The 'Shroom:Issue 145/Critic Corner

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Director's Notes

Written by: Hypnotoad (talk)

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2019 is 1/3 of the way gone, and it feels like yesterday was 2016. Did everyone make sure to file their taxes? If not, too late! I'm no snitch, though, so hide from the feds right here in Critic Corner.

Thank you, everyone, for your votes again to make Half-Baked Reviews Critic Corner's Section of the Month again! Be sure to give your love to all of our sections here, and give a shout out to our writers whether in chat or in their forum threads dedicated to their sections. Be sure to vote vote vote!

Speaking of giving love to our writers here, be sure to check out what's going on with this year's Anniversary events, such as the awards polls, presentations, and tournaments! Time is flying by and sooner than you know Summer will be here and I'll have more links to spam.

If you would like to help Critic Corner, we always have openings for more writers! You are free to write for sections such as Character Review and Movie Review, or really anything you'd like to do! There's no pressure to have a huge section; they can be shorter and concise! The application process is very simple, starting with reading the Sign Up page, and sending your application to LudwigVon, our Stats Manager on the forum. On the Sign Up page, there is a list of "vacancies" that provide you with examples of the types of sections we're looking for that would fit into Critic Corner. Any idea you have is welcome, and if you have any questions or need help signing up, please feel free to reach out to myself or other 'Shroom peeps!

Section of the Month

Critic Corner SECTION OF THE MONTH
Place Section Votes % Writer
1st Anton's Half-Baked Reviews 12 66.67% Hypnotoad (talk)
2nd Graphic Novel Review 3 16.66% FunkyK38 (talk)
3rd Hot Pot Reviews 2 11.11% Chibiki Daisy (talk)




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Written By: Hypnotoad (talk)

April showers bring May flowers, so everything this month is some kind of liquid. Liquid, you say? Why not a handful of stuff from chunks of dirt surrounded by water? The British Isles!

Irn-Bru

I’m not sure who, but this was one of my original suggestions for a thing to try back when I started writing this section, and now here we are today like 2.5 years later finally getting around to it! I was out of luck in finding this in basically every international section of grocery stores, big and small. I even checked out Amazon where it was incredibly overpriced and only came in cases of like 12-24, which is like 11-23 more than I need. Eventually, I found some specialty shops here in the city, one specifically and conveniently called The British Shoppe, which somehow escaped my attention despite being directly across the street from an Asian supermarket that I’ve been to several times before. It was pretty small, with limited hours because I can assume it doesn’t turn enough of a profit to remain open like a regular place, plus I couldn’t even tell if it still existed because the information was hard to verify until I physically went there. It definitely had a nice variety of British food and things that I wouldn’t be able to find in a standard international section, which is usually only decked out with some Nestle, Cadbury, and Heinz nonsense. This store also had Vegemite, which is something on basically every to-try list, but it was at a wildly extortionate rate of $10.99 for 220 grams. Similarly, most of their other products seemed pretty overpriced, which I chalked up to import rates, low supply, and it being a specialty gimmick. No way am I’m paying that much for anything, but luckily they had drinks at an above-average-but-fairly-reasonable $3 or less. The Irn-Bru was $3 for a 500ml bottle so, eh, I got it.

Irn-Bru is a carbonated soft drink, produced by company A.G. Barr, near and dear to the heart of Scotland, often referred to as “Scotland’s other national drink”, with the other being whiskey, outselling even Coke and Pepsi. The brand is known for its bright orange color, as well as its controversial ad campaigns that have invoked topics such as making light of miscarriages, unsubtle phallic jokes, multiple instances of transphobia, and worst of all: telling goths to cheer up. Some of the many stereotypes Scots have to bear include being foul-mouthed crass and blundering brutes, and this brand seems to either embrace or encourage that within its marketing department, but unless I looked into that (as I have) or lived in the UK (which I don’t), all I would know is that this toxic-looking soda is a token of Scotland’s modern cultural identity. Move over, haggis! A good campaign that they had for a while was flat stating that they make the drink with girders, including clips of people drinking Irn-Bru and then becoming strong, durable, or magnetic; a tongue-in-cheek joke about how the rust-colored drink actually contains iron in the form of ammonium ferric citrate. Barr markets Irn-Bru as making you basically harder, better, faster, stronger, giving you the power and energy to get through your day. Given their long history of contentious and explosive marketing tactics, I feel that they’re one of the only companies who can naturally integrate into the modern advertising hellscape without coming off as forced and embarrassing.

I’ve rambled on too much about that, so onto what the drink actually is. There’s no real specification of what the flavor should be, beyond citrus, and people claiming it to be fruity or like champagne cola (bubblegum/cream flavor). To me, it tastes like ginger for sure; not ginger ale, but more like the antiseptic vibe of ginger you get on the side with sushi. Perhaps sarsaparilla?

In what makes this official a tradition of Half-Baked Reviews now, literally three days after I bought it, it came in stock at Publix for an even more reasonable price of $1.99. I’m such a trendsetter. Additionally, apparently, the recipe for Irn-Bru changed quite soon before I tried this, leaving me to have not experienced the original flavor, and instead only the one with less sugar to comply with a new tax law. They say 9 out of 10 taste testers thought it was an excellent match, but who am I to say? It still tasted pretty sweet to me.

Final Word: Eh, if you have a strong interest in supporting a hit-or-miss marketing team, or really like gingers to an unhealthy degree, this is the drink for you. Perhaps loyalty to Scots? It’s not overly unique and there’s plenty of other sodas that have a vague indiscernible sugary spicy candy flavor to it. That being said, it’s not bad and does taste alright, so if I’m in a situation where it’s of equal or cheaper value than Sprite then I may opt for it. Do you like root beer, cream soda, and ginger ale, but can’t decide which one to buy? Spend as much money as you would on all three and get yourself an Irn-Bru.

Idris Fiery Ginger Beer

Big talk for a can.
Another drink on this rack was Idris Fiery Ginger Beer, also for a decent-enough price, that I found at Publix soon after for an even better price. It seems that this drink is produced by an “Idris Drinks Company”, but I couldn’t find much on that and instead that it’s just a throwaway brand of Britvic plc, which also makes Tango that I’ll review below. There’s really no other information that I can dig up online about it, so I guess it’s all up to what’s on the can.

A very intense #ff0000 red can with fire and a devil’s tail in the logo, plus a bold “Try me if you dare!!” Well I did and it tasted like a watered down Pepsi Fire. There’s no heat sensation to it at all, and kinda just an Irn Bru-y gingery taste. I know that it’s a meme for England to have conquered most of the world for spices but then not know how to use them, but the more I try the more it rings true. Seriously, click that link, it’s a good read for a simple but thorough summary of a bunch of reasons why this is a thing. Here it is again.

Final Word: Pretty unimpressive. If you have to sell it by making it a flashy item, then make it do what it says or you’re not going to get return buyers. Maybe the profits from one-time gimmick customers are high enough? Well, Nabisco still makes a billion unnecessary Oreo flavors, so I guess that’s capitalism, baby!

Vimto

Ah, yes, the well-known specific flavor: fruit.
Vimto, like everything else, is on sale at Publix now that I’ve tried it, but only in 6-packs. I actually found this one at a generic international food store that catered towards the Muslim community and halal needs, intending to sweep up some stuff for a month based on that sorta theme, but, surprise, secret Brit! Manufactured by Nichols plc right in Manchester. The can itself has Arabic and French writing smack on the logo part, which implied to me that it hailed from the Maghreb, plus some tertiary research shows that Vimto is popular at iftar (breaking of the fast) during Ramadan, due to a long history of being available in the Middle East.

Vimto is a “Sparkling Fruit Flavored Drink”, and that’s pretty accurate. Very generic fruity berry flavor, but still sweet. It’s made from grape, raspberry, and blackcurrant juice, plus “herbs and spices”, but I really can’t pick any of them out of the blend. It almost tastes like diluted cough syrup. Fruity cough syrup. Given that this was originally branded as a health tonic (like many sodas were and still are (looking at you, Crystal Pepsi)), I can see why that may be possible. Its name even alludes to this, with “vim” meaning energy and vigor, and I’m guessing “to” means that a line worker dips their toe into each batch to satisfy the “herbs and spices” requirement. I jest, it’s ‘tonic’, energy tonic, wow. As seems to be common with non-American carbonated beverages, the level of bubbliness is at a level the lay American would consider flat. Some other people say it has a bubblegum flavor but I just don’t feel it., and others implying it has inconsistent flavors between each can or bottle. Maybe if any of you reading are feeling wild you can go and try it yourself and tell me what you find.

Also check out this amazing SNAKIN WORLD video.

Final Word: Given that I like cough syrup flavor, it tasted alright, but also given that I like the caustic-level highly carbonated McDonald’s Sprite, Vimto didn’t really have the fizz I was craving. Would be good as a juice, maybe?

Tango

This can looks like a high school graphic design project.
Cost like $2 for a can, at 330ml, rinse repeat with the Irn-Bru story, as this and the fiery ginger soda thing up above were suddenly available at Publix a few days after I bought these. This time, the flavor is orange. Tango is produced by Britvic, as well, and is a brand of what appears to be various fruits with an emphasis on tang: orange, cherry, orange again (citrus), black currant, apple, and orange again. A brand that gained fame from what was apparently an innovative ad campaign about some dude assaulting people in public, it is now commonplace in all of Britain so much that it has proliferated into a variety of products like shower gel and candy bars, and floated its flagship orange soda across the Atlantic and into my delicately perched plastic shopping basket.

The can feels flimsier than usual, especially the pull-tab on top. Ignoring that red flag, I opened it up to take a sip. It definitely tastes like orange, but a more like...naturally sweeter, which might be a result of the ingredients list saying “contains no artificial colours or flavours” that I don’t see many American brands do unless they’re marketed specifically in that way and usually at a higher cost. As per basically everything else I try for this section, I force it upon the people I live with for some metaphysical validation. They said it tastes like La Croix, which I haven’t personally tried myself (future review?🤔), which can’t be a good thing given its memetic reputation; like a flat orange soda. I couldn’t disagree. If I’m going to keep buying an imported product at inflated prices, I would prefer if there were something unique about it, or if the company’s philanthropic endeavors made it worth it. It’s really nothing special and just seems to be yet another brand of orange soda, in which that case I’ll just buy a 2L of Sunkist, Crush, or Fanta, more than 6x the amount of soda for only $1.79 off sale.

Final Word: If I were to show up in the United Kingdom one day and had a craving for specifically and only orange soda, I’d at least know what to get. There are better options out there, though.

Ribena

Formerly manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline until 2013 which sounds a bit suspicious, it is now produced by Suntory, a Japanese beverage company. This potentially throws this into purgatory for a country-themed section, but Ribena unequivocally is English in origin and has a place in the British market more than elsewhere. The nature of this is almost certainly the result of Europe producing over 99% of all blackcurrants in the world, for a pretty good reason, at that. In an environmentalist twist, America is the one who opted for conservation, while Europe gave up white pines for Ribena. It’s hard not to notice that, alongside hazelnuts, blackcurrants are a common flavoring of a lot of British, and European in general, snacks and jams and drinks, and with a flavor foreign to Americans at large I couldn’t just not tack this on my review. Additionally, the Ribena brand itself has been solidified thanks to a little thing called World War II, during which it was given to children as a vitamin C supplement. So, how is it?

AOC should really consider having a cool bunny mascot.
Ribena costs like $6.29 for 600ml at Publix and a cursory search for “Ribena” under Google Search’s Shopping tab doesn’t offer much cheaper. This price tag warded me off for a while until I actually sat on the grocery store aisle floor to read it on the bottom shelf to learn that it’s concentrated and calls for a dilution of 1:4 with water. With math, that means it’s $6.29 for effectively 2400ml, or 2.4 liters, which is still uhhhhhh pretty expensive given that a standard 2-liter bottle of soda runs anywhere from 99¢ to $2.19 depending on the sale. This is my sacrifice to you, my readers, my fellow Mario Wikians, my rabid fans. I don’t expect to be martyred or sanctified, but a statue or two would be nice.

On its own, it tastes pretty overwhelming, which I guess is the point as it’s concentrated, but I just had to give it a try. In its pure form, it smells like bad wine, which would otherwise have turned me away from it if I 1) didn’t firmly grasp the concept of it being concentrated, and 2) I spent $6.29 for it. The recommended 1:4 dilution turns what’s effectively a shot glass worth of purple thin syrup into a nice sized glass of pretty blood red juice. It tastes like loganberry, which I guess isn’t really helpful to anyone reading unless you grew up where I did. Loganberry is a cross between blackberries and raspberries, and tastes pretty much just like that, too. Loganberry is to Buffalo as Cheerwine is to North Carolina. This detail made me a bit homesick, and realize that you don’t really know your hometown until you’re no longer in it. Sure, there are reasons I left, but the food there just feels right. I’m trying to find things down here in Orlando that compare, but it’s no use. If you’re interested, feel free to find me in chat and pick my brain once again on the impact of food on culture. Either way, Ribena has a nice berry flavor without some awkward tartness or manufactured vibe, but instead an almost warmth and earthiness to it. I noticed no difference in using tap water and bottled purified water, which is a surprise since the water here can be a bit sulfur-y as is the reason I even have bottled water readily available. It is a bit heavy, though, and I can basically feel it staining my mouth purple. The flavor lasted in my mouth for a good 10 minutes until it either dissipated or I became too immersed in Season 1 of Sex and the City questioning if I’m more of a Miranda or Carrie.

Perhaps and unintended feature of Ribena being made available in a concentrated form is that it’s customizable. Want more blackcurrant flavor? Add less water. Want less? Add more water. Want to get tipsy? Mixed it with booze! A 1:1:2:2:2 Ribena, vodka, grenadine, peach soda, mango soda is what I chose, specifically. It’s pretty good; the Ribena stood out even with all of the other fruity flavors in the mix. It had a noticeable berry taste and tartness but was still palatable enough for me to chug a whole glass of it

Exactly like Irn-Bru, Ribena’s flavor was tinkered with as a result of the UK’s 2018 sugar tax, replacing the sugar with artificial sweeteners and other stuff to replicate the original as best as possible.

Final Word: A unique flavor that, for me, provided a hit of nostalgic introspection, and perhaps an appreciation for how tightly Brits hold onto this drink of significant cultural pride. On top of that, it tastes pretty fine and has an innate ability to be mixed and manipulated into a way anyone else could find it pretty fine, too.


Tune in next month where we stay a little longer on the islands! Also, tell me what to review next! It can be games, movies, shows, physical actions, trying new foods, music, literally anything and I’ll cover it eventually if it’s not too ridiculous. Just send me a message here on my talk page or PM it to me on the forum. Don't like what I have to say? That's fine, and probably bound to happen because I've been told about how much people like Super Mario 64 and how they feel about any criticism of it! We at Critic Corner will welcome your alternate review of it as a new section for the next issue!

G. TV

Written by: MsRetroGeek (talk)

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Hi Everyone! It’s Geeky back with your bi-monthly section of G.TV. I hope you all have stayed afloat with the ups and downs through this month. Hopefully surviving the shifts of time and weather changes that took place. Speaking of changes, I wanted to try and test something out this month. I wanted to add an idea that I've had for a while. I thought it was time to give my own personal touch to my sections so I wanted to test out creating a little graphic. Speaking of personal things, I’m happy to talk about one of the things that have gotten me through life right now.

That something being…. BTS RELEASED A NEW ALBUM! MY BOYS ARE BACK!

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This week I had gotten a chance to catch their performance of one of their singles, “Boy with Luv” being performed on SNL. I was so happy and proud of them when they got a second chance to be on SNL. I know that they’ve been on a lot of talk shows in America, but I never got a chance to catch them. However, it was just so surreal getting them to perform one of their track songs on their newest CD, Map of the Soul: Persona. They just looked extremely professional and smooth as heck performing their song for everyone in the audience. I do wish I was there to be a part of that audience. I would be cheering my boys on as they perform. I’ve heard that they’re as amazing live as they are on their music videos. Something I’m going to have to experience one day.

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I’ve been waiting for their newest album to be released ever since I watched their teaser trailer to their newly released album. I had been surprised by the music video, “Intro: Persona” that had been a solo from their leader Rap Monster. The music video was a great way to kick off that they were doing a new album! It brought the action, scenery that complimented the song, but I think the thing that the listener should realize is. This song was about primarily about the qualities that the artist didn’t like about him, the controversies that the band had gone through, and the acceptance that he goes through to embrace who he is. This is something that I love about BTS’ music. That these boys aren’t just pretty faces on a screen entertaining for the heck of it. They delve into songs that have important issues.

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Moving onto their next music video that had been released on April 12th, “Boy With Luv”, I found it to be a cute video. This song had featured Halsey and a lot of Halsey fans had complained that she didn’t have enough lines. I found her to be a nice added feature in the music video. I also found her lines to be decent enough to have in the song. Although she could have had at least a few more lines to say other than, “Oh my my my” repeated throughout the song. Although it went well with the song, I wish we could have heard a little bit more from her. The boys did treat her very politely just like the gentleman they are. I found this collaboration to be adorable. I hope to see more collaborations from them.


Although I loved each song within Map of the Soul: Persona. There were three that stood out the most to me that I keep on relistening to whenever I have homework or some type of task to accomplish.

Intro: Persona had been one of the songs that had stuck to me ever since I had first heard it. I thought that it had a great beat to it. After looking up the meaning of the song. I related strongly to it. I have many flaws that I don’t like about myself. Although I’ve come to terms with the traits that I strongly find displeasing, I’m happy to know someone understands what’s that like. Rap Monster can rap about his problems and win over hearts with this song. He won my heart over with how relatable he could be with this song.

Home was a joy to listen to. Listening to this song allowed me to listen to think about how difficult it was for them back then when they had started out. The poor treatment they were given when they had started out. The amount of work it takes them to release their music and music videos. The sacrifice takes them to be away from their families so often. Having to live under a contract that requires them to represent themselves as proper innocent boys. This must put a lot of pressure on them all the time to act in a certain way. They must have had a great time getting to reflect on how far they made it from the back where they started to where they are now. This group deserves the amount of recognition they are getting.

Make It Right was the first song that I had fallen in love with when I first listened to this album. This song to my surprise was written by Ed Sheeran. The song strongly spoke about the problems that any relationship can face. There are problems that can arise in relationships platonic or non-platonic. What we need to remember is to try and fix things before they escalate. Take the step forward to fix any problem that may arise and have the courage to make things right.

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I hope you all have enjoyed my section this month. Please let me know if you guys would like to see something more from me.

Thank you for reading!

Virtual Console Reviews

Written by: Doomhiker (talk)

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Kirby is the star of the show and the one that you should know. For a lack of creativity in my introductions I will hop onto the game that is being reviewed today: Kirby's Adventure!

The gameplay in Kirby's Adventure is simple. The player can float, swallow enemies, blocks, and stars and use them as projectiles, and can do a slide kick to damage enemies or destroy blocks. One thing that is brand-new to this game is the copy mechanic, where the player can swallow certain enemies to gain their ability for use. This makes Kirby much more enjoyable to play, as each ability is useful in a variety of situations and makes the stages more engaging to play though. There are even sections of certain stages which require or suggest the use of copy abilities. If there is one problem with this mechanic, however, is that some abilities are just too similar to others. Both Throw and Backdrop make the player grab an enemy allowing them to use a martial art on them. Both Freeze and Ice freeze enemies that touch the projectile from the abilities' attack. Both Fire and Ice make the player spit out the abilities' respective element forward in the exact same manner. Both Spark and Freeze shield the player using an element in the exact same manner. The Hammer and Sword abilities' attacks are quite similar. While some of these similar abilities still exist in Kirby games to this day, this problem has been mostly fixed by either merging abilities or by giving more distinct traits and/or attacks to previously duplicate abilities. However, in this game, some of the abilities just feel like padding, which is a shame.

One of my favourite things about this game is that it is a rare example of an NES game with good game design that still holds up today. Unlike other games of that era which punished death by making you replay massive chunks of gameplay or even the entire game, Kirby's Adventure never feels unfair or frustrating, as death only makes you restart the section of a stage that you are on, and a game over only makes you restart the stage. It actually is similar to how Ninja Gaiden treats death: while it is much more common in that game, you almost never have to replay a large chunk of gameplay, which gives you the incentive to keep on trying. I feel that while both of those games are very different in the difficulty department, they are still quite similar in how they treat death which is one of the many reasons why I like both games, and they prove how a game can still be difficult (or in Kirby's Adventure's case, easy) without being unfair and/or frustrating.

This game also is the first mainline Kirby game with stage selects. In this game's levels, the player can choose the stage that they want to play, which vary in themes and mechanics. The stages throw new challenges and gimmicks frequently to keep things fresh, although some levels are on the shorter side. In the stage select the player can play several mini-games, which are quite fun, arenas, where the player fights a mini-boss, rooms where the player can quickly go to other levels and museums, where the player can select an ability on the fly. Some of these locations are unlocked by normally completing a stage, although some times a Big Switch needs to be pressed in order to unlock these areas. The Big Switches are hidden in some stages starting in the level Butter Building. It is clearly shown what stages still have a Big Switch in them, so it is always fun and never frustrating to find them. At the end of each level, there is a boss. The bosses in this game are fun and can be difficult, although some of the difficulty is lost if the player brings certain abilities to a boss fight.

Absolutely terrifying

The plot of this game is simple. King Dedede stole and broke the Star Rod from the Fountain of Dreams, causing nightmares. It is later revealed the an evil being named Nightmare is the main villain and the King Dedede was trying to stop him. Once the player beats Nightmare Kirby puts the Star Rod back in the Fountain of Dreams, bringing good dreams back. It is not as complicated as other Kirby plots but it gets the job done.

Finally, when all of the Big Switches are activated the player unlocks Extra Game where they play through the game without saving and with only three health points. After this, the Sound Test is unlocked, where the player can listen to the game’s music and sound effects, which are generally pretty good. Both of these are great rewards for 100 percent completion.

Verdict

Kirby’s Adventure is a fantastic game. While it may have minor issues overall this game feels and plays just like a modern game, similar to Ninja Gaiden. It has even better gameplay then Kirby’s Dream Land with the fun copy abilities, great bosses, and secret extras that keep the player engaged. If you want a cheap and easily accessible platformer then Kirby's Adventure is an easy recommendation.

Rising Sun Reviews

Written by: Hooded Pitohui (talk)

Sword Art Online Alternative Gun Gale Online
AGGO Cover.jpg
Studio 3Hz (Licensed to Aniplex in North America)
Release date April 2018
Genre Action, Science Fiction
Episodes 12 (13 counting episode 5.5)

Debuting in Japan’s spring 2018 anime season, the show I’m reviewing today has a name which simultaneously positioned it for success while burdening it with the associations of a widely criticized series. There was a reason to be skeptical, certainly, of a spin-off installment of the infamously panned Sword Art Online franchise. Sword Art Online has been criticized for many reasons; the show is plagued by stories that drag on too long, resolutions which feel rushed and unsatisfying when they finally do arrive, bland characters who are too overpowered and possess poor characterization, world-building elements which are left unexplored, overused and controversial plot devices, and, of course, female characters treated as little more than the main character’s harem. Indeed, there are plenty of valid issues critics have raised when it comes to Sword Art Online, and I encourage you to do a Google search and dive into the abundant materials on the topic if you're interested. I’m interested not in exploring the flaws of Sword Art Online, though, but instead in answering a question about its spinoff series. See, though its association with Sword Art Online could have doomed it to failure, Sword Art Online Alternative Gun Gale Online (which, for convenience, I’ll be referring to hereafter as AGGO) was actually generally well-received, with even ardent critics of Sword Art Online granting that the spin-off improved on many of the franchise’s worst aspects. So, what did AGO do that distinguished it from its parent franchise? Where did it go right where the rest of the franchise went wrong and are there enough changes to make the show worth your time even if the name has you a little skeptical?

What’s in a Name?

The visual, at least, makes parsing the title easier.

Before delving into the show proper, I want to spend a moment to give its title some thought. Titles are underappreciated as the first point of connection people make with a work of media. A memorable title which reflects the essence of the show provides an important hook for a piece of media’s spread by word of mouth. You need to have a title that people can remember after running across it only a few times when they go to search for it on the Internet, and it needs to be unique enough that they can immediately find whatever it is you’ve created and start associating elements of the work with its title. In the title department, Sword Art Online Alternative Gun Gale Online misses most marks by a wide berth. First, it's just plain clunky, with seven words that don't really flow together in any natural way. The only recognizable part of that title for most people is “Sword Art Online,” which does admittedly do a fair job of immediately connecting this show to a larger and more well-known media franchise. Even if you don't follow the franchise and have no idea of the significance of “Gun Gale Online,” you might be able to pick it out as its own piece of the title because of its parallel structure with the first three words. That still leaves a need to parse “Alternative,” and, honestly, the structure of the title is too ambiguous to allow potential viewers to do so effectively. Without additional knowledge of the show, it could be taken either as “Sword Art Online Alternative” or as “Alternative Gun Gale Online.” The former interpretation matches the show much better, communicating that this is a Sword Art Online story, but it's a different take on what's been told before. In my opinion, the simple addition of a colon between “Alternative” and “Gun” would make the title much easier to parse and would better establish how exactly the show is connected to its parent franchise. Even a colon wouldn't solve the issue entirely, as “Alternative” still feels too ambiguous. While it does indicate that this show is a spinoff and is separate from the main story, it doesn't do enough to dispel equally valid competing assumptions like “this show is a reboot” or “this show is a director’s cut of sorts.” Of course, I'm not just saying all of this because I want to be pedantic and find something to complain about. The other issue with the title is one I ran into myself; because fans of the parent series often refer to the second series (officially Sword Art Online II) as simply Gun Gale Online, it can be confusing for the uninitiated to try and search for the spinoff and run into materials about a completely different story. All that said, the title isn’t perfect, but that’s not going to make or break a show. That said, let’s delve into the show itself and see what it gets right that Sword Art Online does not.

An Alternative and Self-Contained Story

AGGO is the story of Karen Kohiruimaki, a young undergraduate student attending college in Tokyo after having left her home in Obihiro, Hokkaido. Timid, quiet, and self-conscious about her height, she has difficulty adjusting and feels isolated and lonely in Tokyo. With the advice of close friend Miyu Shinohara, Karen decides to give virtual reality gaming a try to occupy her time. While Miyu enjoys playing games, Karen is more concerned with escaping into a virtual world where she can be shorter, cuter, and less timid than she is in real life. After a few false starts, she finds a game which generates an avatar which meets her expectations, that game being the eponymous Gun Gale Online. Naming her virtual self “LLENN,” she quickly finds joy in using the particular advantages of her avatar and choice of clothing to ambush other players and she gains a fierce reputation. Soon afterward, Karen meets another player in this virtual world, an experienced player named Pitohui. Pitohui, delighted to find another female player, takes Karen on as a friend and apprentice of sorts, teaching her the mechanics of Gun Gale while Karen comes to enjoy the game itself. Not long after, Pitohui tells Karen about a battle royale tournament between teams of players, the Squad Jam, coming soon as an in-game event and encourages her to join in. Karen joins the Squad Jam and partners with M, an intimidating man who is acquainted with Pitohui. From there on, the story is one of Karen and M and, joining in the second event, Pitohui and Miyu (as “Fukaziroh”) competing in the first two Squad Jam events. There are a few more key details, but they’re weaved into this overarching plot of the two tournaments and it’s better to leave them unspoiled for now.

The meeting between these two lays the groundwork for the whole show.

One thing you might notice about that description is that it makes absolutely no mention of Sword Art Online. If you happen to know the franchise, you might realize that it doesn’t mention any members of the regular cast or tie back to any of the previous storylines. In truth, the only thing in that description is Gun Gale Online, since the game itself previously appeared in Sword Art Online II. One of the great strengths of this spin-off is the distance it puts between itself and its parent franchise. There are a few references here and there which only those with knowledge of the parent franchise will get, certainly, but they do nothing to detract from the experience for anyone joining in just for the spin-off. There is one major plot point which relies heavily on the show’s connection to the original Sword Art Online, but all of the context needed to understand it is summarized in the spin-off itself. AGGO is almost wholly self-contained, freeing it from many of the burdens of its parent series and associations with its cast members and story arcs.

On top of this, AGGO benefits from having a clear focus, a slice of the overall story that comes packaged between a neat beginning and end. Unlike its parent series, which is often criticized for story arcs and an overall story which drag on without satisfying endings or explanations, AGGO does not try to be more than a show about Karen’s experience in Gun Gale’s two Squad Jams. The first tournament concludes in the fifth episode, and the final episode extends only slightly beyond the end of the second tournament. The tournaments have clear and unambiguous endings, and the show as a whole ends on a note that leaves things open to continue without leaving loose ends. Not having a sequel hook or anything to try an extend the story beyond what is appropriate helps the show to avoid the pitfalls of its predecessors.

A World of Guns… Rated T for Teen

The contrast between this little girl in pink and her propensity for overkill is a source of humour throughout the show.

Moving on to questions of characters and world-building, it’s important to note that expanding on the world of Gun Gale Online was one of the things this spin-off explicitly set out to do. Fans of the franchise clamored for further exploration of the gun-focused VRMMORPG introduced in Sword Art Online II. It’s unsurprising, then, that the show goes on to really flesh out the world of the game. While the show introduces Gun Gale Online as a grim and dark “World of Guns,” the science fiction elements of the game’s setting receive far less attention as the game as the setting itself. Rarely does the show give you an opportunity to forget that most of the action is taking place in an MMORPG, but it takes a “show, don’t tell approach” that works in its favor. Whether it’s introducing a game mechanic, showing how characters work with or around the unique mechanics of the game, or just through the display of a HUD, viewers are sent numerous little signals to ground them in the world of Gun Gale Online. This does become a problem once or twice when critical fights are resolved with game elements that weren’t explained in advance. In these instances, it can feel like the writers choose an easy answer after backing into a corner, though, admittedly, even these moments aren’t without any foreshadowing. It’s not only mechanical aspects which are used to build the game’s world, though social elements are also employed. At points viewers are reminded of the (as unjustified in-universe just as it is outside of the show) rampant sexism in these kinds of competitive games, reminded that there are also escapists and creeps on the Internet just as there are earnest and honest players, and reminded that some of the characters quite enjoy their little acts of roleplaying even as they struggle to embrace or distance their real from the online characters they become. For English speakers, the dub does an arguably even better job with this side of things. Dialogue is modified to sound much more casual and relaxed, with some slang like “irl” even added to characters’ lines and an overall casual atmosphere that fits what you'd expect to hear from battle royale gamers.

What sells the notion of Gun Gale Online as a videogame setting even further and makes it more meaningful by tying is how the show’s major events in Gun Gale are tied back to the real world. Unlike the original Sword Art Online, what happens in the real world in AGGO matters greatly to the progression of the show and the development of its characters. This is thankfully well-balanced, and it ends up being satisfying to watch the growth and development of Karen and other players as they interact outside of Gun Gale and learn to take on the characteristics in their virtual self. Of course, not everyone takes the game all that seriously. That Miyu retains the same primary focus on having fun in the game throughout even the show’s more serious moments in a manner consistent with her carefree nature in real life and that characters like the members of Team SHINC have a diverse range of reasons for wanting to play further contributes to the world-building of Gun Gale as a videogame and keeps the real-life experiences of the characters interesting.

A Colorful Squad of Characters

Team SHINC gets a fair amount of development for being secondary characters.

Speaking of the characters, the cast of AGGO manages to avoid many of the characterization issues that its parent franchise struggled with. Kirito, the main character of the franchise as a whole, is infamously overpowered. Here, the characters certainly do demonstrate some great feats, but they aren’t at the level of disparity between main characters and others in the parent franchise and they all come with explanations rooted in the characters or the mechanics of Gun Gale Online. Karen, for example, has extraordinary speed as LLENN because her online avatar is so short and small. She also managed to make clever use of camouflage and hiding spots, either making use of her small size to fit where others could not or finding ways to hide her pink clothing in her surroundings. That she still gets unusually lucky sometimes might undermine this, but even her unusual luckiness received acknowledgment in the show itself. I will say that there are a few unusual moments with LLENN's weapon, which she named P-chan, which stretch the show's established setting a bit too far in my opinion. The show would have been better off without these odd scenes, but there are only two or three of them, so it doesn't become too disruptive. Other characters find their own ways to accomplish difficult tasks. M manages to avoid tipping of foes to his shots by not using the game’s built-in targeting system and instead relying on his real-life marksmanship skills. Pitohui has some overwhelming victories, but her skills, like those of real competitive gamers, come from investing great amounts of time to the game. All-in-all, the characters manage to avoid pulling abilities out of nowhere and act in accordance with the rules established for the setting.

Clarence takes time to extort a kiss from Karen, but the scene plays out surprisingly well.

In addition, the characters themselves are all fairly interesting and fleshed out. The four main characters get the greatest amount of attention and development, of course, but other teams and characters make lasting impressions even with limited screen time. Team SHINC is notable for being developed both in real life and in Gun Gale Online, but even the serious and well-organized Team Memento Mori or the fun-loving Team ZEMAL provide viewers with glimpses of a well-rounded cast with plenty of personality. While it’s repeatedly brought up as a plot point that there are few female players in Gun Gale Online, most significant characters are female. Here, unlike in Sword Art Online, the girls certainly aren’t treated as a bunch of supporting characters and romantic options for the males. They stand on their own and often, though not always, surpass their male competitors. There are other little pieces which leave females better represented in AGGO. One of the show’s notable secondary female characters is even openly bisexual. While it’s not handled perfectly, she at least isn’t treated as an anomaly for being bisexual, only for choosing to try and extort a kiss from LLENN at an opportune moment. The English dub handles this scene even better, arguably, throwing out a quick little “I’m bi irl” and not making a scene of it. I won't pretend to be particularly knowledgeable about social issues and representation in media, but I've seen generally positive responses to the LGBQT+ representation in the show. In fairness, I've also seen a mix of some positive and negative reactions to the portrayal of M's relationship to Pitohui, but I'll let you look into those and any other questions of representation for yourself and judge it as you see it. The overall matter, though, is that in the world of Gun Gale Online, every character is placed on equal footing and the wide diversity of players you would expect to play an MMORPG receives full representation. The show doesn’t make a big deal of representing a great number of different individuals, but characters of all kinds of personalities and a swath of backgrounds appear.

In Conclusion

LLENN sums it up in one sentence in the show itself.

Altogether, Sword Art Online Alternative Gun Gale Online improves upon many of the issues present in its parent franchise and presents an enjoyable story which is neatly separated from the main arc of Sword Art Online. If you’ve avoided the show because of its name and because you’ve already been tainted on the Sword Art Online franchise, it might be worth your time to give it a try now that you know more about where it endeavors to surpass or distance itself from its parent franchise. Tying these improvements together is a compelling story, good visuals and music, and a somewhat comedic tone. It’s not some stunning masterpiece of a show, but it knows exactly what it offers in terms of over-the-top action and impressive firefights and it plays to its strengths. It keeps a lighthearted tone and focused first and foremost on delivering action and telling its own tale, a tale contained in the broader Sword Art Online universe but one which stays mainly within its own bounds. It may not appeal to everyone, but, if you enjoy action-oriented anime this is certainly one to check out, no matter your feelings on its parent franchise. If you’re interested, both the sub and the dub present good options (though I would personally recommend the sub, either one is suitable depending on your preferences). The dub takes a few liberties with the dialogue, but it keeps the story and the meaning of most lines intact. The voice acting is excellent in both versions, as well. The sub is on (at least in the United States) Hulu and Crunchyroll, with Crunchyroll even offering free access to fifty short clips, while the dub is on Hulu and Netflix.

The 'Shroom: Issue 145
Staff sections Staff NotesThe 'Shroom Spotlight
Features Fake NewsFun StuffPalette SwapPipe PlazaCritic CornerStrategy Wing
Specials Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Photo Contest

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