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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Initial Thoughts: Accel World

The year is 2046. Haruyuki Arita is a young boy who finds himself on the lowest social rungs of his school. Ashamed of his miserable life, Haruyuki can only cope by indulging in virtual games. But that all changes when Kuroyukihime, the most popular girl in school, introduces him to a mysterious program called Brain Burst and a virtual reality called the Accel World. (Source: Viz Media)

Spoiler Alert: Review contains some spoilers/plot details for the first episode of Accel World. Read on with caution!

Accel World is probably going to be one of those titles that gets a lot of attention and has a divided viewer base, all because it is based around a chubby unpopular kid who retreats to video games when real life sucks too much – and said kid happens to catch the attention of the most beautiful and popular girl in his high school. But this might be the show I blog about from this current season on a semi-regular basis. It is currently hitting a good deal of my storytelling kinks while being terribly entertaining, further cementing my feelings about this spring’s anime titles.

So, what is it about a fat kid like Haruyuki who can only find solace in the virtual world that has me wanting to blog about it every week like some kind of regular anime blog?

Read the rest of my thoughts after the jump!

First, the animation is pretty damn nifty. I quite like how the virtual world is designed, especially Brain Burst and the various levels of it we see in the first episode. Sunrise is doing a good job with CGI in Accel World; the blue frozen state of the Accelerated World is probably my favorite bit of animation so far. It really does look like reality frozen in place. Plus, Brain Burst looks just like an online RPG, complete with HP stat bars and loading screens.

The character designs are okay, nothing particularly special. Kuroyukihime has the vague look of Shakugan no Shana’s character title. Haruyuki’s two friends are cute but don’t really stick in the mind yet. I do however like the look of Haruyuki, although I’m left wondering why his face isn’t like everyone else’s. I also have to wonder how much of him we’ll be seeing once the focus of the series inevitably moves to the Brain Burst world and the action shifts to Haruyuki’s virtual self – who looks nothing like his real life self. It will be interesting how his three selves – his real life self, his Brain Burst Self, and his original virtual (pig) self – change as the series progresses.

Kuroyukihime so far is an enigma wrapped up in pixiv bait. Why is she so attracted to Haruyuki? What is it about him that makes her connect to him in such an intimate way, going so far as to induct him into the world of Brain Burst? It does not seem like Kuroyukihime is being completely truthful with her intentions. Everything seems like the shonen version of Madoka Magica, and Kuroyukihime is the quasi-kuudere lady Kyuubey come to ensnare our Mahou Shounen Haruyuki into a violent game for his life.

The story itself has not really gone anywhere beyond the basics – young boy is bullied, young boy is offered chance to escape terrible life, new world appears! – but what we see so far is pretty interesting, especially concerning Haruyuki. He’s not the most likeable protagonist at first, seemingly unwilling to see his own situation for what it is, but the further time spent with him, the more his real character comes through. 

And, to be completely honest, I can feel for Haruyuki. I can feel for someone who feels isolated in a world connected by technology, wishing to escape the physical world by diving into the virtual and excel at something that no one else can (even if it’s something other people would find laughable, like Haruyuki’s squash scores), feeling alone even when around the acquaintances that are supposed to be his friends.

And that is why I’ll be watching Accel World, and why I think on a base level a lot of people will be watching it as well. Haruyuki is like a lot of people in the average anime audience. He just wants to be accepted and be loved and find his own world where people like him, but his own insecurities as well as society’s shallow judgments of who he is on the outside are holding him back from personal fulfillment. 

I’m sure a ton of people watching have at one time or another made their own escape into an online game or community where they can feel a part of something bigger and better than themselves. It’s that kind of connection between the protagonist and the audience – the idea that anyone is capable of breaking into a new world like Brain Burst – is what makes Accel World so attractive to viewers.

Plus, those neural computer systems they use? Are freaking awesome. If 2046 rolls around and we have nothing resembling this in existence, I’m gonna be seriously pissed at science. Come on, guys! First you fail at flying cars, now this? And it is terribly environmental-friendly, considering how few physical components it takes to connect online. Do you think Haruyuki reads light novels on it? Of course he does.

You can watch streaming subbed episodes of Accel World either on Viz or on Hulu right now!