Irina’s talk about reviews reminded me I haven’t done a manga review yet, so…here goes…
Synopsis: Here’s a series about the virtual world…wish fulfilment and escapism…and a long-haired, elegant waifu which was designed specifically for otaku dreams…
No, I’m not talking about Sword Art Online (henceforth SAO), though they’re by the same creator.
Source material: Light novel by Reki Kawahara (ongoing)
Home magazine: Dengeki Bunko Magazine
Anime?: Yes, in the spring 2012 season
Creator/s: Hiroyuki Aigamo (art), HIMA (original character design), Reki Kawahara (original story)
The instant eye-drawing point in this series is how the protagonist Haruyuki is chubby and a target for bullies – basically, everything Kirito is not. However, while it is refreshing to have this character as a protagonist, the downside is his body is treated as a caricature through a style which exaggerates roundness and shortness. (Not quite “chibi”, since that would require an exaggerated head as well.) He soon switches it out for a sleek avatar though, diminishing what could’ve made this series stand out more.
On the note of portrayal, action is shown in a way that flows nicely, so it’s easy to get lost in. One of the main metrics I have for a good mangaka is for them to be able to draw two panels and make it seem like there is only one if you were to remove the centre line – Aigamo manages that competently.
I’ve namedropped SAO a bit already – you can see the blueprints of Kawahara’s more well-known series written all over this. Normally, wired connection is known to be more secure than wireless and I would assume that goes beyond 2018 as well, so the use of a wired connection to keep Haruyuki and Kuroyukihime in contact struck me as somewhat odd, albeit thematically poignant after a bit of thinking over. The real-life technology is also a bit off compared to what I’m aware SAO has, but that’s what you get when trying to portray 2046 in 2010 or thereabouts…On the other hand, what’s shown for 2020 technology matches images for SAO‘s Nerve Gear, which is a nice Easter egg (although I don’t know if that was Aigamo’s choice or Kawahara’s).
On other story fronts, there’s a few hints of a budding romance plus typical perversion jokes that come with that territory, although most of these seem to be instigated by Kuroyukihime. (Take that as you will.) Furthermore, there is a harem framework forming between Haruyuki’s childhood friend Chiyu, whose boyfriend is Haruyuki’s other childhood friend Takumu, and Kuroyukihime. This story could get messy if it chooses romance over its action or main themes…
On that note, not everything in this first volume is positive. The explanation of Burst Link is a tad clumsy since a lot of exposition is involved, especially from Kuroyukihime. Furthermore, since this is meant to be set in 2046, the use of gamer jargon (“newb” being the most obvious of these) comes off as clumsy as well – that evolves more quickly than the norm, so whoever was responsible could’ve put more effort into changing it up. On the other hand, aside from terms endemic to the series, there’s actually not a lot of jargon, plus any terms which do fit that bill are introduced organically through Kuroyukihime’s explanations, although there is a small explanation of key terms on the contents page if you do get lost.
There are a few panels which are noticeably rougher than they should be – specifically ones involving Silver Crow, due to the high detail required. Panels are laid out to emphasise action and ease of reading. The tradeoff of this is that the dialogue doesn’t read as smoothly as possible – the most problematic of these instances is “I’m sorry.” -> “They do…” -> “…You saved me.”, where only the middle quote is a continuation from the previous page. This seems to come from Aigamo’s and the English-language team’s side more than Kawahara’s, but it’s not noticeable until you pay closer attention.
Overall, I probably ended up liking this more than I thought I would because my opinion of SAO is less than stellar (mostly due to the series’s popularity and status as a punching bag in English-speaking internet circles). Accel World is made up of a lot of the same themes and concepts as its successor, but because it comes from before the successor’s zeitgeist, it’s able to put a spin on some aspects and make them feel fresh.
Check it out if you:
- are a fan of SAO – they work on similar themes, even though both can operate as standalone stories
- like escapist stories, while being sick of light novel adaptions all being isekai
- are a fan of underdog stories – even though this volume is about setting up the series’ core ideas and concepts, it becomes clear this will be Silver Crow’s underdog story later on
Pass on it if you:
- want characters with more body types and stories with more drama – there is more that could have been done with the storyline surrounding Haruyuki’s bullying and weight problems. The end of the volume hints Araya won’t be dealt with beyond the comeuppance you see him have in this volume.
- read “for the art” – although the action is dynamic, the artwork is otherwise a bit plain
- get distracted by harem/romance tropes – they can detract from the story if that’s where your attention goes (especially the scene where Haruyuki imagines Kuroyukihime showering)
Final verdict: This volume is a competent entry point to the series, especially for people who are witnessing it for the first time, and if you’re already on board with Kawahara due to SAO, you’ll probably want to check this out. It does have its faults here and there though, so if you can “turn off your brain” to them you’ll have a much better time.
Information sources/How to read:
- Yen Press (English licensor’s website)
- Anime News Network (anime)
- Anime News Network (manga)
Note for comments: I only know about SAO in passing and as of the posting of this review, this manga volume is the only part of Accel World I have seen, so do be careful with spoilers should you talk about them.