ACCEL WORLD – PART 1 / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: VARIOUS / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: ERIK KIMERER, KIRA BUCKLAND, LUCIEN DODGE, MICHELLE T. HSEIH, SARAH WILLIAMS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
In the near future where emerging technology allows the information grid to be directly accessed by the human brain via neural implant, people now spend just as much time in the virtual world as the real one. Haru is a short and overweight schoolboy with crippling self-confidence issues whose only solace is his skill at online games, but after a beautiful older girl known only as Kuroyukihime invites him to join MMO fighting game Brain Burst, his life begins to change. Players accumulate Burst Points from winning fights that can be used as a kind of neural enhancement, where the user’s perception of time in the real world can be slowed (one second equating to sixteen minutes), allowing them to do almost anything.
The world building of Accel World is fantastic. Each episode reveals something new about the realm of Brain Burst as Haru is introduced to it, progressively building our understanding of the rules and laws by which it operates. The locations the characters cross into upon entering the virtual world are dystopian reflections of the sterile brightness they left behind. Rusted, crumbling and shadowed, they wouldn’t look out of place as background shots in Blade Runner or Silent Hill’s Otherworld. A person’s avatar and abilities are automatically created from the user’s personality, meaning that no two are ever alike, although in some cases, such as one character having a four-foot drill dangling phallically between his legs, it’s probably best not to think too much about it.
It’s not uncommon for an anime’s protagonists to be teenagers, but the show gives a neat justification for the lack of any adults in the virtual battlegrounds. It’s stated that only those who have had a neural implant since birth can access Brain Burst, and with the technology being only 15 years old, any prospective candidates therefore cannot be any older, which justifies the petty and vindictive behaviour of some of the characters.
Haru is something of a wish fulfilment character for teenage boys. Introverted and bullied, his prowess in the online world as Silver Crow eventually leads to him becoming respected and admired while also having several pretty girls fighting over him. Kuroyukihime remains something of an enigma, while her goal of overthrowing the Six Kings of Pure Colour (high-level players who rule Brain Burst’s territory) to attain the highest level possible in the game and her past actions as the fighter Black Lotus and the renegade seventh King reveal much about the history of Brain Burst’s world.
There is a good deal of darkened subtext to much of the show that, while not explicitly addressed, is also in no way disguised. For many of the Burstlinkers, their life revolves around the game and so while they may not be fighting against genuine death, getting defeated too often incurs losing access to the game, which at the risk of being a little melodramatic, is for them much the same thing. In this respect the game is like an addiction, at one point the Red King observing, “The more time you spend playing Brain Burst, the less you care about your life in the real world.” Likewise, the use of Burst Points is comparable to performance enhancing drugs as they allow people to think and act at speeds they would otherwise be unable to, while their accumulation becomes a compulsion since they would be lost without them. There is also an odd moral inversion to the plot that doesn’t seem to be properly addressed. Black Lotus – a selfish, treacherous, power hungry warrior looking to overthrow a peaceful regime for personal gain – is actually the big bad of the story, while the other Kings banding together to stop her are like an alliance of nations standing against a megalomaniacal overlord. However, this perspective is never directly pointed out, and we are somehow continually drawn to root for people who are, if not entirely villains, then certainly antiheroes.