Sword Art Online is one of the most famous light novel series of all time. Since its release in 2009, Reki Kawahara’s tale of virtual worlds and those trapped within them has entranced audiences worldwide. The franchise quickly expanded into games, anime and manga, with a new film called Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of a Dark Dusk planned for release later this year. However, one of Kawahara’s other series – which is linked to Sword Art Online – is not as well-known despite being a fantastic story in its own right.
The first Accel World light novel, released in 2009, tells the story of Haruyuki “Haru” Arita, an ugly young man who is often mocked and bullied by his peers. To escape from his life and various problems, Haru plays games. Using a virtual reality system called a Neuro Linker to log into his school’s cyberspace, he plays virtual squash alone. However, his growing skill soon catches someone else’s eye.
Haru’s exceptional talents soon attract the attention of Student Council Vice President Kuroyukihime, who introduces him to a secret project called Brain Burst that aims to massively speed up human cognition. This increase in cognition speed means that time seems to stand still for the user, allowing talented Brain Burst players to stop time for themselves.
However, Brain Burst is not a simple piece of software that can be activated at will. Rather, it’s an augmented-reality multiplayer fighting game where the winners earn Burst Points. These points can be spent to gain access to cognition acceleration powers in the real world. However, if a player loses in Brain Burst, they are banned from it and unable to use it again.
Once Haru wraps his head around this concept, Kuroyukihime shares her plan: to reach level ten in the game by beating the Six Kings of Pure Color, hoping this will allow her to meet the game’s creator and learn its true purpose. However, as the pair set out on this mission and fight together, they will form a bond beyond an alliance of convenience, leading to both of them reconsidering their lives.
Accel World quickly garnered acclaim, with its first light novel winning the 15th Dengeki Novel Prize. After this, it was turned into a manga by Yen Press and then an anime adaptation by Sunrise. The series, which consists of 24 episodes, 2 OVAs and a film, developed a dedicated following who are desperate for a second season. Fans praise Accel World for its stunning visuals during combat sequences, fascinating characters, and a gripping but simple plot that avoids many issues that similar shows fall into. This is helped by the show’s length, which keeps the story moving at a brisk and eventful pace.
Though Sword Art Online continues to go from strength to strength, Accel World often gets overlooked. Interestingly, because both shows contain elements that appear in the other – and even reference each other – fans debate whether they are linked or occur in the same universe. Kawahara has previously denied this, but it has led to some questioning if he is pulling a spectacularly long con that will culminate in a big reveal.
While Sword Art Online is great, it is a shame that Accel World has remained in the shadows for many. The series deftly shows Reki Kawahara’s talent as a writer, giving a unique take on several VR and digital world tropes while also presenting a gripping story that is enjoyable in its own right. Even those who can not stand Sword Art Online may end up liking Accel World‘s fascinating premise, and for SAO fans, it’s the perfect way to pass the time until Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of a Dark Dusk hits screens.
Accel World is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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