Based on the award-winning light novel by Reki Kawahara of Sword Art Online fame, the manga adaptation of Accel World is a fast-paced and engaging story that combines futuristic “full-dive” virtual reality technology with the everyday struggles of ordinary middle school students.
Short and pudgy Haruyuki is harassed by bullies but refuses help from anyone, especially his childhood friends Chiyu and Taku. One day, Haruyuki logs into the school network to play a game of squash, as he normally does to escape from reality, only to be confronted by the beautiful and popular upperclassman Kuroyukihime. She asks him if he wants to “accelerate,” and with nothing to lose, Haruyuki accepts a mysterious program called Brain Burst, which grants him advantages in virtual reality and real life. Acceleration allows users to move and think so quickly that it creates the perception that time has stopped for everyone else around them. If Haruyuki wants to continue to live in an accelerated world, however, he must fight and win battles against other Brain Burst players.
Kuroyukihime explains to Haruyuki that there are a small number of people, known as the Kings, who have reached level nine, the highest known level in the game. At level nine, the risks of losing are so great that the Kings decided to stop leveling up, each ruling their own kingdom within the game. The Black King felt that this defeated the purpose of a competitive game and betrayed everyone by attacking the other Kings. Kuroyukihime reveals that she is the Black King and she believes that someone close to Haruyuki in the real world controls the avatar Cyan Pile, a dangerous competitor who wishes to annihilate her from the game. In volume two, Kuroyukihime is hospitalized and Cyan Pile shows up, hoping to challenge her while she is unconscious. Haruyuki vows to live up to Kuroyukihime’s expectations and fight on her behalf, even when he finds out that Cyan Pile is his best friend Taku.
The relationship between Haruyuki and Kuroyukihime is interesting. Unlike the trope in which a girl with low self-esteem blossoms when a boy falls in love with her, Accel World focuses on how feelings of low self-worth can affect young men as well. Even the “perfect” and popular characters have their secrets, and Kawahara explores thought-provoking concepts of identity and perception within the story. While the reader may get tired of Haruyuki’s self-doubt, he is a realistic, flawed, and relatable character. By the end of volume two, he finally begins to accept that his friends like him for who he is.
As with Sword Art Online, the technology that allows for a full-dive virtual reality experience is complex, but the particulars are explained to the reader. The Brain Burst battle scenes are drawn in great detail, and the action sequences as characters face off in various virtual settings are easy to follow. The characters have a soft, cute look to them, mimicking HIMA’s original character designs in the illustrations from the light novel. For instance, beautiful Kuroyukihime’s looks reflect her name, which means “black snow princess,” through her expressive eyes and long dark hair. Her avatar is identical to her normal appearance, save for butterfly wings set against a fitted black gown with feathered trim.
Accel World flawlessly combines a coming-of-age story with action, romance, humor, and science fiction. Coupled with gorgeous, shojo-style art, Accel World is sure to be a hit in any teen manga collection, appealing to a wide audience.
Accel World, vols. 1 & 2
by Reki Kawahara
Art by Hiroyuki Aigamo
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9780316376730
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9780316296366
Yen Press, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: T