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