Random Curiosity

.hack//The Movie: Sekai no Mukou ni

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「.hack//The Movie セカイの向こうに」 (.hack//The Movie: Sekai no Mukou ni)
“.hack//The Movie: Beyond the World”

Everytime I write about something like this I feel as though I’m pigeonholing myself more and more into being ‘that guy who likes virtual reality stuff.’ Not that I’m complaining of course, many of the other RandomC bloggers appear to have their own specific areas to which their drawn. Mine just happens to be a combination of virtual realities and fantasy. It is, after all, a very interesting and frequently diverse (but sadly niche) genre.

As I’m sure almost everyone reading this is aware, .hack is a long-running media franchise which began with .hack//Sign in 2002 and has since expanded to include various video games, anime series and light novels, amongst other things. The central focus of the entire franchise is on ‘The World‘ – a fictional Virtual Reality MMORPG, accessed by head-mounted displays and available to players worldwide. While the story varies from series to series, each has their links to the first video game instalments and everything tends to play out in a very similar manner.

Just like its predecessors Sekai no Mukou ni has the standard .hack build, though The World itself has changed since the first instalments in the franchise. As in many of the other games and anime, we have our Kite, this time played by Yuuki Sora (Sakuraba Nanami), a girl originally reluctant to join the game due to her upbringing, but eventually being persuaded by the group of friends already playing. Just as in the original game series, on her first visit to The World, she ends up confronted by Aura who bestows upon her the gift that will lead to saving not only The World, but the people outside as technology begins to fail. On top of this, we have the usual Data Bug induced comas and cameo appearances by other characters, most notably Orca – named Gondo in this instalment and played by Tanaka Kakeru (Matsuzaka Toori), – and Balmung – under the name Balder and played by Okano Tomohiko (Tanaka Kei). A nice touch comes in the fact that both current versions of Balmung and Orca are voiced by their original seiyuu – Masutani Yasunori and Hiyama Nobuyuki respectively. Though I had originally heard rumours that BlackRose would be making a cameo appearance, I somehow failed to notice it. Perhaps I was not observant enough.

But while it may follow the traditional .hack archetype, there is still much more to it, particularly on the outside in the real world. Here we have a story of friendship, romance, misunderstandings, and the ability to pull together to protect the things most dear to you. We follow Sora’s first adventures in The World, joined by her close friends, Tomohiko and Kakeru as Balder and Gondo, plus Hasabe Kaho (Fukui Yukari) and Tokura Chieko (Inoue Marina) as Masaru Seven and Dasha. Misunderstandings arise when Sora, having mistakenly assumed which of her two male friends plays which character, is confessed to by Tomohiko in his Balder form. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of these kinds of misunderstandings – I find them to be somewhat cringe worthy and embarrassing, but I guess it’s meant to be that way. One should never make assumptions where romance is involved. When people begin falling unconscious while playing The World, the group of friends think little of it – nothing ever feels quite real until it happens to someone you know. And as you would expect, it eventually strikes closer to home with Kakeru falling into a coma while playing.

I’m never quite sure how I feel about the .hack franchise’s reuse of common plot elements and character designs. On the one hand it gives a nice solid foundation to all the works, giving them strong ties to each other and always leaving things for fans to discover. On the other, it reminds me a lot of other franchises that have done something similar to act more as ‘fanservice’ to the older fans than anything else (albeit with far less success), such as Star Ocean 4, Last Exile -Ginyoku no Fam- and Eureka Seven AO. On the whole, I’m not a big advocate of this type of game or series (in fact there are times when I wish they didn’t exist at all). I’d much rather original content than attempts to hark back to earlier instalments that often come across as having no other purpose. It also frequently results in rather predictable plots, which is certainly the case for this movie. However, that does not mean that it was not extremely entertaining to watch and at the end of the day, that is why it exists – entertainment.

In most cases, I’m not a big fan of CG animation. Generally, it’s not the CG itself, but the combination of poor CG and normal animation, resulting in a horrible clash of styles that just isn’t pleasant on the eyes. Sekai no Mukou ni manages to completely avoid this, not only by using exceptional CG (for the most part – more on that in a moment), but by being built from the ground up with 3D CG. Many of the scenes within The World are truly spectacular to behold, though some of the real world CG is far less impressive. I can certainly understand why they might have decided to make that choice since The World is the more important part of this movie and certainly the part that benefits far more from beautiful CG. In fact, faced with a choice between CG and traditional animation for this movie, I would actually pick CG every time. Why, you ask? Because it works as a perfect complement to the subject matter. The use of CG helps greatly with immersion – it actually feels like you’re watching a wonderfully rendered Eastern fantasy game. Perhaps, should there ever truly be a Japanese VR MMO, this is what it might look like.

At times, some of the music feels somewhat generic, but other parts are spectacular and do perfect justice to the scene at hand. Much of the music should feel familiar to fans of the franchise since it was written by Fukuda Chikayo who wrote music for most of the video games. Hints of that music appear frequently, and at times there’s a flair almost similar to that of Kajiura Yuki, though she apparently had no part in the composition for this movie.

While it must be said that the movie had something of a slow start, it was certainly worth it for the final third. Not only was there something extremely – for lack of a better word – ‘cool’ about seeing Sora fight alongside her badass, airship-owning grandfather, Yuuki Takefu (Ogata Kenichi), but we had the addition of David Steinberg’s (Greag Dale – pretty nice they actually hired an English-speaker!) Anubis avatar and Dasha’s awesome hover-bike. The highlight for me was that final third, as players from all over gathered together, standing against a common foe to protect the world they love, even as it begins to collapse around them. Nothing quite captures the spirit of camaraderie shared by players quite like those kind of scenes do. Rows of airships helps. A lot.

tl;dr: @MoombaDS – Once again, .hack manages to surprise me after a bit of a slow start. #dothackmovie

Random thoughts:

  • Maybe I would be the only one to whom it would appeal, but I’d love to someday see an actual MMO slice-of-life with none of the ‘plot’ interferences.
  • The real world in .hack is the future as I want to see it – digital interfacing between all manner of handheld devices and machines, clickable advertisement posters, robotic assistants, etc.
  • I also love the Sophia antivirus programs, but then again, I’m a sucker for gynoids.
  • It would’ve been nice if we’d seen a little Player vs Player action at some point, it’s one of the few things I felt the movie was sorely missing.
  • Masaru Seven creeps me out a little (quite a lot actually).

Full-length images: 036.

 

ED Sequence

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ED: 「光をあつめて」 (Hikari o Atsumete) by KOKIA

Epilogue:

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September 14, 2012 at 1:55 pm
40 comments »
  • September 14, 2012 at 2:09 pmShinmarizu

    It’s been a while since I watched anything .hack-related. Fun times then. This movie was a beautiful thing to watch.
    @Moomba: I wonder, did you follow/enjoy Appleseed XIII? And is there any more coming?

    • September 14, 2012 at 2:45 pmMoomba

      I actually haven’t seen Appleseed XIII yet but it’s one of those shows I definitely intend to get around to watching!

  • September 14, 2012 at 2:16 pmrawr

    The World R:2 > The World Force:Era

    I think CyberConnect did a bad job transitioning the story, LINK was a horrible in-between – it basically made it so that the first two series never really mattered. That being said, .hack will always have a soft spot in my heart.

  • September 14, 2012 at 2:25 pmSortedevaras

    In truth I was also much more interested in the quasi-futuristic Japan then anything that was happening in the World itself. The visuals style seemed a little off too, the designs worked much better in the .hack/GU movie.

  • September 14, 2012 at 2:32 pmZen

    The real world in .hack is the future as I want to see it – digital interfacing between all manner of handheld devices and machines, clickable advertisement posters, robotic assistants, etc.

    I’d love to see that too, but you sure we’ll live long enough for it? And even if we do, chances are that we’ll probably not like it as much as say that we would right now- most of us’ll probably be to future-tech what my grandma is to her cellphone- has had one for 8 years, still can’t do anything more advanced than dialing with the keypad…XP

    • September 14, 2012 at 2:43 pmZen

      (Yes, she still uses a paper phone book, why’d you ask?)

    • September 14, 2012 at 2:49 pmMoomba

      That’s certainly among my worries. Who knows how long it might take for technology to advance that far. But given recent claims we’ll be looking at full digitisation by 2045, I’d love to think we might actually see a more technologically advanced society before then. Heck, just look how far we’ve come in the past ten years with things like superfast broadband and smartphones. We’re definitely getting somewhere!

      • September 14, 2012 at 7:19 pmdeetari

        Did you know that interactive advertisements and whatnot already exist? They’re not in common use yet, but the technology’s been around for at least a year (probably more), and they’re being deployed on vending machines at the moment, if I recall correctly.

        Lots of other futuristic tech is floating around in development, too. Invisibility cloaks (GITS style) are pretty neat, though they aren’t really all that functional at the moment.

      • September 14, 2012 at 8:08 pmZen

        @deetari

        Yeah, those new vending machines are pretty neat; everything’s operated through a cabinet-face touch-screen- I actually just bought a drink from one of those last week. As for invisibility cloaks, I’m pretty certain that practical progress hasn’t advanced past rudimentary experimentation with photons proving the theoretical feasibility of true active camo; we’re still pretty far away from actually attaining it…

        But by far the coolest “future-tech like” gadget (Already in existence) I’ve seen thus far is DARPA’s Urban Photonic Sandtable Display (UPSD). What I’d give to play a tabletop or an RTS on one of these…it’ll probably be awhile before the tech gets declassified and becomes cheap enough for the consumer electronics market, though…sigh…but, really, I’m actually quite optimistic about the rate of human technological advancement, with Moore’s law and whatnot, I just like playing the devil’s advocate…;)

      • September 15, 2012 at 5:13 pma20020000

        Japan also has windup vending machines as well for those who want a drink without power. I think it is about a few minutes of winding for enough power to pay and dispense a few drinks. (You still have to pay)

  • September 14, 2012 at 2:59 pmSer Rompalot

    Visuals aside, I really liked the expressions of the characters and how rarely they fell into the anime-style of closing eyes while speaking or smiling and whatnot. I can see that they really worked on that and the animation, though at times it did seem a little forced.

    I felt the character interactions in the first two thirds of the movie really contributed to my enjoyment of watching these characters in the last third. It ended predictably, but regardless I thought it was a very solid movie, certainly better than the G.U trilogy.

    One thing I did find odd was the freedom of motion and expression in the game when they were using a controller and a headset, but it was well within my suspension of disbelief.

  • September 14, 2012 at 3:18 pmBeedle

    This looks absolutely stunning. I have been out of the .hack loop for ages though, so I don’t know where the old guard is or how this came about. Specifically Tsukasa (//Sign nostalgia damn!), though it’s nice to see Orca and Balmung are still in this.

  • September 14, 2012 at 3:29 pmEliteF22

    I still have a hard time watching the stylized CG.

    • September 14, 2012 at 3:48 pmAni_BEE

      I don’t know why but I felt like i was watching a Kingdom Hears cut scene in style. I still enjoyed it thought.

      • September 15, 2012 at 1:24 amChris

        Agreed. All the expressions felt like they were from sora’s face. Enix must have played a role in this one.

  • September 14, 2012 at 3:34 pmYue

    Shinken Red!!!

  • September 14, 2012 at 4:30 pmstarss

    Still not keen on anime characters in CG akin to Toy Story and whatnot, but then I forget that there are now many more Japanese projects in CG today than I realize.

  • September 14, 2012 at 5:05 pmASSuna

    This is better than rusty sword ASS online.

    • September 15, 2012 at 8:03 amD-LaN

      ASSuna (==;) the ass shots only lasted in an episode lol. And the story getting better when SAO started the main plot.

    • September 15, 2012 at 5:01 pma20020000

      .Hack’s semi-future seems off to me when all computers, traffic lights, industrial systems suffer from computer bugs/crashes from an MMO but the cellphone computers are unaffected by the problems. Which in itself implies the network, power, controllers related to the game and cellphones are working perfectly otherwise the players wouldn’t be able to even connect.

      If PCs shut off and have network problems but the cellphones which are basically PCs have no problems it doesn’t make much sense to me (Not self consistent). And if everything stopped using power the nations power grid would also collapse and not come back instantly but if that happened the game would also just stop working as well. Not a very realistic future scenario, the coma thing is fine, but selective major loss of power would result in total loss of power assuming non-game real world controllers were affected as shown.

      Interesting random fact is that the power grid doesn’t store anything and consumption has to be matched by pretty much exactly by production. Any sudden changes would cause a cascading self protection collapse which could take hours to a day to recover from depending on the isolation of working generating stations as most power plants can’t start without a power source ironically enough.

      Plus couldn’t they just turn off the server and roll it back with backups? (SAO handles it nicely Show Spoiler ▼

      with the * that many companies are lazy and the protagonists can’t risk that.)

      • September 15, 2012 at 5:07 pma20020000

        Or basically,

        SAO is more topically relevant and a more “realistic” possible future with BDI gaming.

        .Hack at least from what I’ve read is much more fantasy than sci-fi and doesn’t bother the real world details much.

        The author for SAO apologizes repeatedly in his post author notes for his excess of females in a low female population game. Which is funny and understandable.

  • September 14, 2012 at 5:36 pmRain

    Do I need to watch something first to watch this? Or can i just go watch it?

    • September 15, 2012 at 4:35 amMoomba

      It’s a standalone movie so you should be able to dive right in without having seen anything else!

  • September 14, 2012 at 6:55 pmBakaro

    While i’m kinda a fan of .Hack series, i can’t say much about the anime. The quality never been consistent. Now, mix that with the CG-rendered style of animation that i have little to no love… =/

    Maybe i should just pick up this one up with no expectation. Maybe it will turn out better in my book. Maybe.

    • September 14, 2012 at 8:49 pmfragb85

      As a fellow .hack fan, I give this movie my approval. I was also skeptical but I find it surprisingly well done. Go see it.

      And if you haven’t, go see .hack//QUANTUM, its probably the best of the .hack animations so far.

  • September 14, 2012 at 7:11 pmAcario

    Soooooo, random question,

    anyone watched .Hack//Versus Thanatos Report?

  • September 14, 2012 at 7:23 pmdeetari

    I wish the .hack//quantum characters made cameos in this. They’re my favourite bunch out of all the .hack series (though the original still holds a special place in my memories). Having HanaKana voice the main character for that series went a long way, haha.

  • September 14, 2012 at 8:46 pmfragb85

    I’m just glad that the .hack// franchise still exists somehow today. I used to be a .hack nerd knowing many of its useless trivia.

    Unlike the awful .hack//TRILOGY, this one has a coherent storyline and is not just purely fanservice. Another thing I like to the franchise is that it actually has significant screentime on the real world so it can shows contrast between the MMO. This is something .hack//QUANTUM also did which I also liked.

    Interesting though that is the first time EVER in .hack that CCorp actually gets investigated and arrested instead of getting away with a coverup. Then again this is the first time they deliberately caused the Network Crisis. Before they were portrayed as incompetent morons.

    Not a fan of the CGI though, especially with some of creepy uncanny valley. Though it does provide some nice background visuals. Also, where is the Hulle Granz Cathedral? That’s the most iconic Lost Ground ever and was present in most .hack iterations.

  • September 14, 2012 at 9:08 pmCybersteel

    BTW Moomba we already have clickable advertisement posters but on touchscreen around the city area.

    • September 15, 2012 at 5:10 pma20020000

      We even have transparent glass touchscreen displays for advertisements. Throw in the indoor position and view tracking systems and marketers are getting on that future look right now because it looks cool.

  • September 15, 2012 at 1:22 amChris

    NO grunties, Kite didnt start as green, balmung had no wings. Not impressed.

    Stroy wise, I would rather have seen the story form the games in a movie, since I have no idea how it ended even though I finished the games.

    .hack//gift is still the best.

  • September 15, 2012 at 3:42 amGermanguy

    mmm, why i get some Final Fantasy CG Vibes from these Screens. Looks like they use the Final Fantasy CG Setup, and exchanged the Figures…

    Well, not that this a Bad thing.

    • September 18, 2012 at 10:04 amFantomOmega

      The airships design is similar to the ones in FFXII and Dasha reminds me of the all female Viera race from the same game

  • September 15, 2012 at 7:16 amD-LaN

    Wow I am getting a lot of SAO MMO vibes in higher quality frm the shots!! *eyegasm!!!*
    Seeing tht I loved SAO, I think I will love this.

    Btw, this would be my first .hack experience so do I need to go look up some stuff to get into this?? Or is it lk MLA TE??

    • September 15, 2012 at 10:08 amfragb85

      Not really, it does a good job being stand alone, you’ll only miss some key references like the purpose of Aura.

      Getting into .hack though is bit of a loaded question. The franchise has a lot of entries. If you want just anime though I recommend .hack//QUANTUM since its the most recent. The only other one I recommend is .hack//SIGN but its more talk and character development than action. If anything just get SIGN for the Yuki Kaijura’s soundtrack alone.

  • September 15, 2012 at 7:19 amSeraphic

    I really really miss Tsubasa and Subaru. Other than SIGN, they are more or less… “gone” from the other franchise except for the minor roles in GIFT(which is non-canon), this is heartbreaking because Tsubasa’s character is really unique and will allow the stories to be expanded into something more special than the usual “Kite gets super power” route.

  • September 15, 2012 at 1:44 pmSeishun Otoko

    While predictable, Sekai no Mukou ni is great fun! Good blend of action, slice-of-life, comedy and some admittedly cringe-worthy moments with the confession. I wonder how often does misunderstanding like this happen in MMOs XD

  • September 15, 2012 at 9:45 pmZuhri

    I really love this movie. The art direction was beautiful and I love the blend of 2D and CG. The characters are fun and the banter between them is hilarious. While the misunderstanding is a bit, annoying but I really pity Mohiko in the end for falling for such a dense girl.

    Although I can’t help but compare it to SAO. Sorry. While I enjoy SAO, it usually falls into typical anime trope that I grow annoyed with for the past years and it never gave me the sense of engagement I felt from playing .hack. While this movie lacks a few many things that a proper .hack series had, I liked that the light mood made it feels wholesome and enjoyable.

    Ultimately, I like that the movie gave me something more than just a fun time. My sister said that the lesson of the story is to ‘play online games!’ I think that it shows that sometimes it’s good for us to try new things in life.

  • September 16, 2012 at 7:23 pmOscar

    Man thou i really like .hack i wish the would stop making them. For me the series has gone down hill since GU. .hack//link had so much potential but it was not as good as it should have been. Also why wont they give the Kite character moddel a rest it just got anoying and the new game Guilty Dragon has yet another Kite character. Kite,Shugo,Azure Kite,Sakuya and Sora. They have alot of models but its almost all the same Kite,Mimiru or BlackRose,Balmung and Bear or Orca.

    The only game i wish the would make is one that we actually get to make our character, i dont care if they rehash Link if they have to, to bad we didnt get Fragment and to bad that they dont use other characters.

  • September 17, 2012 at 11:26 amsaviourshadow

    wats wrong with loving virtual reality stuff? it was a nice show after all