.hack//CELL Volume 1

1.0 out of 5 stars The cover is the best thing about this book

.hack//CELL Volume 1

“.hack//CELL Volume 1” has been sitting on my “to be read” pile for quite a long time, more than a year. Now that I have finally gotten around to reading it, I realize I should have let it sit awhile longer. Or just never read it at all.

“.hack//CELL” takes place at the same time as “.hack//Roots,” in The World R:2. The connection to the other .hack series is tenuous, however. Haseo makes a brief appearance in his hunt for Tri-Edge, and Silabus and Gaspard show up as well, almost as if to say “See! This really is .hack!” But other than that, “.hack//CELL” is really the story of two Midoris.

One Midori is a PC in The World, a Professional Victim who wanders around with her companion Adamas. Midori carries some sort of secret, which Adamas knows but Midori seems to have forgotten. The other Midori is an average school girl who doesn’t even play the game. Her friend, Kaho, tries to lure her into The World, but it isn’t until Midori becomes hospitalized with some unknown illness that she sees the appeal of escaping into a fantasy world. The reader is left to guess how much—if at all—the two Minoris are linked, and what is the secret behind them both.

To start off with, this novel had an amateurish translation. The sentence structure and storytelling was clunky, and the translator had difficulty with the Japanese word for blue/green. Midori would talk about her green eyes in one paragraph, and then her blue eyes in the next. There were several other errors, and the text just didn’t flow.

But even with a good translation, I don’t think “.hack//CELL” would have been a good read. The author, Suzukaze Ryo, says in his afterword that he didn’t know much about the .hack universe, and wasn’t given much guidance on what kind of story to tell. He emphasized the real-world Midori, which could have been interesting as most .hack series emphasize the game, but Midori was a lifeless and ultimately boring character whose internal dilemmas and fuzzy philosophizing on the nature of reality didn’t make for a compelling read.

I wasn’t expecting anything amazing when I picked this up, just some light entertainment. Unfortunately, it was one of those books I had to grind through till the end. Even then, you don’t get a complete story. This is followed up by  .hack//CELL Volume 2, but I won’t be along for that ride.

.hack//Link Volume 1

 
4.0 out of 5 stars The beginning of the end of .hack

.hack//Link Volume 1

 
So this is how it ends huh? The long-lasting and ultra-popular “.hack//” finally comes to an end with the release of the final series, “.hack//link” (Japanese title “.hack//LINK Tasogare no Kishidan” or “hack//LINK Twilight Knights.”) Whether or not there will be any further releases only time will tell, but the official word is that the .hack universe comes to a close here.

Is the series closing with a whimper or a bang? Honestly, it is too soon to tell with the release of this first volume. There is potential for a cool story here, but also a potential for lameness. They are already steering towards disaster by lumping in every character that has appeared in the past series. It is nice to see old friends again, but it takes a talented writer to pull that off. Especially seeing as how all of those legendary names of yore are merely window dressing to the main story.

The adventure begins in the year 2020, and The World has been offline for two years following the events of .hack// G.U.. Gamer Tokio Kuryuu has been contenting himself with lesser games, saving his money in anticipation of the release of The World R:X, the re-booting of the most popular MMORG of all time. For all his skills at games, however, Tokio isn’t too smart as he didn’t anticipate R:X getting sold out on opening day. The day is saved by the arrival of Saika Amagi, a transfer student to Tokio’s school who not only coincidently looks just like the princess Tokio dreams of every night, but also has a special copy of The World R:X. She gives the game to Tokio, who is bodily sucked into The World and thrust instantly in the middle of a fight between the monocled Fluegel and the legendary leader of the Twilight Knights, Kite.

Tokio finds that he is no normal Player in The World. First off, he is physically in the computer simulation, able to feel and interact in a way no one else can. Secondly, Saika Amagi manifests in The World as well, and Tokio finds that far from being the hero in his own story, he is just a pawn to Saika’s whims.

Tokio is pitted against a group known as Schicksal, an 8-member team of powerful players each with their own specialty. They are seeking the Chrono Cores held by the main heroes from previous .hack series, and it is up to Tokio to get in their way. When Kite is taken out of the way, the Schicksal next attack Tsukasa (Hack//Sign) and then in turn Haseo the Terror of Death .hack//Roots). Both Tsukasa and Haseo have been returned to their original, sullen and violent selves, as it is revealed that possession of the Chrono Core slowly eats away at your memories.

I am not really sold on Tokio as a protagonist. If this was just a little side adventure he might be alright, but if this series is truly the final entry in the .hack universe then I want someone a bit cooler. Tokio is pretty much a standard-issue “scrappy kid.” His character design is ridiculous, with giant spiky red hair that looks fine in The World but not so much when he is at school. We are told is incredible at video games but we don’t every really get to see his skill as he pretty much gets smacked around in The World R:X.

Not much is known about Saika at the end of volume one, other than that she has some power over The World and appears to possess a magic skirt whose main attribute is to fly up and show her fan service in every single appearance. A pin-up of Saika at the end of the book by animator Kazuhiro Takamura carries the tag-line “No shame in panties!” and that pretty much sums up Saika’s role in the story.

The Schicksal are an interesting bunch with great character designs who I am looking forward to hearing more about. Anyone who can take out Kite in only a few pages is not someone to be messed with. The character Geist has probably the coolest design in the book, and I hope his character lives up to the design.

Having Tokio bodily enter The World is an interesting concept that I wonder how it will work out. One of the things I enjoyed about .hack was how they were playing a game, and the few glimpses we got of the “real lives” of the characters added depth to an otherwise stereotypical fantasy story. In “.hack//link”, there is just The Wold, unless Tokio finds his way out

Posted in Manga, Tokyo Pop. Tags: , . 2 Comments »

.hack//4koma

.hack//4Koma

 
2.0 out of 5 stars The “Mad Magazine” for the .hack// Universe
 
You know those little comedy strips that artists sometimes include in their comics? Those little four-panel gags that appear in-between chapters or as filler at the end of a book? “.hack//4koma,” is basically an entire comic filled with those little bits of filler.

“4koma” is Japanese short-hand for “four-panel comics,” following a standard top-to-bottom structure that fits two comic strips on a page. These 4koma originally appeared as back-up material in “.hack//G.U. The World” magazine and have been collected together for this volume.

Because this is all gags and jokes here, there is no story or plot or anything like that other than a mixing of the characters of the first (.hack Collection (Part 1: Infection, Part 2: Mutation, Part 3: Outbreak, Part 4: Quarantine))) and second (.hack//Roots, .hack: G.U.)series of the “.hack//” video game series. Many of the comic strips focus on a rivalry between the characters of those games, like Kite and Haseo fighting over who is the hero of the series and Black Rose and Atoli just fighting in general. Aside from the 4koma, there are two longer series done in somewhat standard format. One, “Peaco’s Story,” has Atoli signing on as a new character in order to win over Haseo, and the other “Gaspard’s Go Go the World,” is a series of strips featuring Gaspard’s introduction to The World and his meeting with Silabus (.hack//Alcor). There are also some “.hack//G.U. Play Reports” in the back giving several characters opinions on the game.

“.hack//4koma” is only going to appeal to real hard-core “.hack//” fans. If you haven’t read every series, played every game and memorized every character profile, much of the humor is just going to fall flat. Pretty much everything here is an inside joke of some sort and won’t make much sense to the less than dedicated fan.

On top of that, humor is something particularly difficult to translate. Much of Japanese humor relies on play-on-words and puns that just aren’t funny when put into English, or utilize some cultural clue or timing that doesn’t work very well outside of that culture. Although translator Ryan Peterson does his best here, but to be perfectly honest there wasn’t a lot in “.hack//4koma” that made me laugh.

Posted in Manga, Tokyo Pop. Tags: , . 2 Comments »

.hack//Alcor

3.0 out of 5 stars Nanase loves Silabus

.hack//Alcor

After the spectacular .hack//Legend of the Twilight: The Complete Collection I went in search of more goodness from the .hack world. Unfortunately, I found, not all .hack is created equal.

“.hack//Alcor” is a minor entry in the .hack universe, being a one-shot story of a shy girl named Nanase. It was originally serialized in 2007 the “.hack//G.U.: The World” magazine, a publication which allowed for stories set in The World which didn’t really touch on any of the major storylines. Think of it as the stories of characters running around in the background.

This story focuses on Nanase, whose name means “Seven Stars” and comes from a Japanese reading of the constellation The Big Dipper. Author Izumibara Rena chose the name to symbolize Nanase’s personality as one of the fainter stars in the background on the constellation that you never notice when looking at the brightness of the whole.

Nanase is a twin-blade member of the Canard guild, and is always in the shadow of fellow guild member and Emperor of The Arena Alkaid. Nanase admires Alkaid so much that she even uses the same character model in The World, but is jealous of all of the attention that Alkaid gets, especially from guild-member Silabus whom Nanase secretly loves. When Nanase confronts Alkaid about this, Alkaid is harshly truthful with Nanase, saying “Have you ever done anything worth being admired for?” This starts Nanase on her quest for change, and an attempt to contribute to the guild rather than just standing in everyone’s shadows and felling bad for herself.

As you can see, “.hack//Alcor” doesn’t have much to do with the .hack universe and the same story could be told in almost any setting. About the only directly .hack-related element is the hunting PKs (Player Killers) who have it in for Alkaid and her friends, especially Silabus who has been targeted by a PK named Bordeaux. The character designs and art are good enough, although artist Izumibara Rena is not really on the same level as “Legend of the Twilight” artist Idumi Rei.

All in all, “.hack//Alcor” is not a bad series, but nothing overwhelming either. If you are a .hack fan it is a pleasant little read; a pretty standard shojo “shy girl with a crush on the popular guy” -type of story that just happens to take place in The World.

.hack//Legend of the Twilight: The Complete Collection

5.0 out of 5 stars Twilight Time

.hack//Legend of the Twilight 1-3: The Complete Collection

I can’t even count the number of times the “.hack” series was recommended to me, but I just never picked it up. I’m not a huge fan of video-game adaptations or video-game themed manga, and so I wasn’t really sold on the premise. I don’t play MMORPGs so I really didn’t want to read about them. My loss, as it turns out.

The “Complete Collection” edition of the series “.hack//Legends of the Twilight” seemed like a good way to try out the series that I had had heard so much about. It was fantastic! I was sucked into the .hack world right away, and never really made my escape until the last page was turned.

This series, “Legends of the Twilight,” takes place following the .hacks//Games series of Playstation 2 games. Two twins, Shugo and Rena, have won “chibi” limited edition characters models of the legendary “.hacker” characters Kite and Blackrose. Rena, as Blackrose, is keen to use the prize characters although Shugo is a bit more reluctant to assume the role of Kite, feeling he has grown too old for video games. Once inside The World (the name for the 3D computer environment where the game takes place), however, Shugo finds himself enjoying the role of hero. What’s more, Shugo has made contact with a beautiful girl named Aura who gives Shugo the rare Twilight Bracelet along with his first kiss.

Once inside the game, Shugo and Rena find themselves attracting an adventuring party with Mireille, a young girl interested in hunting rare items, Ouka, a shape-shifting and busty gal who wants to become a strong fighter, and Hotaru, a gentle foreign girl playing the Japanese server of The World in order to study Japanese and befriend the digital animals. Shugo’s position of the illegal Twilight Bracelet and his contact with the AI Aura has also attracted the attention of the The World’s Site Administrators, and the group finds themselves being hunted by Balmung and Kamui, the leader of the Cobalt Knights. Both Balmung and Kamui were once players like Shugo and Rena, but have since been hired by The World’s owners C.C. Corporation.

Even without its connection to MMORPG, “.hack//Legends of the Twilight” is just a sprawling, old fashioned fantasy series of the highest quality. The storyline is deeper than one would imagine, as connections to the legendary “.hackers” are revealed amongst the players, and love and betrayal lurk around every corner. I liked coming into the series in this collection, because it had that Star Wars quality of being connected to a bigger world than what you saw on the page. I wanted to go deeper and know more about the characters, largely because of the tantalizing hints and glimpses I was shown.

The art in “.hack//Legend of the Twilight” is really stunning, with some of the best character designs I have seen. Artist Idumi Rei (Hibiki’s Magic) has that perfect balance of sexy/cute and draws both Shugo and Rena’s “chibi” characters just as well as the more grown-up character models like Ouka, Balmung and Kamui. Aside from the characters, there are a few big splash pages of The World that are just beautiful.

This “Complete Collection” really is complete. Aside from the three volumes of “Legends of the Twilight” that were originally published separately, there are color pages of the characters that look like promotional artwork, and a few back-up stories including Shuga and Rena doing a series of advertisements for a new comic, “Shank the Rate Story.” One of my favorite extras was a pencil drawing in the back of all the “.hack//Legends of the Twilight” characters as they appear in “real life” as opposed to their character models in The World. I kind of wish there had been a character key with the picture, as it is sometimes difficult to tell who is who, but it makes for a fun little bonus.

This collection is bigger than your standard manga, not just in length of story but also in physical size. It isn’t too huge, but is about an inch bigger lengthwise and in width. I assume they did this because of the binding requirements to hold together the three volumes, but it is nice to get the larger artwork as well.

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