Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Dec 4th 2013
Blu-Ray - Set 1
Haruyuki feels like a loser – he's short, pudgy, and really only good at games played in the Virtual Reality that is the new world normal thanks to devices known as neuro-linkers. One day his high score at virtual squash is summarily defeated, causing him to panic. His vanquisher is a beautiful upperclassman known as Kuroyukihime, and she invites him to meet her in real life. Once he does, she introduces him to a mysterious VR fighting game called “Brain Burst” which allows its users to essentially pause reality by reaching unbelievable speeds cognitively. The only catch? If you are defeated too many times, you lose your “burst points” and the game automatically deletes itself, never to return. And what would happens to you if you lost your power to “accelerate the world?”
It is 2046. Roughly fifteen years ago, humans developed a technology known as “neuro-linkers,” which take the form of collars that allow people to be always connected to an increasingly integrated Internet. Neuro-linkers allow you to type on virtual keyboards, move icons around, and even help correct your eyesight, to say nothing of the amazing entertainment possibilities. Everyone now has a real self and a virtual self, created by your own self-image. So what does it say about series protagonist Haruyuki that his avatar is a roly-poly little pig? Despite what are some potentially crippling self-image problems and rock bottom self-esteem, Haru soon finds himself lunching with the idol of the middle school, a third-year student known as Kuroyukihime. Kuroyukihime immediately throws him off balance by wanting to “cable link” with him – to use a cable to connect their neuro-linkers so that they can communicate telepathically. Once he agrees, she introduces him to a special program called “Brain Burst,” a VR MMO fighting game that somehow connects to one's brainwaves, allowing users to access an accelerated world. When the program is accessed, each real world second is equivalent to 16 accelerated world minutes. Players gain more of the points that allow them to accelerate by winning fights against other players in the game's dystopian virtual world. If a player loses all of his points, the game automatically uninstalls and cannot be reinstalled ever again.
While this may seem like yet another iteration of the “real game” genre which has been so popular of late – and indeed its base novels are by Reki Kawahara, author of Sword Art Online – there is more going on here. Avatars in Brain Burst are said to draw upon one's latent abilities and other personal perceptions, so no player knows what he or she will end up with once logged in. Haruyuki becomes Silver Crow, with the helpful attributes of that metal (impervious to poison) as well as the downfalls (easy prey to electrical attacks). More perturbing, however, is the way the technology and the game affect the denizens of the show's world. There are distinct similarities between Brain Burst and the attendant ability to accelerate and any other form of addiction – I equated it with drug use. The powers granted to “Linkers” allow them to excel in the real world, spending weeks perfecting something while mere minutes pass by, and there is ample opportunity to use it like a steroid, enhancing one's physical prowess. Corollary to that is the panic Linkers feel at the thought that they might lose the game. There is a clear sense that the players depend on the accelerated world to somehow sustain themselves. At one point one of the characters says, “The more time you spend playing Brain Burst, the less you care about your life in the real world,” and the more high level players we meet, the clearer that becomes. Brain Burst may be a game, but to its addicted players, it is much more than that.
This same technological dependency can be seen in the everyday use of the neuro-linkers. Just like today it can be difficult to tell if someone is talking to themselves or using a blue tooth, we frequently see characters waving their hands around in the air or making typing motions on nothing, which is strange and unsettling, to say the least. At one point a character decides to wear glasses rather than use his neuro-linker to fix his vision and is made fun of for it, showcasing attitudes maintained by those who have, in the show's words, had the neuro-linker installed since birth. Along these same lines, the use of the cables is interesting, as it allows the users access to each others' data – and possibly brains. (It is unclear at this point how connected the two are.) There is an obvious sexual connotation to cable linking, which makes one scene with Haru and female friend Chiyu a bit disturbing.
Fascinating as this all is, Accel World suffers from a very talky first few episodes. Kuroyukihime as a character generally tells far more than she shows, and it feels like large chunks of these first twelve episodes are spent listening to her talk while we watch Haru react. She herself is a difficult character to like, as there is the definite suspicion that she is holding some major information back – including her real name. “Kuroyukihime” essentially translates to “Snow Black” (Snow White is translated into Japanese as “shirayukihime”), which implies something less than innocent about her. There is some good visual symbolism with her name, however, with one episode placing her in a glass coffin like healing pod at a hospital and another having her lose consciousness and “fall asleep.” Haru's short stature in comparison to hers also works with the Snow White theme.
Artistically Accel World is fascinating. Real world scenes are bright and clean, making a distinct contrast to those inside Brain Burst, where everything is rusty and ruined, taking us from a utopia to a dystopia in the blink of an eye. Avatars both in and out of the fighting game are widely varied and may have more symbolism than we at first assume, although for the fighter with the large drill between his legs, we may not want to think too much about it. The Brain Burst avatars are particularly interesting, and the closing credits give different artists credit for different models. Aqua Current stands out as an especially good avatar, although all are remarkable in their differences. It helps that the animation is fluid and attractive in both worlds.
Viz has done a remarkable job in matching sub voices for the dub, with very little difference in cadence or register between the English and Japanese tracks. Erik Kimerer's Haruyuki is shriller than Yuuki Kaji's, and Vic Mignogna's Yellow Radio a bit more on the swishy side than his Japanese counterpart, but for the most part both tracks are equally strong. Strangely the dub has Haru calling Kuroyukihime “sempai” while the sub writes it as her name.
Accel World's first twelve episodes introduce us to a world where tech is seamlessly integrated into everyday life and shows us both the positives and the negatives of that. There are some dark implications for Burst Linkers and the idea of technology addiction that help to give the show an edge over its genre brethren. Part school story and part science fiction dystopia, Accel World is a visually interesting, darkly fascinating story that draws you in and keeps you watching.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Interesting addiction parallels, nice visual changes. Background music is more than just “there.”
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