Truth be told, that was a pretty decent finale all things considered. There were absolutely no surprises and it was completely by-the-books, but all the requisite buttons were pushed with a modicum of style and even the occasional burst of wit. But in the final analysis – and this is the final analysis after all – I have to confess that AW just wasn’t written for me. There were just too many things about that grated on me, but that’s fine – I’m certainly not the target audience, and it says something for the execution that I stuck around all the way to the end and never grew to dislike the series no matter how much or often it made me bang my head on the desk.
I was pretty sure all along that Chiyuri would find a way to double-cross Noumi in the end, and she didn’t disappoint. The most important element for me was that Kuroyukihime was largely sidelined for the final battle, which after the affront of her swooping in last week and superseding Haru’s independence quest was the bare minimum that had to happen. I get the need to have the female lead somehow involved in the finale, but I still see this as a trap the series wrote itself into – and in the final analysis, her role in the arc was largely inconsequential and anti-climactic anyway. It was a no-win situation, but to have her dominate the fight this week would have been the bigger loss. Better that she busy herself offscreen with Black Vice.
The final battle itself was well and good, though it actually appeared that Haru was on his way to beating Noumi before Chiyu intervened – although I suppose that wouldn’t have gotten him his wings back. I could have done with the flying cherub imagery with Haru, TBH, but the biggest WTF for me was when Noumi turned moe moe kyun afterwards. I mean, sure, I knew he was going to forget about Brain Burst and in the simplistic worldview in AW, he was probably going to be much less obnoxious – but seriously, that was a little over the top. I guess he gets his happy ending after all, being freed from the curse of Brain Burst and going back to being a regular boy. It was certainly an odd call, going with this arc to conclude the adaptation. For me Noumi was pretty much a swing and miss as an antagonist – he was far too grotesquely evil to pose any sense of real threat, and far too obnoxious to possess any rascally charm. I would have liked to have seen this arc buried in the middle somewhere at the very least – and hopefully shortened – or even better, removed altogether with the Sky Raker side chapter shoehorned into one of the other arcs somehow.
As to the series as a whole, I’m not going to give it a whole lot of analysis. AW represented my first exposure to Kawahara-sensei’s works, and I think it showed off both his strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I’ve heard it said that he’s better at designing MMORPGs than at designing the characters that inhabit them, and I don’t disagree – what initially drew me to Accel World was the very interesting picture it painted of a not-too-distant future that seemed quite believable. The character interactions never lived up to that side of the series, the emotions being very black-and-white and the dialogue heavy-handed, though there when the series took itself lightly it could be surprisingly funny. It also showed a deft touch with low-key, domestic scenes – when the histrionics were shelved and the tear ducts given a rest, things felt a lot more authentic. Sadly that was something that didn’t happen often enough.
On balance I’d certainly say that Sword Art Online is the better of Kawahara’s two adaptations this year, but maybe it isn’t so much of a slam-dunk as it might seem. Visually I’d give the edge to AW, as Sunrise has done a terrific job from the beginning of bringing the accelerated world to life. AW might even have the more distinctive characters – in fact, there’s no “might” about it – but it also gives in to excess way more often than SAO. “Distinctive” is a double-edged sword: the characters in SAO feel much more like avatars (a case can be made that this is at least partly intentional) but the characters in AW can be much more annoying, to put it bluntly. Ironically I don’t find Kaji Yuuji so much the problem here, because Haru is probably one of the very few roles that’s in his sweet spot – he’s fine, for what this character is. The issue is with the way the characters are written, and there’s no question in my mind that Sword Art Online has a sort of dignity to it that Accel World lacks.
Whatever I or anyone else may think of it, Accel World has been a commercial success and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a second season. Neither would it bother me, because as often as not I’ve found some level on which I can enjoy most of episodes, and there have been moments of real cleverness and visual flair that have made the journey worthwhile. Would I blog it? Probably not, even if my new living circumstances were to allow me to blog as many shows as I am now. But I would probably watch it, and I have no doubt that it would surprise me occasionally as it did during it’s two-cour run. And if Urobuchi Gen ever decided to write a story set in this universe, the line to watch forms behind me.