Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, December 13, 2009
      ( 12/13/2009 10:22:00 AM ) Bill S.  


“CC CORP HASN’T CHANGED A BIT, HAS IT?” Wasn’t initially sure just how newbie friendly Tokypop’s .hack//Legend of the Twilight would be, as the manga mini-series is only part of a massive multi-media franchise. Featured in a series of novels, animé and games, .hack concerns an elaborate virtual online setting called the World, where a variety players become involved in a series of adventures. From what I can tell, Twilight appears to be the first manga treatment of this universe, though Tokyopop has also released other manga volumes like .hack//Alcor. Originally issued in three smaller tankōbon paperbacks, the 21-chapter story has just been collected in a larger, more economical package encompassing all three volumes.

Twilight tells the tale of Shugo and Rena, brother-and-sister twins who are brought into the World when they win a pair of chibi (small person) avatars once used by the legendary dot hackers (whose original adventures, the newcomer supposes, have been documented in one of the .hack novels). Their explorations of the World lead them into hooking up with several other players, most notably Mireille, an acquisitive collector who explores the World looking for rare items, and Ouka, a busty “career werewolf.” When an ethereal figure named Aura gives Shugo an artifact named the Twilight Bracelet, the sibs’ adventure begins in earnest.

At first, the twins’ interactions with the World are random and primarily devoted to helping the duo build up strength to get them through their adventure: battles with monsters, puzzles, visits to a haunted house, and so forth. But by the second volume, a somewhat satiric story takes shape. Our gang is pursued by a group of system cops called the Cobalt Knight Brigade, who’ve been charged by CC Corporation (the company responsible for the World’s creation and ongoing maintenance) with making sure any unexpected irregularities in the system are eradicated.

Shugo’s bracelet is considered one such anomaly, and our protagonists need to unravel its secrets before Brigade leader Kamui wipes them out of the World. Kamui is particularly interested in Zefie, a waifish piece of system-created artificial intelligence who appears to be connected to the mysterious Aura. To the no-nonsense Kamui, the “vagrant AI” is also a bug because the free-thinking entity can’t be controlled by the World’s system administrators. Fourteen-year-old Shugo initially is reluctant to go along with the World’s elaborate game, but he soon becomes protective of Zefie.

As Twilight entirely takes place in its virtual World, we’re only given a glimpse of the protagonist avatars’ real-life counterparts in a two-page spread at the end of the book. And even here, tellingly, there’s no key as to who is who. The primary focus is on the world of the World, and though Shugo, in particular, displays character growth through the course of the mini-series, we’re never shown how this impacts him once he takes off his virtual reality headset.

Writer Tatsuya Hamazaki handles the elaborate .hack reality by providing enough background information throughout that I had no trouble following the general storyline, though I’m sure that fans of the franchise will get more out of the side details than I did. His treatment of his early teen-aged protagonists strikes me as convincing (the series is rated aged 13+), though Tokyopop indicates in its cover rating box that there’s some “mild fanservice” in the series: slightly titillating poses of Rena and the sexy wolf-girl Ouka, in particular. It doesn’t interfere with the story, though some manga newcomers might be taken aback by it.

Rei Idumi’s art efficiently carries the story, though at times -- as when our crew enter a disreputable corner of the World called the Net Slums -- you wish he’d pushed the setting a little more. We’re told that the Slums look choppy and broken, but aside from two establishing panels, we’re not provided much of this background. (I suspect that the anime adaptation of Twilight, which started a year after the manga series began its serialization, provides more visual information on this front.) Still, we’re given enough to get a sense of the various pieces of World that Shugo and Rena visit.

In the end, I found myself entertained enough by this .hack manga excursion to want to pick up any other graphic novel spin-offs, though not so invested in the concept that I feel the urge to go exploring the novels or other story formats. Perhaps if I was more of a gamer, I’d be interested in exploring all the nooks and crannies, but as a simple dabbler, I’m content to stick with the occasional manga. I've got a copy of .hack/Alcor on the to-be-read pile, though. Think I’ll move it closer to the top.

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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).



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