Reviewby Casey Brienza, Apr 6th 2009
Akihabara@DEEP has less than forty eight hours before the chatterbot that DigiCap stole from them is to go live. Desperate for guidance, they seek out the founder of the company and their spirit mother, a mysterious personage known only as Yui. To find her, they must hack into the MMORPG world known as Aquila…which is also owned by DigiCap! Amata appears as an invincible black knight, determined to expel them from the game before they can make contact with Yui. He is only partially successful, and they are able to make a date for a meeting in the real world. That date happens at a fan convention, and the four current members of Akihabara@DEEP are joined by two new ones, Izumu and Dalma. Yui, though, is nowhere to be found…
Much of volume two of Akihabara@DEEP takes place in the world of a fictionalized MMORPG world, but if you think you are merely in for a hackneyed version of .hack, you are in for the surprise of your life: One of the top manga series first published in English in 2008 is getting even better.
Page, Akira, Taiko, and Box have entered the world of Aquila, an online role-playing game which, ironically, is owned by the very corporation that they have entered the game in hopes of beating. So, needless to say, their quest to find Yui is pitted with DigiCap-created obstructions. Good thing they have master hacker Page with them to level them up enough to take on the so-called “Corridor of Ruin.” Now their race against time starts to ante up; Amata, in an “invincible” black knight player character incarnation, is determined to stop them in their tracks, while on the real world side, DigiCap appendages are fast on the heels of the annoying otaku who have hacked their servers.
Fortunately, the Akihabara@DEEP quartet is able to make contact with Yui in time, and she instructs them to meet up at a particular booth in the west wing of an otaku get-together that sounds a heck of a lot like the Comic Market. Two people who helped them in the game world, the one-time shut-in and lawyer Dalma and the albino hacker Izumu, show up in order to join the team…but Yui, who after all this build you will be as eager as Page to finally “meet” in the flesh, does not.
The so-called Mother of All Otaku, as it turns out, died the morning of their meeting. Although she looks like a cute little pixie in Aquila, she was really a young woman who spent her life helping others online when she could not even help herself, someone who accidentally overdoses on prescription meds and kills herself. The realization of her loss is a genuinely tragic, affective moment, and my hat off to writer Ira Ishida for taking the time to dig into the very real problems that social outcasts like otaku in Japan suffer. There is nothing flip about Yui's back story. A psychologically troubled teenager who has tried to commit suicide, she seems like a person you might actually know…or have met online before, never suspecting. It really makes you think, and though sometimes this manga makes you feel like you've been dropped headfirst into a freak show, minor characters like Yui position Akihabara@DEEP at its humanizing best.
Makoto Akane's artwork could not be better a better fit with the storyline. Clean and detailed, cute but not cloyingly so, the richness and visual unity of both foreground and background are unusual even of seinen manga series of this sort, which tend to set the bar high already. He takes you from the glorious hack'n slash fantasy world of Aquila and back to the sordid grime of a pay per hour internet café with the ease and grace of a consummate expert. The level of care devoted to each illustration is impressive, but not blindingly or distractingly so; everything you need to know is immediately clear even if you wish not to linger, which is not always the case when artists put a lot of effort into the little things. Everything Makoto does, it seems, is more evidence that he knows exactly what's what. For example, the ways in which the panels depicting the videogame world—but not the real one—seem inordinately focused on (ahem) the female characters' assets in the chest and groin areas are pitch-perfect.
And the cherry on top is Media Blasters' loving treatment of this title. The image reproduction, along with the inclusion of four pages in full color, is stellar, and the prose adaptation is both well edited and pleasingly readable. In short, this volume of Akihabara@DEEP is proud representative of a manga that knows itself and exactly what it needs to do. Then does it. If you are remotely interested in Japanese manga and otaku culture—heck, even if you are not—this is one series that you simply must not miss.
Overall : A
Story : A
Art : A
+ A compelling cast of otaku and their world in precise, anthropological detail.
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