Set in the year 2046, Accel World sees a future wherein a core new feature has revolutionised everyday life: The Neuro Linker, which is essentially a computer device that, when plugged into the neck, provides a screen overlay within one’s field of vision.
Accel World establishes this futuristic world through the eyes of its central protagonist, Haruyuki, who finds himself being cyber-bullied in an all-too literal fashion.
Before long, we’re also introduced to a virtual reality MMO fighting game, Brain Burst, which provides the user the unique ability to create a 3D-based world which lasts for 16 minutes for the user, yet only lasts a second in reality.
Dubbed the Accelerated World, this setting provides the basis for the series and more rules are introduced, including the usage of Burst Points and being permanently locked out of the game if these points run out.
Accel World quickly becomes an interesting watch and its protagonist Haruyuki, an awkward and shy outcast in reality (which reflects in their Pig Avatar) becomes entwined with Brain Burst when a popular pupil, known only as Kuroyukihime, saves him from a difficult predicament and showcases the true ability of Burst Points.
The early arcs of Accel World focus mainly on Haruyuki as he grows and become more self-confident both in-game and in reality. It’s a fairly amiable journey that allows for a fun storyline that also expands the world lore and mechanics without feeling too much like an info-dump. He also learns to utilise the abilities of his avatar Silver Crow and their flying skill-set.
The second half of series starts off interestingly enough, with Chiyuri joining Brain Burst and discovering her abilities as a healer – an extremely rare skill within the game. Sadly, this is cut short with the introduction of the main antagonist Seiji, a Burst Linker with the ability to cheat in-game who blackmails Haruyuki in the real world and forcibly takes away Silver Crows’ wings.
This essentially puts Haruyuki into a rut that he has to get himself out of, with the idea behind his character’s Wings being “taken” being some kind of metaphor for the newfound self-confidence he’s found as a Burst Linker falling apart.
The journey Haruyuki takes is still a fun ride and allows for a host of new supporting characters to be introduced, including several new members of Black Legion (the group Haruyuki and and Kuroyukihime belong to), and the return of personal favourites like Ash Roller, an over-the-top Skeleton Biker who plays a small but important role in Silver Crows’ true awakening.
Looking more at Seiji, whilst his backstory and abilities aren’t bad for a antagonist, his personality and blackmail plot feel underwhelming and his smug behaviour grows to be a bit tedious. He ultimately isn’t an interesting enough character which is a hindrance considering his role as the Big Bad.
Despite this and some other aspects of the story being less engaging, like some of the fanservicey moments and Haruyuki’s more whiny moments, the final episodes do come together with an open enough end to allow for a movie later on (which partially recaps the events of this series before introducing new content.)
There is also a two-episode arc that acts as a nice breather in which Kuroyukihime ends up spending her Okinawa vacation time with two young Burst Linkers; it’s a nice change of pace and is one of my favourite parts of the second half.
Looking at Accel World’s supporting cast, we have Haruyuki’s childhood friends Chiyuri and Takumu who form an emotional bedrock throughout the series as they all struggle to keep their friendship stable and rekindle the closeness they had as children, whilst also dealing with the events within Brain Burst.
There’s also Yuniko/Scarlet Rain who is initially antagonistic to Haruyuki but takes on a tsundere-esque role and becomes a valuable ally later on, and Fukko/Sky Laker, a girl obsessed with the desire to fly and possessing a tragic backstory that drives her to help Haruyuki at his lowest point.
Kuroyukihime and Haruyuki’s relationship is interesting in that there’s a sense initially of Haruyuki being used to benefit Kuroyukihime, though as things progress, they grow closer and form a more substantial bond as Haruyuki’s understanding of Brain Burst increases and he improves his personal abilities both inside and out of the game.
By the end of the series there is a sense of actual progression, as opposed to the “will-they-won’t they” teasing that can sometimes plague anime couples.
Enhancing these characters is some solid voice acting, including Yūki Kaji’s likeable performance of Haruyuki and Sachika Misawa’s multi-faceted portrayal of Kuroyukihime. I also enjoyed Shintaro Asanuma’s turn as Takumu and his sympathetic portrayal of a flawed individual struggling to find meaning, both in-game and in the real world.
Looking at the direction for the series, director Masakazu Obara (My-HiME/My-Otome/My-Otome Zwei) does well to showcase the technical flair and style present throughout Accel World. The animation from Sunrise is often visually pleasing and detailed, giving nuance to big battles and smaller moments, as well as distinctive designs like Haruyuki’s portly appearance.
Accompanying the pleasing visuals is the score from composer Hiroyuki Oshima, alongside contributions from Japanese hard rock group Mint Jam and Onoken.
The two OPs, “Chase the world” by May’n and “Burst the Gravity” by Altima are decent enough and the EDs “→unfinished→” by Kotoko and “unite.” by Sachika Misawa (Kuroyukihime’s VA) also suit the tone of the anime.
The Blu Rays feature the 24 episodes split by 8-4-8-4 on BD50 and BD25 discs and were authored by Australian company Hanabee. The picture generally holds up well, as does the audio.
The on-disc features include Clean OP and EDs and trailers for other Blu-ray releases. Sadly these discs are missing the character artwork extras and shorts that were present on the US discs.
Overall, Accel World presents an interesting MMO concept which is explored through the eyes of a likeable protagonist whose relationships and hardships form the emotional bedrock of the series. A shame the second half and its villain character didn’t impress me as much as the initial set-up.