Haruyuki is not having a good life. Short, over-weight and bullied at school he seeks solace in unpopular games in the increasingly networked world. All that changes when an older girl; the never named but always referred to as Kuroyukihime takes an interest in him. Utilizing a mysterious program called Brain Burst allowing for a heightened and accelerated mental state, Kuroyukihime is able to frame Haru’s bullies and introduce him to a close-knit underground fighting game. A game only accessible to the young, created by persons unknown. Each fight deducts and awards points. Lose all your points and Brain Burst uninstalls and can never be regained. There are ranks and factions and the ultimate prize; level 10 – where a singular victor might find the creator and learn the program’s purpose. The only snag is it requires defeating the other rank nine players cutting them off from the program.
Accel World is written by Reki Kawahara and was much later entry to the same competition Sword Art Online was too long for, though this time the book was actually entered and won the prize (leading to the older novel’s publication). Like SAO it has been adapted to both manga and anime. It is also (though only alluded to so far) set in the future universe of SAO with more refined man-machine interfaces. As much as technology has moved on, the human characters are very recognisable. As is the author’s predilection for harem building scenarios.
The novel as a fantasy is hard to ignore; a lot of the novel is concerned with Haru’s relationship with the two named female characters. Both Kuroyukihime and Chiyu are presented as highly attractive and highly desirable girls. Both seem to have a vested interest in Haru (in Chiyu’s case the author tries to pass this off as close friendship – which doesn’t really gel with the uncomfortably intimate cabling scenario in Chiyu’s bedroom). Unlike SAO there is no detailed or salacious description of either girl’s body, but the novel’s illustrator picks up the slack with an imagined scene from Haru of Kuroyukihime showering and Chiyu’s underwear clearly visible in the bedroom scene.
This is also the victory of brains over brawn; Haru’s bullies are both physically and mentally abusive (restricting him to a tiny pig avatar) and so he hides himself away in the least popular games available on the school’s internal network – squash. This at least brings him to the attention of Kuroyukihime and gives him a better life. One where Kuroyukihime is quite clearly infatuated with him though he cannot allow himself to believe she possibly could be. This is after the overtly close act of allowing hard-wire cables to connect the two of them together on multiple occasions (taken as read by anyone witnessing it as a close and intimate relationship. Despite numerous excuses, the incident with Chiyu has a forced intimate feel given the cable is just thirty centimeters forcing extreme closeness for use. Not that this doesn’t come with its own series of caveats; Haru is doing this purely to look through her files with the suspicion that she is the mysterious Cyan Pile – the one person capable of exposing Kuroyukihime from her hiding place.
The novel has benefitted from time, and is more focused. It also meanders much less and focuses on a tighter time-frame. These are all good things (this is well before the frustrating second anime arc). As with SAO the technology is not quite right all the same. Quantum entanglement as a method of interacting with the human brain appears to be part of the hand-waving of just why the Brain Burst executable cannot be reinstalled after a critical loss. Nor why there has been no attempt to decompile or otherwise examine its functionality. By its very nature, it is a stunning achievement of programming – a method of temporarily accelerating a human consciousness to previously unknown speeds. And it is used for (of all things) a fighting game – one that can be conducted in the space between an eyeblink. Its tempting to view the past history of SAO as having some bearing on the probable and possible identity of the creator (both Kirito and SAO programmer are not out of the question), but actual connections back to SAO are mostly tangential – noting the older hardware that is more familiar from the earlier generation.
One of Accel World’s best aspects is the integration of hardware into the future society. Students connect to the school network on arrival and their virtual interfaces have become the way each and everyone interacts. This is a future where life has been augmented by technology – just as with the implied intimacy of the direct cabling, the future tech here has been woven into everyday life.
Accel World is an interesting glimpse of a technological future – not one where humans are bound by reliance on technology, but rather where it has augmented and assists with everyday life – for better or worse. If not for the awkward harem business this would be easy to recommend. Suffice to say not all is smooth sailing as future plot developments begin to get frustrating. For now; a good start.
Accel World: Kuroyukihime’s Return is available from Amazon.