Wish fulfillment is a staple of the anime industry, one that has defined it since its earliest days. With anime being stigmatized by association with the broad category of nerddom, it’s pretty much accepted that most anime protagonists, particularly those in light novel adaptations, are meant to be considerably average teenagers with no defining characteristics apart from being slightly nicer than usual and often willing to take in transient girls with magical powers, who often imbue them with that most vague and Captain Planet-esque of all powers, “heart”; all the better for the predominantly male audience to project themselves on. Kevo made a more detailed post on it recently, so go ahead and read that before getting back to this, I’ll wait. Accel World is kind of like that, except the universe doesn’t like the protagonist at all.
Accel World’s main gimmick, aside from the plot, is that the bland male protagonist bucks the trend of identically built skinny boys as interesting as wallpaper paste by being a bit more rotund than usual; imagine OH MAH SHOE, but with buggier eyes and a larger gravitational field. Because of this and a generally meek disposition, he’s being bullied by a stereotypical group of delinquents, which forms the basis of the conflict of the first episode. Also, while everyone else in the alternate online world gets a human or similar avatar, poor Fat Shoe’s stuck as a pig, since the series likes to hammer home the point that Fat Shoe’s little more than a load of pathetic crap in both the real world and online. Wow Accel World, there’s making the protagonist sympathetic and then there’s smearing him with shit and putting a cigarette out in his eye. We get that he’s not going to win any popularity contests, you don’t need to go out of your way to impress that on us.
Fat Shoe’s only defining characteristic, aside from the Hutt-like shape of his body, is his inexplicable Virtual Squash talent. Why the show couldn’t have been about him honing his virtual squash skills to validate his lot in life I don’t know, maybe it felt like he was dealt a shitty enough hand already or something. Anyway, Fat Shoe meets with an attractive upperclassman enthralled with his Virtual Squash, who gives him access to a program that speeds up his thought processes by over 1,000 times. Naturally, he uses this to prepare himself to be punched by his bully because school violence is bad and shit, I guess. And thus ends episode one, with Fat Shoe’s continued feelings of inadequacy permeating his entire being, like a somehow more insufferable Shinji. Somehow I get the feeling the writer and director are more responsible for the kid’s prolonged state of misery than any bully could ever be.
But wait, there’s no need to fear! Before we can begin actually feeling sorry for our sad sack hero, he’s thrown into a fruity metal suit and put in a virtual reality fighting game. Through the magic of tutorials and mediocre drama, he learns to fight and defeat some dude on a motorcycle and maybe he’s not so useless after all guys, and all to keep using his acceleration power! Guess he had the power in him the whole time and nobody even knew. He’s even moved up in the world, no longer hated by fate merely for existing! Now he’s just like every other light novel protagonist, somebody for the audience to be unimaginably bored by to the point that every other inkling of excitement looks fantastic by comparison.
Despite some tonal inconsistencies between episodes and an annoying tendency to play to several clichés at once, Accel World’s a neat little series that’s gotten off to a decent start. I enjoy the roundabout ways that Fat Shoe deals with his enemies, and actually having a main character that isn’t a carbon copy is nice for once. Of course there are many ways that it could improve, and it did occasionally rise to new heights of idiocy, but all in all I wasn’t nearly as disappointed as I thought I’d be. Now if Fat Shoe manages to carve a niche for his personality in the overpopulated stable of generic male light novel adaptation leads, I’ll have slightly more respect for the show. Then again I’ve been disappointed many times before, so I won’t hold my breath for anything as frivolous as “trying something new”. If it made Fat Shoe’s odd Virtual Squash talent the focal point of the show I’d be a little more interested, but since it’s just the same shounen fighting thing we’ve seen several times before, forgive me for not being terribly enthusiastic about what lies ahead… unless it’s mostly Virtual Squash.