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Friday, 22 August 2014

Accel World

Accel World.

Advance warning: This will be one of those reviews where I complain about how the creators didn't have the decency to actually end their story and instead decided to just stop it. If you want to know precisely where Accel World stops, in terms of storyline, I can tell you that it's before the resolution of the main plot, and before the resolution of almost every subplot, but after the resolution of a short arc that mostly served to introduce a set of villains.

Good job.

Anyway, set in the future of the Sword Art Online world, where being hooked up constantly to a virtual reality net has become common, Accel World follows a boy named Haruyuki who, being short, overweight, and socially awkward, is a pariah in real life – but has extraordinarily quick reflexes in VR games. It's these reflexes that bring him to the attention of Kuroyukihime, the Most Popular Girl In School and Student Council Vice-President, who reveals to him the existence of a VR game like no other: Brain Burst.

Having Brain Burst installed allows the user to accelerate their cognitive processes even in real life, making it a valued (and secret) resource for its users. Kuroyukihime isn't interested in this: She, one of seven Level 9 players known as the Kings of Pure Colour, wishes to reach Level 10 and discover the secret that is apparently hidden for whoever can attain that goal – and she wants Haruyuki to help her. It's this goal that has led to Kuroyukihime becoming the most hated person in the game world, as in its pursuit she killed the red king, causing him to be banished from the game forever. 

Oooh, wings.

Cor, that was a long summary.

It's a complicated premise, I'll grant, but then, it's a complicated show. While Sword Art Online has quite a narrow focus on Kirito and Asuna (and while I have many issues with SAO, that isn't one of them), with the various worlds they inhabit being interesting, but often very deliberately only fleshed out just enough to provide what's needed for those characters' stories, Accel World is about the world of Brain Burst more than it's about its characters.

It's a good look for Kawahara Reki, author of the light novels that both Accel World and SAO are adapted from, as while the man is wholly capable of producing interesting, three-dimensional characters (Sinon in SAO, for example), he seems to be terrified of using them as lead protagonists, instead preferring the most boring characters he can.

Because Haruyuki isn't that interesting. He's better than a lot of protagonists, that's for sure: He's flawed, he struggles, and so on. He's also utterly charismaless – to an audience, not in-story. A character, especially a main character, needs to engage an audience in their struggles, and while a large part of that is actually having struggles in the first place (which Haruyuki has down pat), an equally large part is being likeable, and likeability tends not to be defined by whether a character is a good person (as Haruyuki certainly is) but whether they have the charisma to appeal to an audience. It's why Gregory House and Loki are, despite being objectively awful people, beloved by fans.

Also, he's drawn in a completely different art style to everyone else.

Haruyuki also seems to suffer from the same issue a lot of anime protagonists have, that never gets any less boring: The 'every woman who comes into contact with him seems to fall for him, and I'm not entirely sure why' problem. It's not as bad as, say, Kirito's case of it, but the boy does have some three or so suitors, at least one of which is young enough that it frankly makes me extremely uneasy, and I'd rather not talk about it too much for fear of feeling a little nauseous.

So that's the big, gaping issue with it. The characters. Haruyuki doesn't have a particularly good supporting cast either, actually: Kuroyukihime is quite interesting, with a mysterious past and a conflict between the cold facade that she projects and a warmer exterior, but the other three members of the main cast are either dull (childhood friends Takumu and Chiyuri) or creepy (new red king Niko).

All of which might make it sound like I don't like Accel World, and it's true that I have mixed feelings about it. To be honest, there are worse crimes than a boring cast, though, and Accel World has a lot of positives. The worldbuilding is fascinating and excellent, setting up the world of Brain Burst in a way that's intuitive enough for most watchers to grasp it quickly, while deep enough that there's always more to discover and theorise about. Brain Burst, and the mystery behind it, is the driving force of the series, and there's a trickle of information about it that's just enough to keep an audience interested in finding out more.

(Not to mention, the idea of a virtual reality game that will generate a personalised avatar for you based on your traumas is just – well, a little terrifying, but also kind of cool, and with a better cast of characters could be the basis of something exceptional.)

Ooh, sword.

The animation is consistently gorgeous, especially during fight scenes, and the soundtrack is genuinely striking, with the two combining together to make some very memorable dramatic moments. Some of the minor characters, even, are actually pretty interesting, although they don't get enough screen time to really make it worthwhile. So it's not a series that is anywhere close to perfect, but it's a series that people should maybe take a look at.

Except, of course, that what you'll be looking at is a tiny chunk of a longer story, that ends suddenly in the middle of several unresolved plot threads, with very little chance of a second series and very few translations existing of any of the source material. I really can't describe how much this annoys me, and it's something that Attack on Titan did too, although we do at least know that it'll be getting a second series. If you know that you're not going to have enough episodes to cover your source material, or even come close, then edit. Diverge from the source material. Do what Fullmetal Alchemist did when the anime creators realised they wouldn't be able to keep up with the manga and split off into your own story.

It is terrible storytelling to just go 'okay, time's up, guess we're stopping here, soz.' It's the height of laziness, and it suggests that you don't actually care about your audience.

Ooh, energy blast.

Yes, I'm still bitter.

Goddamn Accel World. 

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