Under Your Radar: Accel World

Welcome to the accelerated world!

Today’s feature isn’t a game. While I did say that I’d increase the amount of games, I make sure to complete everything I feature here (or, in the case of ongoing series, finish everything available in English), so I have to find time to finish more games before I can talk about them… I assume you can tell why I’m spacing them out with some anime now?

In any case, this week’s feature is Accel World, a light novel series that’s received a manga adaptation and two spin-off manga, plus two fighting games for PS3 and PSP, as well as an anime adaptation that ran for 24 episodes until the end of last season and was streamed by Viz Media to Americans (but not Canadians, even though they have the rights, since they use Hulu for streaming). Unlike most anime that came from light novels that I’ve featured, I’ve actually read this one up until the fan translations have stalled, which aligns rather decently to where the anime stopped. Due to this, although I did look up the events of the series beyond that point, I’ll restrict this post to the events up until the end of the fourth book, which is where the anime ended. Those books contain the Cyan Pile arc, the Fifth Chrome Disaster arc and the Dusk Taker arc.

The main cast. Clockwise from the front: Haruyuki “Haru” Arita the Silver Crow, Chiyuri “Chiyu” Kurashima the Lime Bell, “Princess Snow Black” (Kuroyukihime) the Black Lotus, Takumu “Taku” Mayuzumi the Cyan Pile. The two avatars in the background are Silver Crow and Black Lotus

Accel World takes place in a near-future setting. More specifically, it takes place in the year 2046, 22 years after the author’s other, more popular novel series Sword Art Online, which is far too popular for me to ever cover here unless it suddenly drops off of people’s radars. In Accel World, people have something called a Neuro Linker installed into themselves at birth, which basically much gives life an HUD and replaces computers and phones, with additional capabilities that replace other things, such as glasses.

The protagonist, Haru, has no self-esteem whatsoever when it comes to anything but his technological know-how. I do seriously mean none – he even had to look up the word “jealousy” at one point early on (which the anime omitted). His close friends, Chiyu and Taku, started going out which each other at his own insistence, after Taku said he’d cut their friendship off if Chiyu didn’t go out with her (spurred on when he noticed that Chiyu prefers Haru). If that weren’t difficult enough for him to deal with, he’s constantly bullied, just outside of the range of the social cameras (think of them as more sophisticated security cameras).

This all changes when the resident popular girl, Princess Snow Black (not her real name, but the writer seems insistent on not letting us know more than the fact that her name starts with “Sa”), sends him the Brain Burst program, that allows him to slow his perception of time down to the point that it doesn’t seem to be moving. Using this, she gets rid of the bully for him, tricking the bully into attacking Haru in clear view of the cameras and getting him arrested.

The program may sound like a godsend, but it comes with a string attached – it can only be used a certain amount of times, after which it uninstalls itself, can never be installed again, and wipes your memories of its existence. Furthermore, you can only install it if you meet several vague conditions, and it’s invitation-only – each person gets exactly one invite, which is wasted if the person doesn’t meet the conditions or has already had and lost Brain Burst.

In order to get more uses of the program, you have to wager your uses (measured in points) on a full-dive virtual-reality fighting game (think Sword Art Online‘s setting if you don’t get what I mean) that creates a custom avatar for you based on your largest trauma at the time of installation. You gain levels by spending points, and there are benefits/penalties with each one. Snow Black is at the highest level yet reached, level 9, which has the negative effect of causing you to lose Brain Burst if you ever lose. The highest level possible is 10, which can only be reached by defeating 5 other level 9 players, and the creator of Brain Burst will meet with the first person to reach that level. Snow Black enlisted Haru’s help to get to level 10, since she could tell he was special.

And she was right. Haru’s Brain Burst avatar, Silver Crow, is the only flying avatar to ever exist. He immediately joins Snow Black’s guild, Nega Nebulus, with their stated goal being reaching level 10, shaking the status-quo of the people who use Brain Burst. In a sense, you could say that the protagonists are the villains and anyone who appears more evil is simply an even worse villain… though that’s only partially true.

The series’ main focus is on how Brain Burst made Haru more confident in himself, as is made clear by the lyrics to the anime’s two openings:


Chase the world by May’n

The splendor of your presence is all my eyes have ever seen
I’ll take the first step and wake up to a new world

Curling up all the time has made me feel small
I’ve realized that my view is antagonistic
And an assembled diorama of lies

A future of beauty takes off, onward
We’ll all search for the place where we can fly

The splendor of your presence is all my eyes have ever seen
Now I can accelerate beyond myself for the first time

Higher and stronger so I can reach you
I’ll take the first step and wake up, chasin’ the world


Burst The Gravity by ALTIMA

I fly up to the boundless sky, my invisible wings will guide me
That faraway place awaits us, we head toward an unseen future…

Tera faster stage? (Oh yeah yeah!!)
Now you tell me where you wanna go (Accel world!!)

I was always wide awake, the days and nights passing too quickly
Enveloped in the transparent darkness, we are in similar nets (It was the day I found)

I found the wind that day
With trembling passion
And all of my past was a process to meet you
(Around you go slow)

Slowly open up my eyes within the blackness
(The battle field, check the squeal of wheel)
I want the premonition I heard from afar to send my pulse racing
(The beats overwrite my whole life)

It’s unlimited. It’s unlimited. If I can believe myself again
I wake gradually within the light if I’m with you, who had faith in me
Never let it go, never lose my way; the view here is born anew
Even old wounds are now my pride, so together we’ll burst the gravity

Haru starts out with no self-esteem, seeing himself as deserving the bully’s abuse, but he’s got a pretty good handle on himself by the time they reach the fourth book, and the songs reflect that. Sadly, however, his self-esteem started a bit too low for most people, most people dropping the series in response to especially bad moments in Haru’s self-esteem, including his relapse around the beginning of the Dusk Taker arc. Having already read the Dusk Taker arc, even I decided to semi-drop the anime right before it started, so I could just rush through all of the episodes after it was over.

Yeah, the series seems to contain many things that can just plain shoo away the readers/watchers if handled incorrectly. Some of them are mis-handled in the original novels, but some are mistakes done by the adaptations. For instance, the anime’s decisions in animating certain key scenes early on ended up being cringe-worthy. When Haru’s secretly checking the contents of Chiyu’s Neuro Linker in an early episode, he does it with hand movements being done in plain sight. The manga adaptation, at least, has him doing it out-of-view, which is far more logical. The anime tried to cover up this mistake by having Chiyu close her eyes.

Not very bright keyboard placement there, Haru.

Another scene involving sped-up body movement to avoid a car was animated in a way that just makes no sense due to the lazy way they decided to animate the car, mixed with the way they animated the faster-moving person. The scene would have made sense had they either made more effort in animating the car or simply animated the person in a different way.

The anime also chose to omit certain details, one especially noticeable one being the apparent omission of the off-screen breakup between Chiyu and Taku until around half-way through the arc after the novels mention it, with certain other lines being changed to make it look like they never did break up.

There’s also one other thing that just rang false with a lot of people:

I don’t even think it merits saying what that picture is meant to show. Honestly, I didn’t quite seem as ridiculous to me, mainly because the preceding scene to the one pictured was Haru pointing out that she probably hates herself, with her reaction more than implying that he hit his mark with that comment. Besides, you never know, some girls could find him cute (and I recall her saying that she did at one point).

But, for all the problems, the series is host to several very powerful scenes, one of which, the scene before Silver Crow first sprouted its wings, sold me on the series immediately.

A video would have been preferable, but I couldn’t find any that didn’t have edits made by the uploader, so here’s a screenshot.

The main thing pulling the series down for me, though, has and will always remain to be the Dusk Taker arc. The arc could have been avoided quite easily, and it wouldn’t have worked at all if the writer hadn’t put Snow Black in a different city for the entire thing. Even when I tried to watch the second half, my memories Noumi from reading the novels made it so I had to skim several episodes. The dude just pisses me off, making it hard to watch until he gets his comeuppance. Later parts of the arc are better because Haru just plain gets over the main issue he faced at the start of said arc, and his response to being shunned by the entire student body was another scene I found especially powerful in the entire thing.

I’d also like to say that, like every other light novel adaptation, action scenes sound 80% cooler in text form, and decisions make 99% more sense when we’re inside the characters’ heads in novels, but both end up falling more flat when adapted into anime format. The start and end of the Fifth Chrome Disaster arc were especially notable examples for me, but it’s the price paid in the transition – it’s far superior to going the From the New World route (which I’ll explain when it inevitably shows up at the front of my queue after its airing is complete). Also, episodes 18 and 19, which covered a relevant side-story, were poorly timed and should have aired after episode 20.

Verdict

Accel World is among the lower-end of my favourite series. To be perfectly honest, I would buy the novels if they were available in English, and I would buy the DVDs if Viz were to get home video rights. The Dusk Taker arc is the low point to the entire experience, so it’s unfortunate that the anime had to end on that note, but luckily the sales numbers justify a second season. Quite frankly, I like it much more than Sword Art Online.

But this column isn’t about what I like, it’s about whether or not something obscure or overlooked is worth your time. This series has enough things wrong and enough things right to simultaneously be worth your time and not be worth your time. I believe that the characters are multi-dimensional and believable people under the circumstances they found themselves in, with a few details that just plain stand out as unlikely outside of fiction (stuff that’s a result of the near-future setting aside). Haru’s character development is very much appreciated throughout the entire thing. As such, it’s with great pleasure that I grade this series as:

That said, I won’t judge you if you drop it at the Dusk Taker arc. But if you do, I recommend returning for the inevitable second season. The writer making the 3rd and 4th books of his series unreadable, followed by an increase in quality back to the status quo also happened with Sword Art Online, with many similar traits easily found in why both of the series sucked for those lengths of time.

But, fair warning, a harem forms later. Yes.

We’re all living in the gap between one moment and forever. Meeting and parting, in a world where everything changes, everyone’s frantically living their lives. There must be some things that don’t change, but there are some things that change and can never be gotten back. But… we already know. Even if things do change, things start over again, and, as as long as they have the desire, people can always move forward, and they can accelerate.

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