Ack, sorry this wasn't up last night, a combination of a sudden cold (with no real meds to speak of) and midterm paper/test/project stress kept me from finishing this review. Although, now that I have finished it, this is going to be a bit of a short review regardless since I don't need to get into much detail for why I liked and disliked it.
Summary: The year is 2046 and virtual reality is now everywhere in Tokyo and the technology has become so advanced that people can interact with it thanks to little computers worn around the neck. These neurolinkers have another use not intended by the manufactures however, if you've had one since birth and have a high reaction speed then it's possible to download Brain Burst, an illegal fighting game program where if you lose all your points then the game permantely uninstalls and you lose all memory of the game as well. Haruyuki is a bullied middle schooler who when given the chance by his upperclassman Kuroyukihime (no seriously, apparently no one knows her real name) to install Brain Burst takes it and finds his life changing for the better (even if it's gotten a bit more complicated in the process).
The Good: The premise here is a bit of a fun one, even if it's more than a tad unbelievable, and honestly if we did have super-advanced technology like a neurolinker today I would completely expect illegal games/hacks for it. And, even though Brain Burst flies in the face of a lot of science, that part about the show never bothered me and I think it's because the show presented it like magic (ie, "it exists, we're not going to tell you the reasons why but as you and the characters can see it clearly exists and works so let's get on with the story"), although some parts of the story later on required a bit more suspension of disbelief.
The Bad: The second half of the show was centered around one arc with one villain which makes sense when you consider that that particular arc took up two light novel volumes. So my problem lies more with the source material, there's no reason that arc should have been that long. The villain wasn't a good villain at all, their only motivation was "for teh evluz!", was it was implied that there was something bigger going on behind the scenes it wasn't explained, and that arc simply took too long. I have issues with Haruyuki as well, namely that his character seems to be written to act like however the arc requires him to act, not based on what character development he's had. Since he really regressed at the beginning of that arc, got a bit better, regressed again, and seems to be back to where he was before by the end of it which was really quite frustrating.
The Audio: Both opening and closing themes were fun and I have no complaints about either the background music or the voice acting, although I think it's sad yet amusing that the original author voiced one of the burst linker avatars (one based on how he appears in the back of his books) and fans complained that they didn't like how he sounded so he was replaced in the DVD version by a real actor.
The Visuals: This was a fun, colorful show to look at and I'm told that it had pretty good animation underneath all the special effects used in the fight scenes (seriously, pause during a random moment during some of the later fight scenes and see if you can even tell what you're looking at). One of the earlier fight scenes however (I think around episode 11) isn't buried under special effects and I remember thinking that it was pretty great looking, even compared to all the fights in Fate/Zero and The Legend of Korra which were airing at the same time. I also really liked the designs of the avatars, looking at the designs in the original novels I think that they've improved on the designs quite nicely.
All in all Accel World and Sword Art Online are rather alike in the respect that, while the settings are cool and the concept is interesting enough, I just don't find any of the characters likable/sympathetic enough to root for them and the storylines just aren't always that interesting. So I'm torn, do I want to buy this show? I'm not sure, although if there was a second season I'd watch it (partially because I read some spoilers for it and holy, now THAT'S got some interesting bits, although I bet that it's probably not as well executed as I'd hope). And just to weigh in on the "are SAO and AW connected?" debate, I'm not sure. I'm VERY sure that the main couple of SAO aren't KYH's parents despite physical similarties (KYH seems to have rather distant parents, plus there are some spoilers I've read that indicate that she has really terrible parents), although I'm not ruling it out that they could be the parents of another character (who hasn't exactly appeared in the books except in flashbacks? Slightly confused about that part). Funny enough while the books seem to be more ambiguous about the subject (there was even a crossover short story which implies that they're alternate universes) the anime seems to be saying that yes, these two are in the same world which has left me more confused than ever.
For those who do wish to check out the show however it is being streamed on hulu by Viz Media (so only Americans and people with proxies can view this one legally, sorry).