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So, seeing as Azeriraz and Racoons are covering Sword Art Online, I feel I should provide an in depth (if belated) review of Accel World. It's another Dengeki Bunko offering and coincidentally, Kawahara Reki is the creative mind behind both series.
What is the deal with Accel World From episode one, we pretty much discover the series' identity in the first few seconds: technology has evolved to the point that junior high school students are hardwired into the internet, tapping away at interfaces only they can see. The hero of the piece, Haruyuki, is an unfortunately tubby boy, and is being bullied by his obviously evil classmates. (Ones that are suprisingly computer literate, and able to make a custom bullying message attachment. Seriously, bullying is so advanced in the future.) Haru clearly isn't a Shonen hero - he is a good two or three foot shorter than everyone else, and his main weapons appear to be Online Game Skills and an unerring dedication to grammar.
The theme of the series appears here, BAM. Haru wants to escape the normal reality where he is useless, and reach faster and faster speeds. He wants, in an unsubtle title drop, to accelerate.
Enter Kuroyukihime, who invites him to 'accelerate more' at the lunch hall.
After engaging in the technological equivalent of tonsil hockey, Kuro sends Haru 'Brain Burst': a secret program that will, in her words, destroy his reality. Haru downloads it - because who wouldn't - and there is visual explosion that shows that the artistic department of the studio deserve a raise.
With the new 'Burst Link' command, Haru can now enter a version of bullet time - the Accelerated World of the title. Thanks to this skill, and Haru's amazing ability to follow instructions, he gets his bullies suspended and a relationship upgrade with Kuro.
Did I mention that this bullet-time skill is a side effect of a totally immersive massively multiplayer online game Yeah. So Haruyuki is gifted with a sleek metal clad robo-body in this new digital world, where he needs to fight more, so that he can accelerate more. It's that kind of series.
So, for the sake of newcomers and Sword Art Online pilgrims, what is the charm of Accel World
Well, to you SAO fans, it's more of that stuff that you like by the people you like.
It does lack the sense of immediate impending threat that seems to seep out of Sword Art Online. The Brain Burst game was not designed by a complete ass, like the SAOMMO had been. There is no physical death so far in this series. Heroes and villains bust up their Duel Avatars, with the only threat being the loss of bullet-time fuelling points. Then again, that's not the style of Accel World - what's important in Accel World is desire.
This is another great application of the themes I mentioned earlier. From episode two, we learn that the avatars used in Brain Burst are extensions of the user's psychological trauma. The avatar takes the fears and desires, and weaponises it into an ideal digital self. For example, Haruyuki's fear of inadequacy becomes a desire to escape the bonds of reality - which results in Silver Crow, an avatar set to become the fastest character in the game. And if he runs out of points, his avatar is deleted, and his one chance to break his bonds will disappear forever.
You can stop there as a viewer, if you want. Personally, I find that most of the fun from this series comes from watching the form of the Duel Avatars. It feels like a game of amateur psychology - the form of the humanoid fighters can be used to guess the weaknesses of characters from the get go. Cyan Pile reflects his users' desire to remain the Ace, appearing like a knight in armour. The current Red King, a typical tsundere type, shields their weak body with a massive firing platform. And Kuroyukihime's avatar implies intimacy issues - the hands of Snow Black have been replaced with threatening sword edges.
Okay, the last one is speculation. But that's what makes Accel World interesting. The visual psychological canvas makes for a good game of mad, wild guessing until the truth is revealed. And, since I am loathe to spoil this game for others, I am going to leave out any spoilers from this summary.
Of course, if you don't like this aspect of Accel World, I would have to say that the series is not going to win you over as a battle manga. The battles are beautiful, yes - hats off to the art department. However, our heroes tend not to win by tactical advantage in general. As mentioned before, Haruyuki's forte is speed, and he will often use it to spam-attack his enemies. This is appropriate for a series like Bleach, but in the teen angsty Accel World, it comes off as a little shallow. At the time of writing, archenemy Dusk Taker is probably the most complex Burst Linker. He not only uses his abilities to gain a physical and psychological advantage in-game, but abuses his 'perks' in the real world to control his opponents.
Seeing as I have brought up angst again, I should warn you that Haruyuki does approach Shinji Ikari level once or twice. This is inevitable, due to his unabating inferiority complex. When he is not suffering from Chronic Hero Syndrome, he is immobilised by his inability to find goodness in himself. Whether all of his breakdowns are justified is subjective. A lot of Haru's character growth comes from learning to rely on himself, to turn the negatives into positives. This is successful in episodes 2, 5, 11 and 12, if memory serves.
However, there are a number of episodes where Haru backpedals. In the words of puppets, Haru feels junior-high angst and begins to take it out on people he likes. Anyone watching the first episode will probably notice the angst sandwich - Haru is bullied, lashes out at childhood friend Chiyuri; Kuroyukihime introduces Brain Burst, Haru feels better; then he thinks Chiyuri and his best friend Takumu pity him, and he lashes out against them. His inability to take complements or accept praise means that his friends regularly have to set him straight. Special prizes go to Takumu, post episode 6. Despite having a sizable angst bomb on his hands, he overcomes it and frequently snaps Haru out of his self-destructive thoughts. (Chiyuri does this as well, but more in a 'friendship speech character' manner.) Unfortunately, trying to diffuse certain situations become especially hardgoing during episode 15 - a 6.3 on the Shinji scale.
Unfortunately, in a cast that is exclusively 15 years old and younger, angst is something that Accel World can't escape. Sword Art's varied cast means that even background characters tend to be varied and diverse, especially in terms of age range. Accel World's 'Only Teenagers Play' rule limits the series in this regard. If you wished for a mature cast, you are sadly refused one.
Okay, so those are my main criticisms. If you can deal with teen rage, there is fun to be had in the Accelerated World. If you like Sword Art Online, and you want to catch up with more work by the same people, Accel World is equally well written. As I have said before, the theming of the series binds it together well. It is packaged prettily with attention to minute details. The main cast of character is endearing, if you can stick around for the whole thing. If you can be patient, Accel World is a great offering for the end of this season.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to accelerate to the next episode.