Okay, so it's no secret that I am a massive fan of Sword Art Online, another anime/manga/light novel series with a very similar subject matter to Accel World. It's also no secret that when I heard that the writer of SAO, Reki Kawahara, made another VR-Game based anime series set in the same continuity, I was buzzing to watch it, and I have to say that this was just as good, if not better than SAO in so many aspects.
Now, I am going to start off by talking about the characters. Most anime series nowadays have very cliche protagonists with basically the same appearance and personalities (and I include Kirito from SAO in this), but Accel World has a very unique main protagonist called Haru.
He's a short fat kid who's bullied at school and retreats to the world of online gaming as a means of escape from his harassment, and who only has a very small circle of friends. I honestly feel that much of Haru's personality, dialogue, motivation, and struggles throughout the series are some of the most believable and relatable I have ever come across in any character in any anime, and I say this as a guy who was bullied at school and went through much of the same stuff (though I never really became a gamer). I particularly found a lot of his monologues in which he doesn't believe that Kuroyukihime actually has feelings for him (when she does), because he's so used to everything being a joke in his face, to be very touching and believable because these worries were something that I also went through as a child and they are definitely why I never had a girlfriend at school (so the complicated nature of Haru's lovelife in this show kinda makes younger me a bit jealous)...
Anyway, we also have a supporting cast of very solid, well-developed characters with believable struggles and motivations and experiences, and a lot of them at times do really surprise you, but in ways that align with their personalities. I don't have time to write about every character in this show and why they are all so great, but each one of them is so well written and so well developed that I honestly could write an essay on each of them. In addition, their English language voice cast were spot-on perfect, and I particularly commend the performances of Erik Kimerer as Haru and Lucien Dodge as Mayazumi.
But where would our heroes be without a great villain, and boy does this show have one flat-up superb villain, a creepy as hell sociopathic sadistic 14 year old kid called Nuomi Seji (voiced in the English dub by the exceptional Amanda C. Miller), who uses a chip implanted into his brain to access the Accelerated World, and uses some very clever manipulations to blackmail our protagonists into his servitude.
Nuomi just chews up scenery, and is one of my favourite villains in any anime series, even if the characters aren't in real danger the vast majority of the time.
One thing that this series gets right is the investment that these characters have in this virtual world, to the extent that to many of them, it is their life. I was really worried when I first heard about this series that I wasn't going to like it because it was just going to feel like watching characters playing an RPG, and what's more boring than that?
But this WASN'T like watching characters playing a video game, because of how much of their lives rested on their being able to be in this world, all the battles were exciting and boy were they well animated.
In fact, the fight scenes were better animated, more exciting, and more flat-up AWESOME than ANY of the ones in SAO, and a lot of people only watch SAO for its fight scenes. This show was animated by Sunrise (those fantastic folks who brought us Code Geass), and while they couldn't quite replicate the sense of a grand scale that the background artists for Aniplex provided for SAO and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the animators in Accel World still did a fine job of designing some truly magnficent virtual worlds, and created some of the most well animated action scenes I have ever seen, as well as some of the most human facial expressions on such simple animated characters. These guys are so unbelievably talented that I cannot commend them enough, so I'm gonna talk about something else instead:
So, regular readers of my blog know how much I hate bath-house scenes in anime and how much I can't stand when female characters are overly objectified. This series does a great job of poking fun at other shows that do that, with a scene in one episode being of particular note [I don't have the clip, sorry] in which Yuniko and Kuroyukihime shower together in Haru's apartment, and he starts imagining a VERY over-repeated scene [He thought to himself "How would this work in an anime?"] in which he would disturb them, see them naked, and have shampoo thrown at him. When he decides to do this, he finds that they are already in towels and out of the shower. That is literally it.
You might be thinking: "Why the hell is Dan praising this one scene so much? It's not even that funny.", but this scene was just so clever and it clearly came from someone who was just flat-up sick of the exact same unnecessary scenes coming up again and again in other anime series, just like I am.
This smart, unconventional mould-breaking humour is one of the things that makes me admire Reki Kawahara so much as a writer, and I know that he gets a lot of criticism, but I just don't understand why. He's a great writer who knows how actual humans think, treats female characters equally to male ones, doesn't objectify them, gives realistic dialogue, and is able to perfectly balance corniness with darkness with humour to create some of the most perfect anime and manga that I have ever come across.
In fact, the only time a female character is seen naked (Chiyu, one of the show's most interesting and well developed characters), it's not a piece of gratitious fanservice like 3/4 of the stuff in HsotD or Kampfer, it actually served a key purpose in the plot and the scene's repercussions were major and a key part of Nuomi's blackmail.
Trying to keep this review spoiler free is hard, but I will say that the ending was open for a second season, or for you guys to start picking up the manga and finding out what happens next for yourselves first. In fact, Rei Kawahara is currently at work on season 2, which surprisingly will not follow the continuity of his original manga, and will introduce plenty of new characters. Honestly I cannot wait to watch season 2 and re-enter Kawahara's awesome world once again.
So, was there anything you DIDN'T like about this show Dan?
Well, yes. I thought some of the dialogue was a bit melodramatic later on in the show, and I had a slight problem with the fact that the theme song felt the need to keep injecting English language phrases into it which made no sense in context, were poorly pronounced (so it was difficult to tell what was English and what was Japanese), and I'm sure that this is just as confusing in Japan.
Oh, and I don't see what the point was in keeping Kuroyukihime's real name a secret from the viewer. We basically know her history and there's nothing sketchy about her personality, so keeping a name a mystery just seemed pointless (I think the same thing about keeping C.2.'s name a mystery in Code Geass)
That's it. The only three ridiculously minor things that I don't like about this show.
Now FREAKING WATCH IT ALREADY people!