Gun Gale Online is a really comfortable place to me, and we finally get to see more of the civilian areas of the MMO as opposed to the generic wastelands of episode 2. Sword Art Online and Alfheim may have been more colourful, but I selfishly prefer the darker skies and more muted, though stil reasonably varied, colour palette. It’s basically just generic cyberpunk, but generic cyber punk is seen a lot less in anime than generic fantasy, and I prefer it regardless.
Anyway, for once the highlight of this episode was Kirito, who has at last, after about 30 episodes and a movie, has finally demonstrated that he can be an actual character. He’s always been a bit of a cipher really with no real arcs. Much like the audience, his emotional responses have always been reactionary, and perfectly in line with what the show wants the audience to feel. This was prominent during the mini arcs in the first series, where his personality seemed to reset each episodes until he started dating Asuna. Apparently, all you needed to do to combat his Gary-Stuness was turn him into a Mary Sue. Gary-Stu, after all, was an adaptive name from the Mary-Sue archetype, and thusly wasn’t quite unique enough. The only reason I can possibly imagine for turning Kirito into a girl would be so that he can embody the archetype more naturally.
I kid, of course. There’s plenty of reasons a writer may choose to do this, and of course only the gender of Kirito’s avatar has changed, he’s still a guy in the real world. One reason is that guys like to role play girls on occasion, I’m sure even a misogynist has dabbled in it on occasion. A smart reason however can be seen in the episode, but I don’t think the show is aware of this, nor do I believe it will go anywhere, even accidentally.
When Kirito becomes a girl, he immediately starts to get treated differently by the various (male) gamers around him. He has a rare avatar or some bullshit, so regardless of his gender the first guy he meets is very eager to purchase his account, although the difference appears to be only aesthetic. But hey, it carries between games, so I can understand wanting to become the Mary-Sue online for a bit. More importantly, guys start to hit on him, and he becomes a centre of attention. As a girl gamer, he sticks out like a sore thumb. It would be very easy to make a comment on how his gender has completely changed how people act towards him, and the arbitrary gender distinction to begin with, but unfortunately much of this is played for comedy with no real meaning put behind it.
Thankfully, this was probably one of the funnier episodes for me, because watching Kirito’s reactions and how he tries to adapt to these social situations made me crack a smile in a way that, for once, the show actually intended for me to do. Oddly, Kirito is starting to act like a girl, too, which in some respects rubs me the wrong way, almost as though the show is implying that some personality traits are inherent to each gender. This is probably exemplified by Kirito’s adaptive, underdeveloped personality. I say this because he has picked up some anime-isms associated with the female gender. The facial expressions and gait, mild ditziness, shyness, and of course plenty of Mary Sue qualities.
Kirito is still Kirito when we get right down to it. He’s lucky enough to get this rare avatar, and meet Sinon, our resident female gamer quite happy to show him to an arcade game involving a gunman (who speaks some of the best engrish ever) who fires impossible bullets for you to dodge. He passes it first try, apparently being the first person ever to figure out the concept of predicting the bullets. (because people have been relying on these prediction lines built into the system, showing where a bullet will land. Kirito predicts the prediction. It’s a nice nod to the often used theme of playing outside of the system, but it’s still bullshit)
And of course he decides to use the light saber, the worst weapon in the metagame according to Sinnon, just because. Apparently Sinon is also surprised to find that someone who has played (presumably VR) racing games can apply that knowledge to vehicles in a different game, too.
On the one hand, this could be pretty cool, as Sinon and Kirito are already the best female characters in the series. However, Sinon is likely to fall for him even after finally figuring out that he’s male, and of course the new and improved Kirito is still male inside- his feminine power is being driven by his real-world male instincts. Of course, even if he was born female somehow, he still wouldn’t be the best written, because Mary-Sue.
But, I can’t deny that Kirito has changed for the better. Maybe it’s just because he’s female, and because of some of his new quirks, but he feels less all consuming now, and more entertaining to actually watch. There was an unpleasant feeling in the first season where Kirito would be underestimated before getting his own back. The arcade game still has elements of that, but it’s much less competitive and not focused on death, at least for now. For the most part, I prefer Kirito being admired for his kawaiiness and genuinely liked for his skills more than the jealousy dynamic in the previous season. It’s the lesser of two evils I guess.