One of the more popular anime series that aired this year was Accel World, and for good reason. The series is based on the light novels of the same name written by Reki Kawahara and is 24 episodes long. An interesting fact that some people may not know is that it takes place in the same world as Sword Art Online, but further into the future.
Accel World is set in a future where children have devices called neuro-linkers installed on their necks, which acts much like a personal computer that you always have access to. The main character, Haruyuki, is a short and fat high school boy that is often bullied at school and has little self-confidence. One day the school’s “idol”, known by everyone as Kuroyukihime, introduces Haruyuki to a program called Brain Burst. This program allows users to enhance their senses in the real world with the aid of their neuro-linkers and connected devices such as security cameras. The effect is that the user experiences everything around them slowing down, and it is known as “accelerating”. Unfortunately, you can’t accelerate indefinitely or as many times as you wish. Brain Burst is also a virtual MMO and only allows you to accelerate in the real world by spending burst points, which you gain by defeating other players with Brain Burst installed.
Defeating other players also helps you level up, and the first person to reach level 10 gets to meet the creator of the program. This was Kuroyukihime’s purpose for introducing Haruyuki to Brain Burst, so when she asks him to help her, he accepts to repay her for what she has done for him.
As you can probably tell from the plot, Accel World follows a typical shounen storyline where the main characters fight increasingly tougher opponents and power up. Since all of the action in Accel World takes place in virtual reality, it allows the series to focus on powering up one moment and then switch to school life the next. Since Brain Burst accelerates users’ senses, playing it takes mere seconds in the real world. The series is like a combination of two closely related stories in this sense. One is about fighting and powering up, the other is about school life.
The action part of the series contains a lot of cliché moments, like overcoming an opponent’s abilities through sheer willpower and saviors showing up in the nick of time, but does manage to impress some times. In Haruyuki’s first battle for instance, he defeats his opponent using strategy rather than falling victim to poor writing and “discovering” a new ability or weapon. The school life portion takes an interesting approach by focusing on bullies rather than rivals, which are far more common in anime. Haruyuki’s struggle to overcome oppression at school is a great compliment to his growth in Brain Burst. Of course, there’s also a romantic component to Haruyuki’s school life: being caught in the middle of a love triangle involving two of the hottest girls at school. Considering Haruyuki’s appearance and lack of confidence, his situation is unbelievable, but I’m not one to shun a little fanservice.
The one major complaint I have about Accel World’s plot is that it lacks focus. At the beginning of the series, Haruyuki’s goal is to help Kuroyukihime reach Level 10, but then it shifts to protecting Kuroyukihime, helping Haruyuki’s friends, fighting minor enemies, and resolving the love triangle. By the end of the series, if you think about it, you’ll realize that it hasn’t really gotten anywhere. This is a problem common with many anime series based on light novels that are ongoing, but on the bright side, it hints at a possible second season for those that enjoyed the series.
In terms of animation, Accel World is one of the better examples of high quality. Sunrise and Genco did an excellent job making sure that each of the action scenes were visually stunning and attractive. The character designs were also attractive, with the exception of Haruyuki, which looks like he belongs in a completely different anime, but that was intentional. The animation, coupled with music by artists like Kotoko, make watching the series an enjoyable experience.
If you like series with plenty of action and school drama, and don’t mind a story that doesn’t actually go anywhere, then definitely give Accel World a watch.