

Regardless, P-chan manages to fire LLENN up, and she remembers how and why she’s succeeded so far: not by running, hiding, and keeping her distance, but by blazing in so close to her opponents they cannot get a clean lock on her, and overwhelming them with her quickness, and peppering them with P90 bullets.

She executes her preferred strategy by taking on Eva, the “Boss” of the enemy squad, whose enormous size and brute force end up momentarily overwhelming LLENN, who needs a last-second assist from M, who manage to gathered up what was left of his decency and rejoin the fray (and who does thrive from great distance).

Eventually, LLENN and Eva run out of bullets, but Eva’s lieutenant tosses her a new clip, and LLENN has no choice but to sacrifice P-chan to shield her from the bullets, then whip out her knife and carve the Boss up like a turkey to take the SJ win, demonstrating the literally cutthroat tenacity required to prevail over such a tough opponent.

Back IRL, the short cute girls Karen passes by so often finally approach her, led by Nitobe Saki. They’re second-years at the high school affiliated with Karen’s college, and just wanted to tell her how stylish and cool she always looks, especially with her new ‘do.

Then Saki draws Karen in close with a handshake and quietly congratulates her on her victory. Saki is Eva, the hulking Boss she defeated as LLENN, and her friends and fellow rhythmic gymnastic teammates are ready for a rematch any time.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 04 – The Game is the Game

Back to the “present” of Squad Jam (though not far enough into the present where Karen is entertaining her diminutive friends IRL). I tell ya, this show can give one temporal whiplash like nobody’s business.

Having defeated the pros and after another scan, LLENN and M determine they’re one of only three squads remaining. One of them ambushes them from hovercraft in the lake, forcing the huge M to set up his “space battleship armor” shielding, while the tiny LLENN remains just plain hard to hit.

Safe behind his shield, M is able to pick off the hovercraft gunners one by one and takes out the last one with a well-placed grenade that detonates underwater, sending the craft and its occupant flying and vulnerable to LLENN’s killshot.

M was able to kill all of those enemies without creating bullet lines, because he learned to aim without his finger on the trigger or using Bullet Circle assist. But when the next scan comes, the last team is not only right on top of them, but in position to take a shot at LLENN, not missing a fatal spot by much.

M grabs LLENN and races out of there with one of the hovercraft, getting shot in the process, but LLENN heals the two and they prepare for a counterattack. But first, LLENN lets M read a letter he was going to read before they were ambushed.

Immediately after reading the letter, he pulls a gun…on LLENN, saying he’s “sorry” before pulling the trigger. His shot misses; LLENN’s agility wins out again, and moments later his safety is on and she has her gun trained on him, demanding to know why he betrayed her.

M merely responds with streams of tears, begging the Pink Devil not to kill him, because he doesn’t want to die. It’s a 180 in M’s character, though he did mention he prefers fighting from a distance and from the safest possible position.

In this instance, with LLENN’s P90 at his throat, he’s suddenly way out of his comfort zone, so it’s understandable we’d see a new side of him. But it doesn’t explain why he suddenly pulled his gun on her. I suspect there’s a real-world reason for it. All I know is, LLENN’s reaction to his sudden change in character was priceless.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 03 – Pressing Rewind with Middling Results

GGO’s first episode thrust us right into the middle of the Squad Jam, while the second took us back to Karen first got into the game. This third episode continues the flashback, bringing us up to the start of the SJ.

But since the result of the SJ is a foregone conclusion, the extended set-up felt superfluous, while calling attention to the fact it would have been a more effective episode had we not known how the SJ would unfold—that is, if the order of episodes had run 2-3-1 instead of 1-2-3.

Pitohui hooks Karen up with M, who seems way too into tactics and ways of killing, leading Karen to wonder who he really is IRL, and what form his relationship with Pitohui takes.

But rather than explore any of that, the M we meet here is bascially the same gruff, no-nonsense, yet still patient and affable lug we met in episode one. There’s nothing new gleaned here; he’s still a big mystery.

However, perhaps the most important goal of this episode wasn’t to establish the stakes of the SJ, but to pivot Karen from an IRL activity that wouldn’t have furthered her social skills (going to an Elsa concert with her old friend) to an activity that would (pairing up, training, and going into a battle royale with someone she just met).

Whatever GGO is to M, Pitohui and Karen are alike in that it’s an escape, and an opportunity to do things they simply cannot do IRL. Karen takes that further, intending to use her newfound freedom as a pink-clad chibi in GGO to change herself IRL, and to find a way to connect with people despite her great height and the anxiety towering over people causes.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 02 – Standing Short

GGO backtracks a few months to when Kohiruimaki Karen, an uncommonly tall college student from Hokkaido now living in Tokyo, learns about the post-SAO VRMMORPG craze in which players no longer have to worry about getting trapped in the game and dying. Karen seeks escape from her height.

Personally, I find Karen statuesque and gorgeous, but as I’m of average height IRL, I can’t really judge someone far taller or shorter than the norm for having a complex about it. In Karen’s case, she has difficulty making friends, and is constantly being gawked at.

One of the friends she does have recommends ALfheim Online, but no matter how many times she converts her avatar, she ends up with someone big, tall, or both.

She eventually ends up in Gun Gale Online, not knowing much about it, and after some rough training sessions, eventually finds out she’s proficient with a submachine gun. More importantly, she’s tiny and cute.

Karen, or rather LLENN, leans hard into the cute angle, covering herself in pink from head to toe along with her gun, and finds a sweet spot in the pink desert where she can use her small size and agility to start earning a rep as a vicious PK’er.

She also attracts the attention of one Pitohui, a seasoned GGO veteran who’s been around since the game was launched. But rather than kill her, “Pito” suggests they become friends and team up; apparently the GGO gender balance is quite lopsided in favor of men.

LLENN and Pito become fast friends and form a two-person team, and even set some conditions for meeting one another in real life. Something tells me LLENN’s mentioning of her favorite singer Kanzaki Elsa to Pito, and Pito’s lack of a response, suggests she might actually be the singer IRL, which would make their live meet-up that much more special for Karen.

And that pretty much does it for this episode. It sets up who Karen is, why she became LLENN, and how she met her first friend in GGO, leading right up to the start of the Squad Jam. We also briefly see the group of girls we saw in Karen’s living room watching her play, suggesting she eventually befriends them all, and that getting into VR MMOs was a good way to meet people without the stigma of her stature.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 01 – The Girl with the Pink P90 (First Impressions)

SAOA:GGO (rolls right off the tongue) gets right down to it, dropping us into a Gun Gale Online battle royale called Squad Jam beside teammates LLENN and M. Thanks to the patient tactical mind of M, much their time in the Jam is spent not getting shot at, and when they are, it’s to draw dumb enemies into getting shot by smarter ones, all while LM stays clean.

LLENN resents having to play the decoy, but can’t argue that it works, and you have to go with what works in a battle where the team that’s dominating are professional fighters IRL, likely in the game for the training. They show off their skills so blithely, M is convinced that winning isn’t their main objective.

LLENN and M’s is, however, so once the field has been thinned from 23 starting teams to 8, they head somewhere isolated where the pro team will come for them (uninterested as they are in ambushing their opponents).

The pros work like a well-oiled, by-the-book machine, precise and practiced in movement and speech. But because they’re so damn orthodox and true-to-life in their tactics, and since winning isn’t their goal, M thinks he knows how to beat them, and prepares a tiny surprise.

That surprise is the unbelievably diminutive LLENN popping out of a suitcase, previously just another unremarkable piece of the garbage strewn across the street that the pro team leader realizes is a hiding place a beat too late.

A beat is all LLENN needs to go off with her pinkP90, using her super-human speed and agility to take the pros down one by one until only two remain. M wasn’t under-utilizing LLENN before, he was saving her for when it was the right time for her to shine; when it mattered most.

The remaining two pros could probably have made a fight of it, but LLENN’s superhuman abilities render their training program contaminated, as M suspected…so they both resign. We pull back from LLENN on a TV as six school friends watch, then turn to their host, the very tall Karen, for whom LLENN is her avatar.

And there you have it. If you’re a hopeless SAO consumer as I apparently am, you were likely satisfied with this start, which had a nice pared-down feel to it despite the scope of the Squad Jam, easing us back into its world without piling on new faces or places.

Until the reveal of LLENN’s player, we were in-game the whole time. We followed just two gunners in a relatively compact location as they talked strategy, let things unfold and waited for pieces to get into optimal position before striking with all available force. And we learn Karen plays as a chibi in a kind of negative size-compensation.