If I had to choose one word to describe this episode of Accel World, it would be “refreshing”.
I can honestly say this was the first episode of AW that I’ve really enjoyed from start to finish in at least a month, and probably more – since the current arc started, more or less. There’s been such a pall over the series lately, with Noumi’s outlandish mustache-twirling and an overload of insufferable emo from Haru, Taku and Chiyu. The series desperately needed a break from that, and while we got one with the Okinawa story it wasn’t particularly well-executed and as a result, didn’t serve so much as a revitalization as a procrastination.
This is definitely a show – at least for my tastes – that’s at its best when it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Accel World doesn’t try to be funny as often as it should, because it’s actually pretty darn good at it a lot of the time (like the sequence with Haru and Taku on the bus) – and rather than all the gloom and depression and deep emotion, when it focuses on dumb but well-crafted comedy and pseudo-philosophy it tends to be much more watchable. And Niko serves that end well. She’s not a character I could take every week, but she blows through the series like a tornado, scattering all the dust and fluff and blowing it all outside through the windows she’s shattered with the sheer force of her tsundere. I never liked the tsundere trope ever before it was beaten into the ground, but Niko’s take on it – so literal that it reaches the point of absurdity – generally amuses me to no end in manageable doses.
The template of this ep is a good one – a quest, something with a positive goal rather than damage control and self-pity. I also liked the addition of Blood Leopard (Kawasumi Ayako) the waitress who’s actually a lieutenant of Niko’s in the Red Legion – her treatment of Haru (something between a sack of garbage and a toddler) is pleasantly silly (and I LOL’d when she said “NP”). I also liked the depiction of Akihabara, both in RL and inside the AW. This is a series that’s always done well at creating atmosphere, and it only makes sense that Akiba would be something of a Mecca for burst linkers. It’s reassuring to know that even in the future Akiba is still full of maid cafes, doujin shops, and game centers – and those towers, the skinny buildings with those tiny elevators… Accelerated Akiba is a pretty cool place too, nominally Yellow Legion territory but with a battle zone where linkers from all legions can get together to test their mettle. It’s only fitting that it should be in Akiba.
As for actual plot, we got an almost Hunter X Hunter-esque dissertation from Niko on the nature of incarnate power, described by her as a means for overcoming your own weaknesses, not for defeating your enemies. For each linker who wants to learn it that presents its own challenges – no less so for Taku, who reveals that he was bullied terribly as an elementary-schooler (you’d think he would have told Haru of all people about that). As Niko is tutoring him in the rudiments of incarnate power, Haru and Blood Leopard are searching for clues about Noumi’s ability – which leads them to the aforementioned battle zone and bartender Matchmaker, who reveals the existence of an upstart named Rust Jigsaw who’s been upsetting the applecart in the battle zone, and seems to possess the same ability as Noumi. Connected? I can’t imagine they’re not – that’d be way too much of a coincidence…