October 15, 2012 by Julia
(spoiler warning for Accel World)
Accel World is a 24-episode anime series from the 2012 spring season; Viz has licensed it for NA release, and it was simulcast on Hulu as it aired in Japan. It is based on a light novel series by Kawahara Reki, which is still ongoing. Based on that fact and the huge chunks of missing plot in the anime, I expect a second season.
In this future, each person has a what is basically a modem (called a neurolinker) installed in their necks, so they can log onto computer networks and the internet directly without the need for a machine. The main character, Haruyuki Arita, is a short, pudgy geek boy who gets picked on at school. He frequently escapes into the school’s computer network, where he plays a virtual squash game at which he is very good. One day, however, he logs on and sees that someone has beaten his score. This person soon reveals herself as Kuroyukihime, an older, very pretty and popular, girl.
Kuroyukihime tells Haruyuki that she is impressed with him, and has selected him for a gift. She installs a program call Brain Burst into his neurolinker, which turns out to be a life-changing experience. Brain Burst allows you to speed up your thoughts in the real world so fast that everyone around you seems frozen while you make decisions. Each “acceleration” takes one Burst Point, though, so you need to have duels in the virtual world with other Burst Linkers to get more points. Anyone else with the Brain Burst program (there aren’t many) who is on a network can challenge you if you log on to the network.
It turns out that there are seven “kings” of Brain Burst who have reached level 9, out of a possible 10; the rumor is that once you reach level 10, you get to meet the creator of Brain Burst and find out why it was created. The caveat is that once you are level 9, if you lose even one match, you lose all your Burst Points and the program uninstalls–so all of the kings declared a truce about two years earlier. The black King, Black Lotus, wanted to fight, and ended up killing the red King and becoming a traitor. You will be unsurprised to find out that Kuroyukihime is Black Lotus, of course.
The series starts off with Haruyuki pledging to help Kuroyukihime reach level 10, takes a short detour through middle school/Brain Burst drama (Haruyuki’s best friend’s boyfriend turns out to be a Burst Linker, who tries to spy on Kuroyukihime but ends up joining her instead), has some great fight scenes as the gang fights some out-of-control demon armor, and spins its wheels for a good 13 episodes as everyone fights a villain who is way harder to defeat than he ought to be (with another detour, this time to Okinawa).
I was enthralled with the series during the first half; I thought the virtual world and its politics were interesting, and I wanted to learn more. Although Haruyuki’s character was obviously geek boy wish-fulfillment, for which Kuroyukihime was necessary, I kind of like her against my will. Yes, she is unrealistic, but I still believe that (within the confines of her fictitious world) she honestly cares for Haruyuki. Also, she is badass without being mean, selfish, or unreasonable, which is seriously rare for women in anime (or fiction in general these days).
Despite it being clear to me from the first episode that Haruyuki was there to stand in for the presumptive viewers and fulfill all their desires for their ability at video games to get them sexy older women, Japanese male viewers recently listed Haruyuki as the second most annoying male in anime. I guess maybe they got annoyed at how passive, wimpy, and ineffective he was, and thought that were they to be in his shoes, they would have been SO MUCH cooler. Of course. (For the record, Haruyuki’s passivity did not bother me very much, because Kuroyukihime was not a raging bitch. Haruyuki never had to stand up to her, and when it came time to defend her, he did his job)
The first half of the series introduces the game mechanics, and we see Haruyuki level up and develop his relationships with his friends. I loved meeting new Burst Linkers and seeing their different special attacks. The story of the demon armor was compelling as well, and the final fight with its user was REALLY good. The added touch of political tension hovering in the background–but only rarely mentioned–was a good idea, so the focus stayed on the flashy fight scenes.
My problem with the second half of the series was how gimmicky it felt. Whereas I believed the fist half as Haruyuki learned how to use his in-game powers and forged relationships, I felt like the second half was one huge plot device. First of all, Kuroyukihime spends the ENTIRE TIME in Okinawa, on a week-long school trip. Yes, the entire second half of the series takes place over one week. This is achieved by cutting to her adventures in Okinawa for two episodes, and harping on the fact that a week in the game world is only an hour or so in real time. The villain is this middle school student who shows up to blackmail the main characters into giving him Burst Points . . . by tricking Haruyuki into going into the girls’ bathroom and videotaping it, planting another video camera in the bathroom to be found by the girls, and threatening to tell the school administration that Haruyuki planted the camera in the bathroom. This is his genius plan, which works. They refuse to call Kuroyukihime for help out of what appears to be manly pride, but what I suspect was really a case of plot-device-itis. They level up and go through all sorts of hell to defeat this kid (I don’t want to give away too many spoilers!), who really doesn’t deserve all the effort, and when you finally learn it, has a kind of stupid, played-out backstory. Blah.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I liked the series. The animation was top-notch, the supporting characters were intriguing and had deeper motivations than standard supporting characters, and I’m very interested in the world and the political intrigue between the kings. The friendship between Haruyuki, Chiyuri, and Takumu is touching, and surprisingly emotional. Also, there are several outstanding plot issues (not least among them, the fact that no one has yet reached level 10, despite the promise of such at the beginning of the series), and I definitely want to see how they are resolved; if there is a second season, I will absolutely watch it. I just felt the second half of this season was of a noticeably lower quality than the first half in terms of the writing, that’s all.