Accel World Starts Strong, But Ends Wrong

I have made no secret of how much I have been enjoying Sword Art Online -- going so far as to call it the smartest anime in years. When fellow Kotaku East writer Toshi Nakamura told me that there was another anime by the same author also about online games called Accel World, I began watching it as quickly as possible. But while it has a phenomenally well thought out concept and starts off incredibly strong, it is just one of those anime that falls apart in the second half.

Good -- A Deep, Well Thought-Out World

The world of 2046 as portrayed in Accel World is perhaps the most realistic and well thought out version of the future I have ever seen. This is because it is centered around one world-changing invention: the Neuro Linker. The Neuro Linker is a personal computer that clips to your neck and overlays the computer screen over your field of vision. With it you can search the net, play online games, and call other people directly -- talking virtual avatar to virtual avatar. Nearly from birth, everyone has one of these computers and it affects the very social structure of the world. Talking avatar to avatar is considered a common method of communication. On the other hand, cabling -- i.e. connecting Neuro Linker to Neuro Linker directly with someone else sans the avatars -- is considered one of the most intimate of actions as you not only talk mind to mind but also can access the other person's computer. It is the deep examination of the cultural impact of such a computer that makes Accel World so enjoyable.

Good -- Online Game, Real World Stakes

The plot of Accel World centres around not only the Neuro Linkers but also a secret MMO fighting game called Brain Burst. What makes Brain Burst unique over the other MMOs seen in Accel World is that it offers a real-world reward: the ability to slow time to a near stop. By using the data of the nearly ubiquitous security cameras, the game creates a 3D model of the real world and puts it directly into your mind -- stretching one second into sixteen minutes. Doing this takes one Burst Point -- more of which can only be obtained by playing the game.

The genius of this series is the exploration of the implications behind such a game existing. Being able to stop time gives you the ability to win any fight and pass any test just by the sheer amount of time you get for planning your next move -- and this is not even the only way to use burst points either. Of course, should you run out of points, the game uninstalls itself and can never be installed again. So what would you do to keep such power? How important would the game become to you, knowing that the only way to keep your power is to win? Would you go so far as to kill an unbeatable in-game rival in the real world to assure your safety?

Simply put, Accel World is the first thing I have ever seen that makes logging into an MMO seem not only exciting, but also a matter of life or death.

Good -- Relatable Main Character

Many anime star the likeable loser -- though like in 80's teen movies, all it takes is a simple

makeover to turn them into a stud. Not so in Accel World. The protagonist, Haruyuki, is short, fat, and the most bullied kid in school -- so much so that his online avatar is a pig. Of course, in the online world, while still socially awkward, he's amazing. It is his online skill -- and the fact that online, looks are meaningless -- that gains him the love of the most popular girl in school. Even then, with a girlfriend and time-stopping powers, his change into a self confidant person is slow and gradual -- as it should be.

Good -- Villain Protagonists

Of course, Haruyuki being a likable character does little to change the fact that he is actually the main villain of the story -- though not the big bad. That would be his girlfriend, "Princess Snow Black" (no one knows her real name). At level nine, she is one of the strongest players in the

game. However, to reach the level cap, she must defeat the other level nines in sudden death matches where the loser's game is uninstalled. While the other level nines want peace so everyone can play the game and enjoy its real-world benefits, she wants to hit level 10, meet the creator of the game, and perhaps end it for everyone -- just to satisfy her curiosity.

So any way you look at it, the main characters are the villains, ruining other people's fun for their personal gain. But this does not make them bad people. In fact, while their goal is of the most selfish kind, it is also the goal the game was designed for. After all, games are meant to be beaten.

Bad -- A Contrived Conflict

The first two story arcs in Accel World are great for the reasons I have stated above. The third story arc -- which incidentally takes the entire second half of the series -- is contrived at best, lazy

at worst. The entire arc revolves around a blackmail plot. The problem is that Snow Black has the real-world resources to easily fix any problems caused by the blackmailer and can beat him in the game without much effort should a fight be needed. Now of course it's noble to want to deal with the blackmail problem yourself and leave those you love out of it, but once life-long friendships are being ruined and expulsion from school is on the table, it's time to suck it up and call in the big guns.

Still, the story might have been OK if it had been just a few episodes long, but as it's half of the entire anime, it feels monotonous and entirely without suspense since it can so easily be fixed by a single phone call. With that said, the twist/explanation for one of the character's incredibly out-of-character actions was quite well done; so at least that ended the arc on a positive note.

Final Thoughts

The beginning of Accel World is amazing: the first five episodes might be one of the best world-building introductions in anime history. And it continues strong until the midway point -- before spending its remaining time on a story arc that, while not totally irredeemable, pales in comparison to the first half. However, despite its shortcomings, the first thing I did after finishing the series was head out to my local game store to buy the new Accel World PS3 game (with OVA episode) -- at eleven o'clock at night. I think that action really speaks for itself.

Accel World aired earlier this year on Tokyo MX in Japan. It is available with English subtitles on Viz Anime.


Comments

    No, no, no, no, no...

    I disagree. The end to this season was fine.

    **SPOILER ALERT**
    (Will Ruin The Season Ending) Snow Black did not have the resources to just magically fix things until Noumi had actually been defeated and lost all his memories of the blackmailing. Snow Black just fixed things up in the end when Noumi could do nothing or had no clue what was going on. Then during the final battle she was only able to keep Noumi's much stronger backup at bay, who is obviously going to be reappearing in the future. So sure you may believe Snow Black could just save the day from the start, but it's not that simple. Circumstances needed to be right and the struggle Haru's struggle is just part of him finding his place in this new world where he's no longer the short fat kid and in Princess Snow Blacks heart. Love can do crazy things?
    **SPOILER OVER**

    For anyone who has not watched this show before or has been turned off of it by this review. Remember this is only the first season, a second has yet to be announced but it is almost sure to be in a matter of time. So by all means think of this first season as a gateway into what could be a great new series! (Not like Bleach, Naruto or One Piece. In so many ways. This should be <100 eps Shakugan no Shana length maybe)

      If they were going to have four seasons, I really just wish they'd be told that now, so they can write and pace four seasons worth of content. I don't really want to see another 25 episodes which are as poorly paced as the first :(

    -.- Sorry, but after 15 episodes I had to stop. The first half, excellent, but the second part just made we want to break things. Almost as horrible as Engless 8.

    Accel World is better than Sword Art Online.

      No way... there's more action, but basically every single other element is lesser! It's not as pretty, soundtrack is worse, writing is worse, even the cool world in Accel World isn't as cool as the one in Sword Art Online.

      I hated the way they kept introducing new characters and concepts right up until (and including!!) the last episode. The whole show felt like this horrible expository black hole where you couldn't understand or predict anything because [insert new concept here] happens to change the outcome/save the day. It just felt like every second episode had a giant deus ex machina.

      the SAO books are far better than the anime, they anime skips too many details... read them first before you make a decision

        I am honestly finding myself enjoying the anime more than the books.

        The anime has been able to catch the human element much better than the Novel was able to (especially the relationship between Asuna and Kirito). Some of the lines in the novel appear a bit forced for example. I'd blame this on the limitations of attempting to read a translated novel - the quality of the 'writing' will never reach the level needed to convey it better than being able to create the meaning from pictures/hearing the voices ourselves.

        Not to mention the way the story is told makes more sense and builds the character better. It's chronological as opposed to the novels where the 2nd book was short stories inserted throughout the first book.

        The novels themselves lend to giving a bit more detail about the actual mechanics of the game - I remember one or two crucial details were missing from the anime that had me in an "oh!" moment while reading the novel - but overall a lot of the emotions/thoughts are plain on the characters faces and as such they are not skipped as a novel to series adaption often would.

    I thought the start was pretty decent, but by about episode 15 it was a struggle to watch... finished it tho :-\

    I also don't really like the main character.

    This show was enjoyable and the concepts were great - but has a serous case of Shounen Syndrome.

    Keep in mind that Sword Art Online uses 50 (translated) pages or so of novel per episode - it actually crams things in at a non-shounen pace. I have not yet read the Accel World novels, but I imagine there's quite a bit less pages per episode than SOA.

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