Hey you! Yeah you, the humongous loser. Are you a humongous loser? Are you convinced your lack of physical attractiveness is the sole factor preventing you from attracting members of the opposite sex? Is your only skill in life that you’re really good at a computer game? Well now there’s an anime just for you!
Our male lead is a chubby little kid who gets bullied by spikey haired shounen protagonists. He spends the vast majority of the episode whining about his condition, wishing he could just disappear into this video game world. We’re clearly supposed to feel sorry for him, so forgive me if that comes off as false when he already has two friends, one of whom is a cute girl who makes him lunch. Oh dear nobody loves me, except for my two friends who are trying to care for me, aren’t I just the most sympathetic character ever. Also sorry for not feeling particularly sympathetic for fat people when they spend their time running around a virtual sporting environment and then lament the state of the body.
I called Accel World a Shana Clone pre-season, but that isn’t strictly true. For my personal definition of the Shana Clone, the main character needs to be a personality-less everylead who has no defining features beyond the fact that they’re kind of nice. Being a humongous loser is an improvement on that, albeit only if played correctly. A wimpy character has to develop so nice things can happen to them. The alternative is something like Future Diary or Evangelion, where the main character has something great fall into their lap, but their inability to mature means it actively worsens their lives. There has to be a pull/push to this. Something falling into a characters lap and instantly improving their life at no cost is not good storytelling. It’s just wish-fulfillment of the laziest order.
Now with that in mind, let’s take a look at what Accel World does. Main character’s ability at this obscure computer game results in the prettiest girl in the school dragging him over, caressing the inside of his leg and giving him magical powers. He now has to compete in games where the if he wins, he gains extra points in tests and a whole bunch of other stuff. But ooh, does it come at a cost? Why yes, if he loses, he’s no longer part of the game! So, does he get disconnected from the entire network? Err, no. Does he get damaged in the real world, .Hack style? Err, no. Absolutely nothing happens to him whatsoever. The extent of what happens to him is he no longer has bullies after him, he keeps his old friends, and he had a short romantic skirmish with the prettiest girl in school. Oh dear. I feel so sorry for your predicament. Let me play you the worlds smallest violin.
Another thing Accel World appears to struggle with is that it’s a story, not a video game. Yes, I’m aware they are playing a video game inside the world. Thanks, the health bars and attack sheets gave that away. You don’t need to give me a fucking tutorial for every single part of the fucking match. I’m not playing the game, I don’t need to see that sort of stuff. Yet still, for large portions of the episode, our token pretty lady cycled through the rules and regulations on how to attack. Not important stuff that would affect the story. Basic video game rules that we could have figured out for ourselves based on the simplest of visual cues that it gave us anyway. You don’t need to adapt a light novel verse by verse. Use the animated medium to show that stuff a book needs to spell out for you to understand.
Character designs are the same generic noseless shiny people you see all over the place, with the exception of chubby-san. The animation, apart from some neat CG effects in the fight scenes, is bland and forgettable. Heck, if you’re going to be this shockingly blatant about wish-fulfillment, you might as well drop in some service, but there’s not even any of that. It’s an imaginary world for loser males in the real world to drop themselves into, wishing they too had a cute girl come caress their leg because they’re really good at a video game. Blergh.