The only thing that brings me less pleasure than saying "don't watch this" is having watched it myself.
The new Sword Art Online is not good. Looking past the problems of Gun Gale Online lacking the "you die in the game, you die in real life" premise, which bring with it a terminal lack of tension, the show still has a hard time standing on its own two feet.
In the first episode, we're introduced to two new characters. LLENN, also known as the Pink Devil, is an avatar of a young girl dressed in what can best be described as a pink bunny outfit. Her companion, M, is a large stocky man of few words. In the beginning minutes we're shown the basic premise for the episode - the two have formed a squad in a team Battle Royale match. Aniplex better pray Bluehole doesn't sue them.
At a high level there are a lot of problems with this episode. There's no hook to make us care about these characters. The twist at the end is super bland. There's a lack of character development. A lot of unnecessary information is thrown at you that fundamentally doesn't matter and wastes time. Each of these could be discussed in depth, but I'm going to focus on how inconsistent the main character is instead.
In the first half of the episode it becomes apparent that LLENN doesn't know much. She can't recognize guns. She doesn't know basic strategy. She's entirely dependent on M, who graciously takes the time to explain things such as camouflage and positioning to her. At the first sign of a random untrained squad of enemies she's screaming for help. She's useless, and the show makes a point of showing you that. We're repeatedly reminded her singular purpose is to act as M's decoy.
But by the second half of the episode?
She's running into a group of "pros" that she had been convinced were unbeatable seconds earlier, overcoming crippling terror.
And she shreds them.
There's no explanation for this change in outlook. Winning the fight is partially explained away as M's strategy, but what brought the dramatic change in personality? We aren't ever told. Instead, after she mops the floor with them, the episode just kind of... ends. It had done what it set out to do - show us that this new character can be cute, innocent, and utterly unstoppable even by a group of professionals.
Ultimately, I suppose I should have expected a lackluster spin-off for Sword Art Online's most lackluster Virtual Reality game. Sword Art Online is at its best when it's playing around the tension of death - remove that, as Alternative has done, and you're left with something very shallow. The only thing that could have carried this new series was its characters, and after episode one we're left not knowing anything about them.
Verdict: Even Eir Aoi can't save it.
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