Friday 28 September 2012

Anime REVIEW: Accel World

Accel World Anime Cast Haruyuki Arita Silver Crow Kuroyukihime Black Lotus Chiyuri Kurashima Lime Bell Takumu Mayuzumi Cyan Pile Yuniko Kōzuki Scarlet Rain

Ever wanted a bit more realism to your video games? Well Sunrise's (Gundam, Cowboy Bebop and more) latest anime adaptation not only gives you an insight into what this might be like, but also perhaps provides an eerie look into the way technology will be in the not-too-distant future. Based on a light novel series of the same name, Accel World is a 24-episode series which aired between April and September 2012. Just to bring the franchise full circle, it will also be adapted into two games - one for the Playstation 3 and one for the Playstation Portable.

In the year 2046, Neuro-synchronization, a technology system that allows humans to manipulate their five senses, has become widespread to the point where people can access the Internet and enter virtual worlds through a device known as a Neuro-Linker. Haruyika "Haru" Arita is your typical stereotype - a small, overweight boy with self-esteem issues due to constant bullying. To escape the torment of real life, he logs in to the school's virtual world network where he plays squash alone and always gets the highest score.

Accel World Anime Kuroyukihime Pig Haru Haruyuki Arita
Kuroyukihime meets Haru in the virtual world

This all changes one day when he meets the mysterious "Kuroyukihime", his school's Student Council Vice President and all around popular girl. She offers Haru a programme known as "Brain Burst" - a secret program which allows a person to make time appear to stand still by "accelerating" their brainwaves in the real world. Unfortunately, there is a limit to how many times a person can accelerate since each acceleration costs "Burst Points" and the primary way to get more points is to fight and defeat other users in the program's massive online fighting game. However if a user is defeated in battle and loses all of their points, the program uninstalls itself, block all future reinstallation attempts and wipe the user's memory of it.

Accel World Anime Silver Crow Haru Haruyuki Arita Avatar Brain Burst
Silver Crow, Accel World's first flying avatar

Under the guise of the avatar "Silver Crow", Haruyuki fights with Kuroyukihime (known in-game as Black Lotus, the Black King) to reach the highest attainable level of the game (level 10). To do this, they must defeat the other level 9 users, the remaining five "Kings of Pure Colour".

Right from the beginning Accel World presents a very interesting setting - computers are obsolete, and people are able to bring up their emails or surf the web at a flick of their wrist. Its a believable future, and the idea of being able to seemingly physically engage in online virtual games through the use of an avatar is an integral theme. This is shown on two different levels, with the network avatars being either cutesy animals (Haru as a pig) or animal-human hybrids of themselves (Hime's "iconic" butterfly appearance). On this level it all seems like a bunch of Facebook flash games brought to life, but as Haru delves deeper into Brain Burst the visuals take a very different form. Avatars are robotic in appearance (sometimes without any facial features), and the world itself can be anything from a wasteland of burning buildings to lush field or ocean. From an animation standpoint Sunrise are on top of their game at capturing the three different worlds the anime has to offer, even if the middle one is almost entirely forgotten as time goes on.

Accel World Anime Black Lotus Kuroyukihime Avatar King Brain Burst
Black Lotus, the Black King

Unfortunately, the story isn't quite as crisp as the art. Its an ambitious tale with much planned out right at the beginning, but nothing ever seems to really go anywhere. Episodes repeatedly consist of an extensive info dump to begin with, following with a decent bit of build up and then a fairly impressive cliffhanger. But then when you come to the next episode, the cliffhanger has either been all but forgotten or fizzles out within the first five minutes. The story is constantly advancing, but lacks any real punch. Instead it just plods a long when it should be coupled with as much flashiness as possible. After all it is a fighting game they're playing.

Accel World Anime Scarlet Rain Yuniko Kōzuki Red King Brain Burst Avatar
Despite her small stature, the Red King Scarlet Rain is armed to the teeth

But as serious as the plot may seem, the fact remains the whole show is about a video game. Upon discovering Brain Burst, Haru's friend Chiyuri is quick to respond that its "only a game" and that they shouldn't treat it like real life, but even she eventually falls into the trap of everything seeming like a life or death situation. When characters respond to real-life blackmail threats by devising a plan to beat the blackmailer online, it really does spoil any illusion the show has. If I took anything away from this show, it wasn't the importance of friendship and trust - it was the cast of Accel World take video games far too seriously.

Accel World Anime Dusk Taker Seiji Noumi Villain Avatar Brain Burst
Dusk Taker, the "bad guy" of the show.

With a conclusion that explained nothing the series seemed to set out to do there's every possibility that a second season is on its way. In some ways I welcome that - there's still a huge story to be told and many questions left unanswered. But on the other hand, despite its good looks, this season had very little to be praised about. If Accel World is to truly climb out of the realms of mediocrity, it isn't just the characters than need to level up...