Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Novel 5 - The Bridge Floating in Starlight
Now that Dusk Taker has been neutralized (and the BIC users' existence revealed), Haruyuki and the other members of Nega Nebulous are on to new adventures – like the existence of an outer space field in the Accelerated World, courtesy of the installation of Japanese social camera technology on the space elevator. Haru and Kuroyukihime figure out precisely when the new field will appear, netting the group a spot in a special race event, but Rust Jigsaw, one of Dusk Taker's compatriots, also shows up. This not only jeopardizes the race, but it also makes Haruyuki and Kuroyukihime look deeper into their reasons for being in the Accelerated World...and what shadows may lurk in Haruyuki's soul.
Since the first Accel World novel, Reki Kawahara has fostered a suspicion in the reader that the kids who become caught up in Brain Burst, the program that allows access to the accelerated world, are trying to make up for something lacking in their lives. It hasn't always been subtle – in his early novels, his craft isn't strong enough for that – but themes of longing and addiction have been played out in each storyline, making for an uneasy backdrop to the sci fi adventure tale. Now in volume five, subtitled The Floating Starlight Bridge, the story not only goes beyond where the anime adapted, but also delves deeper into the reasons why the players have access to (and a yearning for) the accelerated world in the first place, confirming some of those niggling suspicions.
With the defeat of Dusk Taker, and the subsequent erasure of all of his memories of Brain Burst, it looks as if things are back on track for Haruyuki and his friends. The exportation of Japan's social camera technology looks as if it is going to enable players to experience new, and quite possibly foreign, terrain, which is exciting, and even as he's getting worked up for that, Haruyuki is contemplating how to help his friend and second master Sky Raker to fix her avatar. Both of these factors lead to he and Kuroyukihime figuring out where and when the next field will open – an international space elevator granting access to a scientific research station beyond Earth's atmosphere, where the social cameras have been installed. The elevator will pass through Japan, connecting the cameras to the network, and Haru is fairly sure that this should allow players to go there in the accelerated world. Naturally this proves to be true, and Haruyuki and Blood Panther of the Red Legion manage to be the first two to arrive. It turns out that a special event has been arranged for them in the form of a ten team space race, and both players grab a special shuttle and the right to participate. This sets the stage for the macro-plot of the book: exploration of a new field and a different kind of battle for the gang. It also fosters both of the subplots – helping Sky Raker and the more interesting question of the emotional scars Haruyuki harbors within him.
Since the start of the series, a fair amount of attention has been paid to the fact that Haruyuki was badly bullied in his recent and slightly more distant past. It's been easy to assume that this is the basis for his dissatisfaction with the real world, and it certainly is a contributing factor. But there is more to it than that, and some of Kawahara's strongest sections are when Kuroyukihime begins to tell Haru her theories about the burst linkers. She notes that children who had neurolinkers “installed” at birth eliminated many of the worries of child care for their parents: the machines monitored their vital signs (thus removing fear of SIDS), told parents when and why they were crying, and basically just took care of all of the reasons why a parent would closely monitor their baby. This led to parents being able to lead their lives sans child, basically having a kid and then treating them like a pet. As a result, a generation of children began to grow up without as much human interaction as they needed to become emotionally healthy and well-adjusted, thus inducing them to search for those things elsewhere...like on the Internet, where, with VR technology, they could find “meaningful” human contact. Obviously there are problems with this, but it does offer an interesting critique of a too-connected society and the idea of a programmed childhood. It also plays with the orphan fantasy in children's and young adult adventure fiction: Haruyuki is a virtual orphan rather than a real one; his mother's constant absences do allow him the adventures, but instead of going on them for fun or out of physical necessity, he goes out of emotional need, and if she was around more, he might not need Brain Burst at all. This goes back to early indications of addiction in the story, as well as drawing some interesting connections with the fact that all of those who have had their memories of the accelerated world expunged seem to be very happy.
Also of note in this volume is the relationship between Haruyuki and Kuroyukihime, which appears to be moving forward under her direction. Not only does she really open up to him emotionally – which has the result of her basically explaining that she goes by “kuroyukihime,” translated as “Snow Black,” because she feels sullied, or rather, no longer “snow white,” on the inside – but also physically. There's a sleepover scene where the two direct link their neurolinkers via cable that sounds almost like a sex scene. This all does have the unfortunate result of Sky Raker becoming jealous, adding a harem aspect that the story really doesn't need, as it distracts from more important scenes of Haru coming to realize just how dark his emotions really are.
Accel World, like Kawahara's other big series Sword Art Online, is steadily showing improvement in both plot and writing. While it still feels clunky in some of the action scenes, which tend towards overwriting, and characters tend to retreat into being cardboard cutouts when they aren't the main players, it is also beginning to explore its world and attendant implications much more. If you've stuck with it this long, the payoff is really starting to reveal itself as the story moves ahead into uncharted territory.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Lots of pictures, story begins to explore the implications of its world and the effects on the characters much more. Writing has improved markedly.
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