Review for Accel World: Part 2
Accel World’s first part showed up last month and began the process of turning me to the dark side. The dark side being those anime shows that are based on, and use role-playing-game elements in their stories. It must have made sense to take movies like the Matrix, and games like Warcraft, mix them up and use the results to tell a narrative. As if the fantasy worlds created by anime aren’t enough, now writers create fantasy worlds within those fantasy worlds for their fictional protagonists to escape into and indulge their hidden heroic tendencies. And when you start thinking about the mechanics of such stories, the edges of credibility start to crumble. It’s that which has kept me from appreciating fan favourites like Sword Art Online and .hack. But then, last month, the Emperor in the form of Accel World showed up, tempting me to turn, with a well told story, and a plausible mechanism behind it, as well as a protagonist that differs from the usual anime heroes. Now Part 2 is here, will my journey to the dark side be complete, or will my dad show up in the last episode and throw it down a Death Star shaft. Before the analogy escapes me completely, here’s the review...
A glorious future world has arrived, where the lines between the real world and the online world have vanished. Children are implanted with neurolink technology at birth, the invention of quantum computing has revolutionised the way people communicate, and immersion can vary from total disconnection all the way to a full escape to a virtual reality. The day to day life of a school student is a compromise, with virtual computing and internet access always at their fingertips, the real world overlaid with data to enhance communication.
Even still, some things never change, and for Haruyuki Arita, short, pudgy, and non-descript, his school life is one of being picked on and bullied. His escape is to full virtual reality videogames where his avatar is lightning fast and highly skilled, wholly unlike his real world existence. Even his best friends when growing up, Taku and Chiyu wound up as a couple, leaving him feeling even more isolated, suffering from an inferiority complex. When the bullying gets too intense, he’s surprisingly offered salvation by the school’s most popular girl, Kuroyukihime. She offers to install a program called Brain Burst onto his neurolinker, software that accelerates the mental processes over 1000 times faster than in the real world. That’s enough to effectively pause the world during a crisis situation and come up with a strategy to deal with it. If Haru thought he was fast at VR games before, that’s nothing compared to his skill level now. But there’s more to Brain Burst than just the ultimate caffeine rush. Haru finds himself playing a game where lives are at stake, and he learns that he never really knew his friends.
The concluding twelve episodes of Accel World are presented across two discs from MVM. The show will also be available to buy on Blu-ray.
Accel World gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic native PAL transfer on these DVDs. It’s a Sunrise animation that makes the most of the DVD format. The only flaws might be a smidge of shimmer on fine detail, but otherwise the animation looks excellent, also up-scaling well to large panel displays. The only way to improve on this would be by Blu-ray, and thankfully that is an option for this release. The characters are pretty generic for anime, but likeable and memorable enough. That’s with the exception of Haru, who in terms of character design is an SD character living in a normal world, half the height and twice the width of anyone else, and comparatively lacking in facial characteristics. The animation is smooth and detailed, the world design of the future is intricate and expressive, and when the full-on Accel World take focus, the animators’ imaginations can run riot in terms of character design and expressive CGI.
Accel World gets DD 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese audio, with optional translated subtitles (white font) and a signs only track. The default on these Hanabee authored discs is Japanese with English subtitles. I went with the Japanese audio as always, and was pretty happy with the experience, with the cast well suited to their characters, albeit with a couple of very stereotypical archetypes. The English dub is pretty much standard for anime, flows well and is watchable enough. I felt it was something of a missed opportunity though, given the absence of lip-flaps when characters are communicating via cable link, or in their Brain Burst avatar form. You could have broken away from the usual anime dub style and tried something a little more naturalistic.
Just simple static menus for Accel World. The extras are on disc 2, and amount to the textless credit sequences as usual. You can also check out trailers for other Hanabee titles, including Campione!, The Familiar of Zero, Medaka Box, and Girls und Panzer.
It was all going so well. A show about an online game experience that actually made sense, one which didn’t distract you with questions about how its world works, a show with likeable characters, and appealing interactions between them, and a protagonist that was unlike the usual hero complete with poseable figure, lantern jawed, and tooled up with catchphrases, all made Accel World a show that not only was I interested in, but a show that I was rapidly growing to like. And then along comes Part 2 and throws it all away with a stock villain character, and starts taking shortcuts with its writing that cheapens the show in my eyes, makes it predictable, disposable, and in the end contemptible. The original characters were fine, the way that the story unfolded, the twists and turns it took was engaging and held the interest. It’s just that when the show revealed this half’s villain, Seiji Nomi a.k.a. Dusk Taker that any lingering connection I had to this show vanished. He ruined the whole thing for me, and the only reason I watched it through was to get the review done, and to see him get his comeuppance.
For Seiji Nomi is that obnoxious cat turd on an otherwise pristine lawn, the sole single note cliché in an otherwise interesting and engaging cast of characters. He’s the stock, scumbag character that you see once in a while in high school anime, the villain, the user, the blackmailer, the cheater, the guy who lords his power over others, the guy who licks the girls that he’s abusing and blackmailing, just because he can, the guy who talks too much about how brilliant he is, takes twenty words to explain his plans where only two will do, and the guy who keeps on winning, keeps on humiliating our heroes, pitting them against each other, until the last moment when he does actually lose, and when he loses he goes out like a bitch, crying, pleading, begging for another chance. He’s an archetype that gets wheeled out in anime from time to time, a short cut to creating viewer antipathy, single note, predictable, and utterly detestable.
The problem is that they’ve refined the archetype so well, that you can recognise him from the sneer on his face, the cadences of the voice actor, before he even does anything bad. It engenders an immediate hatred for him that strikes like a Pavlovian reflex, and I wind up wanting the main characters to ignore the law, the rules, the game, the world that they are in, the story as it’s written, and just kill him the minute he appears. The viewer is already at the end of the show at this point. They know where it’s going, and I actually didn’t want to see his power mad ego trip, I didn’t want to see our heroes abused, belittled and humiliated before they finally get their own back. It’s just an unpleasant experience. The only respite is a two episode stretch which follows Kuroyukihime on a school trip in Okinawa (another disappointment in part 2 is that the show separates Kuroyukihime and Haru for most of the episodes.) which takes us away from the Seiji Nomi unpleasantness for a while to deliver something a lot more enjoyable and entertaining.
It’s also a shame about Seiji Nomi as Part 2 also has some interesting ideas, the idea of another way to get online, the equivalent of a dark net in the Accel World game, with certain characters able to come and go surreptitiously, and in a bit of Matrix-esque story development, the realisation that players can transcend the software and shape the virtual environment to their needs, a new layer of attacks and defence called the Incarnate system. Unfortunately these ideas don’t get sufficient development here, and Accel World ends on an open note, no doubt in anticipation of another season, and while there are a couple of OVA episodes that we are yet to see released in the West, there’s been no announcement of that second season. Yet another disappointment is that a plot thread left open in part 1, that of the NPC Chrome Disaster that possessed players, and at a certain point seemed to infect Haru, isn’t picked up in this second part.
Accel World is a prime example of a show that can be ruined for me by just one character. It’s happened to me before with other series, but never so blatantly as it happened here. Maybe that’s a sign of how much I was hoping that Accel World would turn out to be the one anime about a video game that would convert me. But really, Seiji Nomi would be perfectly at home in Sword Art Online, a show that’s filled with his character type. But when he isn’t on screen, Accel World Part 2 does manage to entertain, and I certainly enjoyed the addition of characters like Sky Raker and Blood Leopard. So it wasn’t a total bust.