After a lacklustre filler arc, Accel World is back and firing the main thrusters.
Boy, I'm glad to be able to say that. In case the entry for episode 19 hadn't clued you in, the Okinawa filler arc left me cold and depressed. Psychological depth None. Drama None. Fanservice Besides the point. I'm probably not the only fan to be glad to see the return of the Dusk Taker arc, which seems to be the jewel of the Accel World adaptation so far.
Starting where we left off, Haru and Taku are doing battle with Nomi - aka Dusk Taker - the possessor of the most intimidating rape face this side of Hinamizawa. Everything is going well for them, until a familiar face enters the battle field. It seems that Chiyu is using her Lime Bell's healing power to help Nomi wipe the floor with pretty much everybody. Taku rushes in, trying to be the Ace, but the newly regenerated Nomi turns his avatar to scrap metal. It goes without saying - Haru's current situation is a massive ball of suck.
Until an ominous voice starts telling him to 'devour' Nomi. The visuals seem reminiscent of Eva at this point, and the sudden flashes of roughly etched kanji evoke something feral in this destructive voice. Haru's colour palette shifts towards red - something that even infects his real face - and he pulls a flying leap that reminds me of EVA01's berserker rage. After Nomi calls him a sneak (Pot Kettle ), the battle timer runs out and everyone is forced back into the real world.
After a little pep talk from Taku - who gives splendid reasons for not punching Nomi in his smug face - the boys confront Chiyu. Anyone who loved her genki-sprite character can see how cold and evasive she has become. Cryptic, too: apparently, she joined Nomi because she wanted to, and says she's playing for points from now on.
Now we head towards my favourite aspect of Episode 20. After watching from the beginning, we finally get to see how much Haruyuki has grown as our unconventional protagonist. The Pizza Scene, as it shall be forever known, shows Haru giving a pep talk to Taku. This is serious business, especially since the neglected third of the pizza reminds them how great the distance is between them and Chiyu....
...okay, that's really a scene that must be watched and not described. It makes sense in context.
Anyway, since his introduction as someone who can't accept help from his friends, Haru's growth is really propelling the Accel World anime right now. Rather than moping, he can analyse what's going on and plan his next move. He notices that Chiyu, a non-gamer, is suddenly interested in points and grinding - she must be planning something, or be under Nomi's control. Immediately he decides that Taku needs to learn the Incarnate system, and begins working through lists of possible teachers, before the two settle on the Red King Scarlet Rain. And to make things more spectacular for Haru, he is losing his stutter.
You know what In anime terms, this episode is heading towards Serious Business. With capital letters.
Know what else is serious business Haru's nightmare self. Whatever possessed him in his fight with Nomi is still around, and leads him to some dangerous conclusions. Like, if Haru cannot fly and catch up with Kuro, he should tear off her wings and bring her down to his level. Haru's as disturbed as the viewer is - the Nightmare Pig's rage face probably worked on him as well - but after a cool-down hug with Kuro, he's revived and ready to plan his defeat of Nomi.
It's great that Haru has his game plan, because Nomi seems determined to ruin his social life - leaking the bathroom camera incident to a few people around the school campus. This earns him a beating on the school rooftop, as well being completely shunned by people he doesn't even know. Haru's determination to take down Nomi is powerful, though. It's clear that the human doormat is gone, and his will to claw back up makes the conclusion to this episode compelling.
So, final thoughts. For the first time in a long while, I found that the end of this episode came way too soon. That's the sign that an anime is worthy in my books. From the angsty beginnings of the series, the main cast has really grown, becoming mature characters able to stand up for themselves. It may sound soppy and cheap, but this is gives Accel World a real boost. This feels like the last emotional stretch of a marathon, and if the creative team behind AW keep the pace going, I would personally hand over the gold medal to them.
Okay, enough gushing. If you're using this review as a crib sheet, close this window now and watch the episode. This week will not pass quickly enough for me. I am ready to Accelerate to Episode 21 right now.