If any anime episode ever screamed “side story”, this was the one.
While I like Accel World well enough and SAO more, I confess I do see some basis for the complaint that Kawahara-san’s works are a sort of male wish fulfillment. A hyper-realistic VRMMO where most of the players are impossibly cute lolis? Yes, it’s an otaku wet dream – and while I mostly see the charge leveled against Sword Art Online I think AW is equally – if not more – guilty, as episodes like this show. As for myself, I never played any RP or simulation – MMO or otherwise – that didn’t have a decidedly male bias in the demographic. On the other hand, since probably more than half of the series in any given anime season (probably much more this season) basically amount to male wish fulfillment, it hardly seems fair to single out Kawahara for criticism simply because he’s more successful at it then most.
So what do we make of this mini-arc, then, given that it’s purpose superficially seems to be to show off as many of the aforementioned cute girls in swimwear as possible? Well, it’s perfectly pleasant and mostly harmless – and in that sense not too far off from how Accel World normally comes off anyway. It also serves the function of getting Kuroyukihime – who’s the female lead, after all – involved in the story again, a story from which she’s been basically absent for the last month. Whether it’s the best choice to insert this side story in the middle of an ongoing arc is debatable, but Snow Black’s lack of screen time was no doubt a factor. And really, the Dusk Taker arc isn’t going to be mourned much if it’s away for a couple of weeks.
This arc also has the distinction of giving the always charming Tomatsu Haruka her most extended work of the series as Wakamiya Megumi, Kuroyukihime’s BFF who seems to want to be more than that. Megumi – though she’s obviously hiding a connection to Burst Link that she was about to apologize for – seems to be about as generic a character as you could imagine, but fortunately Haruka-san doesn’t do generic, and manages to imbue her with a good deal of humor and sincerity. We also meet two middle-school chibis from Okinawa, genki Luka Asato (Nakanishi Tamaki) – known in the AW as Lagoon Dolphin – and demure Mana Itousu (Gibu Yuuko) who’s apparently some sort of Yuta (Okinawan mystic).
There is a conflict-driven plot here – the chibis are Tokyo transplants trying to get an Okinawan Burst Linker community started under the leadership of their master (Shingaki Tarusuke), whom Snow Black knows as “Crikin”. He’s a Level 7 Burst Linker who’s depressed about a “monster” giving everyone a hard time, and Luka and Mana recruit Snow Black to help – but in the main, it’s mostly about using the Okinawan sand and sun to showcase cute girls being cute and Hime looking impossibly mature in her black two-piece. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course – and in the end, I think it comes down to this: whatever you thought about Accel World going in, this arc isn’t too likely to change your mind either way.