Anime of Tomorrow
Accel World (review)
Final impression – smart action, sharp story (9/10)
Spring 2012 to summer 2012 (24 episodes)
Haruyuki Arita was your atypical rotund kid. The target of bullies and dealing with self-esteem issues, he at least has a few good childhood friends to make his life bearable. But one day, the gorgeous and unapproachable student council president, Snow Black (yes, that’s really the name she uses) offers Haruyuki a chance to break free of the chains the world has placed on him. After installing the program Brain Burst, given to him by Snow Black, he becomes a burst-linker—someone who can accelerate his mind beyond normal perception to react to situations in ways that would normally be impossible. But each use of the program costs a point and recharging will require him to enter the battlefield that is the Accelerated World.
Accel World has everything a shounen action anime needs to be good, plus a whole lot more that makes it great. One of the things I love about this anime is that it gets you thinking in some very creative ways right from its very premise. The thought of slowing down time—or more literally, accelerating your perception of time—is not only exceptionally original, but proves to be a flexible enough concept to allow it to keep expanding its usefulness through granting access to new abilities and rewarding out-of-the-box thinking. This subtlety of the powers granted by the Brain Burst program is where this concept’s true strength lies. To truly master the system requires a burst linker to come to terms with the scars of his or her past, which is manifested in his or her duel avatar.
As much as I talk about how important aesthetics are to me when it comes to anime, Accel World’s choice to cast a short, plump, weak-willed, generally unattractive young man as the protagonist was both daring and genius. His flaws are huge and conspicuous, leaving Haruyuki plenty of room for growth and opportunity to overcome challenges as the story progresses. But this rather simple starting point pales in comparison to the metaphoric dichotomy that is Haruyuki Arita, the slow and tubby junior high school student and his sleek, shiny and fast duel avatar, Silver Crow.
Rarely do we see the manifestation of someone’s desires visualized so clearly, and since all the characters are a part of this system of emotional scars that take on an incarnate form, this entire anime becomes one big canvas for depicting each character’s backstory through it’s visual design—even if it’s only speculative in some cases. In this way, I could appreciate this series far beyond its beautiful art style.
Since Brain Burst is at its heart a fighting game, it would be a shame if Accel World didn’t have some excellent action scenes. And once again, it delivers in this area as well. From more simple, straightforward fights that give the message that in battle using your head is just as important as using your fists, to bigger, grand melees that have a pace to them that tests players’ abilities to read the battlefield and adapt to the pace of the fight, there’s no shortage of excellent skirmishe punctuated at the right times between the daily lives of the characters.
One thing about the fights that disappointed me slightly was that towards the end of the series things start to lose the cleverness that filled the earlier fights in favor of something more akin to a dry battle-of-wills where the winner just wanted it more. But it never gets obnoxious because the focus always remains on the characters and they never feel defined by their powers—rather just the opposite, because the players are the ones who give their powers form.
One of the things about this series that I think shouldn’t be overlooked is how deep its premise really goes. Being able to accelerate your time and interact with people to grow and mature at a rate several orders of magnitude faster than is normally possible makes you wonder about these children’s futures. The obvious advantage of their abilities is to analyze situations in detail and essentially, “cheat time” but they can also develop themselves mentally. Are some burst linkers already many years ahead of their peers with respect to their maturity? Will they accelerate through their childhoods and become adults far sooner than they otherwise could were they not given the Brain Burst program? This even challenges our definitions of what it means to be an adult. Can we really define that developmental stage in a person’s life correctly in a world of young people who experience time at a different rate compared to the rest of us?
The story has a few flat spots that I felt messed with the pace a bit—most egregious being Snow Black’s trip to Okinawa—but if that’s my only complaint, I’m not going to hold it against this otherwise brilliant series. Most pleasing is the ending that leaves things open to the possibility of continuing, but has none of the failings of a cliffhanger. It’s complete and brings everything to fulfillment. Instead of leaving you wanting more, it’s simply the impression of “well that’s the end of that chapter. Life goes on and maybe someday I’ll get to see more.” But more doesn’t feel necessary. This makes Accel World one of my top shounen action anime in recent years.