I’m kind of starting to get why AW fans are a bit ragey about this arc – although I wonder if my reasons might be a little different.
It’s hard for me to put my finger on why this arc irritates me so much sometimes, apart from the revoltingly weepy episode two weeks ago where Haru, Taku and Chiyu pretty much brought shame on the entire human race with their behavior. The last couple of eps especially have been fine in most respects, certainly an order of magnitude better than that one. Haru and Take even managed to fight back against Noumi this week. So what’s the problem?
First, I think Noumi is part of the issue. I don’t hate the character – and that’s a problem. The reason I don’t hate him is that he doesn’t feel remotely real – he feels like an artificial construction, a narrative piñata stuffed full of every loathsome quality the reader/viewer can imagine that we can all unleash our anger on with big sticks. In other words, he comes off to me like he’s someone I’m supposed to hate – and I don’t like being told who to like and who to hate. It’s hard to know how much of this comes from Kawahara-sensei’s LNs and how much of it comes from Yoshino Hiroyuki’s adapted script, but I will say this – this kind of broad, obvious, clumsy moralism is right up Yoshino-san’s street. I wouldn’t call Kawahara’s writing especially subtle or emotionally complex based on what I’ve seen of Accel World and Sword Art Online, but AW does have a sort of appealingly innocent quality to it. I think this arc points up that this adaptation might have been served better by a writer more different from Kawahara-san in style, rather than one who shares his weak points without bringing much to the table in terms of strengths.
Another problem I had with this episode specifically was the behavior of Haru and Taku. I hate to say it, but I found myself agreeing with Noumi – it was appalling. At least they weren’t sobbing and hugging themselves – in fact, their false submission and subsequent double-cross was the best part of the episode – but the hackneyed declarations of brotherhood and the power of teamwork were… Well, Noumi wasn’t the only one gagging – let’s put it that way. It had the feel of fanfiction written by a 15 year-old boy, and despite my pleasure at seeing them finally stand up to Noumi it was almost enough to make me root for him in the end, just so the two of them would shut the hell up.
Well – that ended up being quite a rant, and I really hadn’t intended it to. The episode was actually pretty solid apart from that – I definitely enjoyed the clever gambit that Haru and Taku pulled (though the level of coordination given their lack of prior consultation stretched credulity a bit) and the pacing was such that things felt brisk and involving. I also thought it was rather interesting to hear Noumi frame the conflict in generational terms. 15 year-olds like Snow Black and their antiquated way of viewing the Accelerated World are totally the past, Man – for 7th-graders in the new generation, even the term “Burst Linker” is totally square. More seriously, there does seem to be a difference in terms of community vs. individuality – Noumi arguing that Burst Link (even the incarnate power) is all about getting ahead and taking what he wants, while the older Linkers focus on preserving the community (ironic, given their past history and how often they still double-cross each other). It’s worth pointing out that valuing the self over the community is quite antithetical to the Japanese moral and ethical systems, and it’s no coincidence that a character set up to epitomize everything despicable should frame his philosophy in those terms.
I guess I buried the lead, because the headline will be Chiyu’s “betrayal” at the end, I suppose, though there’s no way that everything is as it appears. I’m guessing either she’s been preemptively blackmailed by Noumi, using her healing powers as a kind of insurance policy, or this is part of a bigger plan that Haru (and maybe Taku, too) don’t know about – a triple-cross. There were plenty of hints dropped that Noumi had a thing for Chiyu and his pubertal hormones might be his downfall, so perhaps this is a part of that. It looks like we’ll have to wait at least a week to find out, as the story is headed down to Okinawa to join Kuroyukihime and her little black two-piece (Middle school? Really?) for a battle with a new opponent. As the nominal female lead she’s been missing for quite a long time, so that development shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.