Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Mar 6th 2012
Blu-Ray + DVD - The Complete 3 OVA Series
Asumi, Eri, and Iori lead double lives – in the real world they are second year high school students prepping for exams, but in the online game “The World,” they are Sakuya, Mary, and Tobias, adventurers out for glory and treasure. They have few problems keeping their two lives separate until an unforeseen disaster befalls The World and sweeps one of them along with it. Can the remaining two figure out what's going on before it's too late?
Welcome back to “The World,” the MMORPG that forms the core of the extensive .hack franchise. In this iteration of the franchise's single plot, school friends Asumi (Sakuya), Eri (Mary), and Iori (Tobias) enjoy getting together in the game's virtual existence to explore new territories and fight bosses. When Sakuya accidentally interrupts a guild's planned boss battle, she finds herself with a price on her head. This leads our trio and the players after them to a strange, dark corner of the game, and some of the people fall unconscious following an encounter with a mysterious black PC. The remaining characters must, of course, find a way to save both their friends and the entirety of The World.
If this sounds like most of the other entries into the .hack conglomerate, that's because it is. The idea of people's consciousnesses getting trapped in an online role playing game has long ceased to astound, and while it can still serve as a warning for an increasingly online world, it is very easy to see how the story is going to play out, down to the character design of Hermit, which completely gives away his role in the story. (There's also a stab made a heavy-handed symbolism with Sakuya asking him if his name represents the Tarot card.) While there are some interesting twists this time around, such as a medical reason for the players being targeted, it still has that not-so-fresh feeling of a recycled story that we have seen, played, and read many times before.
One major point in this show's favor, however, is its length. At only an hour and seventeen minutes, .hack//Quantum doesn't drag. Each episode is forced to be relatively tight and concise, with plot points coming at regular intervals and the action fast-paced. This makes it one of the better retellings in that the story plays out smoothly. Were this the first entry into the franchise, that would be a drawback, but as the latest of many, the short run time allows fans to indulge in the story's world without dragging through unnecessary rehashed details. If nothing else, .hack//Quantum is fun, and if its attempts to tug on your heartstrings are, at this point, a bit lame, it is still easy to watch and fairly enjoyable.
Visually these OVAs have some very nice touches. One chase scene between our heroines and their pursuers takes place on a giant spinning mechanism, a bit like a model of the solar system. The characters have to scramble from arm to arm without getting pushed off or squashed, and the gears that move the contraption have a nice steampunk look to them. Likewise the gibbet tree where the villain keeps the virtual corpses of his victims is striking – it is a huge, leafless behemoth with metal cages meant to keep a dead body from falling apart as it decomposes dangling from its branches like rotten fruit. It brings to mind images of hanged pirates and highwaymen from 18th century texts and implies that the villain feels that what he is doing is justified. After all, you wouldn't hang an innocent person like that, would you? Less excellent is the texturing on some of the CG monsters that appear towards the end of the series, although in all fairness their too-shiny, strangely fake (compared to the rest of The World) look may be on purpose. Likewise the designs for Sakuya and Mary, modified versions of the well-known Kite and Black Rose characters from earlier installments, have the air of a visual cliché.
Both dub and sub tracks sound good, with very nicely matched voices. Stephanie Young's Shamrock is a bit more jarring than Sanae Kobayashi's, but since the disconnect between design and voice is clearly intentional, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Trina Nishimura's Sakuya can be a bit squeaky at times when compared to Kana Hanazawa's portrayal, but there really is no significant difference in terms of an annoying factor or a voice in either language that does not fit. The dub script is nearly identical to the sub, with changes being made only for idiomatic expression or flow. The music hearkens back to the Yuki Kajiura days of .hack//sign without ever quite hitting the same notes, and in general is fairly unobtrusive and unremarkable.
This collection, apart from coming with both the bluray and the DVD editions, also contains a fair amount of extras. Three are “chim chim” episodes, where blobby purple versions of Sakuya, Mary, and Tobias learn about quantum mechanics and Schrodinger's cat and are presumably intended to explain the title and the “ghost in the machine” ending of the show. Three longer features are the “Yui Yui” episodes, featuring Hermit's Japanese voice actress Yui Ogura first learning how to make “charaben,” or bentos that look like anime characters, then flipbooks, and finally providing answers to the .hack quiz that was included in the Japanese edition of the third disc's release. This one is the least interesting simply because we do not have the quiz; the other two are sort of fascinating. Commercial spots and trailers round out the selection of extras, as per usual.
While the ending is manufactured and a bit trite and the plot is nothing new for the .hack franchise, .hack//Quantum is still an enjoyable watch and completists won't be sorry to add it to their collections. Those who are sick of the franchise will wonder why anyone still plays “The World” given its troubled and oft repeated history, but the short length of this offering should still keep most people watching. .hack still has some interesting things to say about privacy in an online environment and the chances we take with technology, and if nothing else, in these three episodes it says them in an entertaining and visually pleasant way.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : C
+ Visually very attractive, concise plot, good extras.
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