Three players of a massive, immersive online video game are drawn into a conspiracy that envelopes both the offline and online worlds when one of their number falls into a coma. Is the game more than it seems to be, and if so, who’s pulling its strings?
This installment in the .hack franchise serves as a good point of entry for newcomers—it’s fun to watch, relatively short, and self-contained. It still requires some knowledge of online gaming to get the most out of, but the most enjoyable parts of it stand on their own without needing to be explained.
- Intriguing story that spans both online and offline worlds.
- Above-average animation, both conventional hand-drawn and CGI-based.
- Works as a standalone introduction to the .hack mythology.
- Some knowledge of online gaming might be useful.
- Director: Masaki Tachibana
- Animation Studio: Kinema Citrus
- Released By: Bandai Visual
- Released Domestically By: FUNimation Entertainment
- Audio: English, Japanese w/English subtitles
- Age Rating: TV-14 (thematic material)
- List Price: $29.98 (Blu-ray Disc / DVD combo)
- Science Fiction
The real world and the digital World
The more our lives move online, the more we lead two lives, just like Neo did. In the real world, we putter back and forth between our houses and our jobs, eat real food and sleep in our own beds. In the digital world, we shuck off our physical bodies for virtual ones, and become everything from anonymous voices on message boards to warriors in a fantasy landscape.
The world of .hack//Quantum (pronounced “dot hack quantum”), like the other entries in the .hack franchise, take place a short distance off into our future, when technology has allowed the borders between the real and virtual worlds to blur a little bit. Players from all over the globe participate in a fantasy-themed MMORPG called, appropriately enough, The World. You don’t just sit at your screen and mash buttons; you don a headset and are immersed in the game. Said World is also not just a place where gamers congregate to scoop up loot drops and engage in p-kills; it’s also a repository of secrets and dangers that can spill out into the real world as well.
How deep does this rabbit hole go?
Quantum focuses on three female players, all of whom attend the same high school: the cheery Asumi, the sensible Iori, and the serious Eri. Together they venture forth into The World to beat up on monsters, collect loot, and not get ganked by their own fellow players when they do stupid things—like, say, venture into someone else’s quest and poach the final boss. They all take the game pretty seriously: there are some funny moments where they muse over in-game economics while in class instead of listening to their lectures. (Irony: they might well learn more about economics in the game itself than in any class.)
One day, during a raid, Asumi encounters another player calling himself “Hermit.” Aside from his furtive behavior, he’s odd in other ways: he’s apparently scrounging around for real-world information about some other players. And his in-game avatar has the ability to directly manipulate the virtual environment. Is he a hacker, a sysadmin, or someone from completely outside the game’s rules?
Then a glitch in the game causes Eri to plunge into a coma, and the girls are contacted by another player who has been conducting her own investigations into the strange goings-on they’ve blundered across. They involve using the game as the nexus for a real-world conspiracy to … well, I won’t spoil the whole thing here, but it all leads to them unearthing some unsettling truths about “Hermit,” The World, and a whole slew of other players who have also mysteriously slid into unconsciousness. (One wonders what the health and safety warning disclaimers in the game’s Terms of Service looks like.)
Some knowledge of MMOs useful but not essential
Anime tends to be esoteric—most of it is produced for fans (and fans in Japan, at that) rather than for lay audiences. A show like .hack//Quantum is doubly esoteric, since it also deals with the culture of MMOs. Put it this way: if earlier in this review you read “loot drop” and “p-kill” and shook your head in confusion, the charm of this show is most likely going to be lost on you. Consider it a "200-level" show.
I have at least some passing familiarity for how MMOs work, and in the end I found most of that stuff is just for atmosphere anyway. The real fun of the show is in the interactions between the girls, their new friend, and the world of The World, which has quirks that make the Matrix look downright safe.
If you’ve been curious about getting acquainted with the .hack universe, Quantum isn’t a bad place to start. Not only is it a standalone story, but it’s relatively short—three thirty-minute episodes, as opposed to the twenty-six of .hack//SIGN or the twelve of .hack//Legend of the Twilight. (Another 26-episode series, .hack//Roots, has yet to be released in English.) Quantum also sports above-average animation—a mixture of hand-drawn animation and CGI for both the in- and out-of-game portions of the story—and a fine score by Yuki Kajiura. She was the one who gave us the music for Noir, Madoka Magica and two other .hack properties, so she’s clearly in her element with this one as well.