Accel World: Signal Fire at the Water’s Edge

By Reki Kawahara and Hima. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jocelyne Allen.

A lot of what I’ve seen in Accel World has been the author recognizing, lampshading, and attempting to either fix or downplay the faults that we’ve seen in his previous series, Sword Art Online. The lead here, Haruyuki, is if anything even more powerful than Kirito, but while Kirito does have inner turmoil (something the anime was not that great in bringing out), Haruyuki is all inner turmoil. Kirito spends most of his time in SAO either solo playing or reluctantly partnering up; Haruyuki cherishes working with people and forming friendships. Also, while Kirito may be your typical light novel hero and amass a harem of girls who like him, Haruyuki is short, stout, and has twice the number of girls after him. And what’s more, with the exception of the current Alicization arc, Kirito’s problems tend to be easy to solve, while the Accel World narrative never quite wraps anything up, and things just continue to snowball forward in one broad narrative.

Niko is on the cover, and it has been a while since we’ve seen her, even though the book is filled with reminders that the last several books or so have only happened over a period of a few days. She shows up as some other Brain Burst user, who seemed very similar to Kuroyukihime, was being evil, and thus some of her legion took it upon themselves to challenge Nega Nebulus (which now has a new addition as another old face we’re already familiar with returns to the fold). It’s all a misunderstanding, but reminds us that the Acceleration Research Society is still trying to get their way, which involves parasitizing as many users as possible with ISS kits, including sadly a very familiar face. Niko shows up in order to apologize for the rash actions of her legion and also add some muscle in their fight, along with Pard. And they’ll need the help, as they decide they can’t afford to wait any longer, they have to attack Metatron NOW.

The book, as always, is well written, with lots of funny moments, good fights, and emotional scenes. My favorite scene was probably the most chilling, though, which is where Niko notes how safe they feel around Haruyuki. She’s quite to point out that it’s not that he’s a “nice guy” per se, it’s just all female-type avatar users have a certain fear of being found in the real world, and Haruyuki, who knows a ton of them, doesn’t trigger that fear. He cares about what they think, and listens to what they say. For an author who I have yelled at for going to the “rape as drama” well far too many times, this is a surprisingly nuanced take – and all the more chilling for it, as all these girls are 15 years old or less by definition. It’s something that girls have to deal with every day in our real world, and it’s sad and yet very realistic that even in the future, female gamers still risk getting attacked.

The author lets us know this is going to be another multi-book arc, though honestly, as I noted above, this book feels far more like one long narrative than SAO ever did. I really want to find out what happens next. The 14th book better arrive soon.

Accel World: The Red Crest

By Reki Kawahara and Hima. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jocelyne Allen.

Why do we play fighting games? That’s the question being asked many times over the course of Accel World, and the idea of winning and losing seems to linger in some people more than others. Certainly in the case of Wolfram Cerberus, it’s a matter of life and death, especially as, for some odd reason, his Accelerated form seems to have multiple personalities, a la the legendary dog it’s named after. For others, it’s a way to bond with friends, such as the new character we meet here, Chocolat Puppeteer. Sadly, her friends have been infected with ISS kits, which leads to a chilling new revelation: you can now be infected against your will. Fortunately, Haruyuki and Chiyuri (and it’s nice to see the two of them team up without an overdose of sexual tension) manage to help her and temporarily save the day. Unfortunately, that just means that the enemy changes their focus, and the reader realizes that yes, this is another 4-5 book arc.

As for Kuroyukihime, we finally get the answers we’ve been waiting for since the first book – why did she kill Red Rider, and what drove her to leave her family? The answer turns out to be the same thing, unsurprisingly. Kuroyukihime may be strong and a guiding light to Haruyuki, but she’s also horrible at anything regarding subterfuge, much less outright lying, so it’s no surprise that she’s played like a sucker by White Cosmos. It’s nice to see Haruyuki has matured enough to take this calmly and offer support, even when she’s sobbing on his shoulder – a few volumes ago he would have been a total wreck. (It’s possible the author saved all the total wreck parts for the short story at the end of the book, which features 200% more Fuko teasing than normal, but also goes into the circumstances of her birth and dealing with being born without legs in the real world.)

It’s looking as if things might come to a head at the school’s culture festival, which may turn out to be a disaster as they’re all supposed to be keeping their real-life identities secret. As is usually the case with Accel World, the battles are well-written and concise, and I rarely find myself getting lost in technobabble. (It’s very clear that he wrote a lot of this after he had more experience, whereas Sword Art Online sometimes shows off his immaturity.) I’m not entirely sure if this will wrap up in the 13th book or not – at least, this particular arc, I’ve no doubt that White Cosmos is the Big Bad and will be part of whatever final End Kawahara has in mind – if he has one, the series is well over 20 volumes in Japan. That said, I’m perfectly content to let him slowly spin his tale – the fanservice may occasionally grate on me, but for the most part Accel World has developed into one of the most solid, dependable light novel series being put out by Yen.

Accel World: The Carbide Wolf

By Reki Kawahara and Hima. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jocelyne Allen.

After last volume’s short story collection, we’re back to the main plotline, as Silver Crow is (finally) cleared of the accusation of hosting the Chrome Disaster. Of course, now that they know he’s not evil, the leaders all get together to try to use Silver Crow for their own purposes. It’s a very Haruyuki-centric book as he tries to gain a new ability, learns his companion’s tragic backstory, prepares for the upcoming culture festival at school (yes, Accel World has a real life aspect as well), and worst of all, deals with getting utterly humiliated in a duel against a Level 1 who has super strength hard armor. This lets all his previous doubts and self-hatred come to the fore, though thankfully he has allies now who won’t let him slip too far into that. Essentially, it’s a good, solid volume of Accel World.

Kawahara does apologize in the afterword for Haruyuki getting all the character development so far in this series, and promises to work on developing the others soon. It’s a fair point – even Sword Art Online paid more attention to its other cast members than Accel World does at times. We do get to learn more about Utai here, and as a drama major, I appreciated the fact that she came from a family of Noh theatre performers – though that also meant that I could guess why she was so upset as a child, Japanese theatre being very male exclusive. The death of her brother is one of those freak accidents that sounds a bit more ridiculous than it probably was, but once you learn about him, the way he died, and the life she grew up with, almost everything about Ardor Maiden comes into clear focus. If this is the sort of character development we’ll get in the future, I’m looking forward to it.

And then we have the titular Carbide Wolf, aka Wolfram Cerberus. No, he’s not related to Wolfram and Hart from Angel, but he does seem to be related to Accel World’s big bads, the Accelerated Research Society. I enjoy the themes between personality and armor that Kawahara gives us – the name is wolf-themed, the armor has a wolf’s head… and the actual player sounds like a big friendly puppy when he’s dueling other people, or rather when he’d kicking other people’s asses. It’s hard to fight against something when you can’t do damage to it, and that also gives us the opportunity to dwell on various metals – this had also come up earlier, when Haruyuki was being asked to learn about mirrors in order to master a new ability. Haruyuki being who he is, of course, he grows and learns, with the help of some harsh training, and the rematch, though it ends in a cliffhanger, is another solid fight scene.

Accel World has always been the more consistently written of Kawahara’s two series, and that remains the case here. There’s occasionally some tortured exposition (the animal club member teaching Haruyuki about the different kinds of reflective mirrors really seemed like a reach to me), and Haruyuki’s self-deprecation can wear on the anime fan who wants all cool all the time, but overall this is another very good entry in the series.