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I’m a pretty big fan of futuristic AR/VR gaming tale Accel World. I’ve seen the anime, played the first game, and read/played/watched just about everything related to its sister series Sword Art Online. But I was not even close to being prepared for the new original movie, Accel World: Infinite Burst.

But before we get into that, a bit of background: Accel World is set about 25 years after Sword Art Online (and/or possibly in an alternate reality). Personal computers now come in the form of necklaces that connect directly to the brain stem and can feed augmented reality images directly into the brain. This has changed much of how society interacts, especially for the children who have been using these devices since before they were able to talk.

Amongst these children there is a secret program called Brain Burst. While ostensibly a VR fighting game, winning fights awards points that can be spent to accelerate one’s brain’s processing speed via the program and computer network, basically allowing one to all but freeze time in the real world. Having a brain processing speed that equates to having infinite time to think and plan is an incredible power; and that is only one of the real world powers granted to those who play the game. The downside, however, is that should you lose all your points through losing battles and overspending, you are not only kicked out of the game, but all your memories of the game are erased as well.

The story of Accel World follows Haruyuki, a middle school boy who, like Sword Art Online’s Kirito, has an insanely fast natural reaction time. Unlike Kirito, however, he is fat and anything but popular. But one day, he is approached by the most popular girl in school (who goes by the alias “Snow Black”), is given the Brain Burst program, and begins his adventures in the “Accelerated World.”

Infinite Burst begins with a thirty-minute recap of the 2012 TV anime series. It covers the story’s first two arcs in detail, showing first Haruyuki’s introduction to Brain Burst, his battle to protect Snow Black, and the rebirth of the Nega Nebulus guild. It then recounts Haruyuki’s first meeting with enemy guild leader Scarlet Rain and their subsequent team up.

Oddly, the third and fourth arcs of the story–i.e., the back half of the anime series–are mentioned only in passing via a short montage. However this montage doesn’t just plow through the third and fourth arcs. It takes the story past the novel-only fifth and sixth arcs (and perhaps further) as well. Or, to put it another way, the entire non-recap portion of the movie is filled with spoilers, even for fans that have seen every episode of the 2012 anime.

There are new characters, shifts in the power dynamics, and relationships that have continued to develop. What has happened and why is left unexplained for the most part. So in addition to the thirty-minute story recap that mirrors in varying degrees the TV anime series, the film also assumes that you are at least somewhat caught up on the books.

As for the plot of the brand new story portion of the movie itself, a mysterious barrier appears during Brain Burst’s weekly guild territory-capture mini-event, kicking our heroes out of the game while trapping many others within. The hour-long mystery is centered around what the barrier is, who’s behind it, and how this all connects to a girl who entered the VR world of the game during the middle of a gymnastics accident.

The story is largely an excuse for fan service (though not much of the sexual kind). Popular characters each get a moment or two to shine with a few lines of dialogue or a special attack of some sort. And as you might expect, many of these characters have only been seen in the novels so far, making it yet another treat for novel readers and a spoiler for anime-only watchers.

When it comes down to it, Infinite Burst made me wish I had read the books. As a fan of the anime, I was often lost, wondering who some characters were and what their backstories were, and I flinched each time a spoiler for the novels was revealed as well. If you’re up to date on the novels or don’t mind spoilers, this movie is bound to be a lot of mindless fun. But if you’re a fan of the TV series alone, you have some serious catching up to do.

Accel World: Infinite Burst was released in Japanese theaters on July 23, 2016. There is currently no word on a Western release.

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