I freely admit that I’m a failure as a fanboy. I’m not the type of person who’d watch every part of a franchise just because it’s part of that franchise. As such, it’s hard for me to make a statement such as that Gundam Unicorn cashes in on the potential of its franchise, making it the best series therein. Gundam fans would quickly bombard me with their favorite series that I haven’t seen, etc. However, what I see as someone who considers himself a “fan of some Gundam” and not a “Gundam fanboy” is an OVA delivering every single thing that I’ve always wanted Gundam to deliver in the best way I can imagine.
Now, take that paragraph and replace “Gundam Unicorn” with “.hack//QUANTUM” and you’ve got my feelings about the .hack franchise. I was really big into it in 2003 when it started in the US. I own .hack//SIGN on DVD (but can’t bring myself to rewatch it because my hatedom for Bee Train is so strong) and I have the three-volume .hack//LEGEND OF THE TWILIGHT manga, the first DVD+box+soundtrack of its anime adaption, and I used to own .hack//INFECTION, the first of the video games.
I would’ve considered myself a diehard fan of the franchise at the time (even though I never managed to log more than 10 hours on INFECTION no matter how many times I restarted it); but eventually, the series started wearing me down because it never delivered on the thing I wanted from it, which was the intrigue of “The World” itself and how it’s played.
LEGEND OF THE TWILIGHT failed because its early parts were a fun, humorous take on The World that helped bring it to life—then it tried to pull a dramatic plot out of its ass and failed both in the manga and (much harder) in the anime. The video games suffered a different problem in that the gameplay itself was boring as shit. What really killed the franchise for me, though, were the light novels.
.hack//AI Buster was the exact same damn thing as every other .hack iteration. Again, the story revolved around a wandering AI in the form of a little girl, and the so-called “mysteries” that were the center of every .hack story were always the same, making them no longer “mysteries” anymore. Again, there was intrigue buried underneath it all, like learning how Orca and Balmung had become legendary players through beating a one-time-only boss (which fascinated me as an MMORPG fan), but besides that, I was reading the same old story again. I tried reading AI Buster 2 and .hack//Another Birth, but at that point, the whole thing was just ground into the dirt and I wanted nothing to do with it.
In my four years of otakudom, I thought I’d never take an interest in the series again. The games are boring (not that I play video games anymore anyway) and the anime adaptions are almost all done by my sworn enemy Bee Train, so I wouldn’t have watched them even if you told me they were great (because I’d know you were wrong, because such a thing is impossible). It all changed when my best friend came to me saying, “dude, you wanna watch .hack//QUANTUM with me? It’s not by Bee Train!” And now here I am, feeling quite satisfied with my involvement in the franchise over all these years.
Insofar as you don’t have to see all of the relevant Gundam anime in order to understand Gundam Unicorn (I haven’t even seen Zeta, though I’ve had the whole thing recapped to me), you don’t need to watch any of the other .hack anime to enjoy .hack//QUANTUM. In fact, I recommend at most that you get a general summary of them, because I wouldn’t consider any of them worthwhile (and I’d die before insinuating that someone should watch a Bee Train anime). There are references to other .hack series, but nothing that can’t be understood without seeing them. Those who have seen the old ones, however, will probably be even more gratified by watching this.
The exciting thing about QUANTUM is that The World actually feels like a futuristic MMORPG. Previous installments of the franchise had a tendency to treat The World hardly as a game at all, crediting the realism to ‘really good player immersion.’ That immersion is still present in QUANTUM, but the world feels and plays like a game, and the immersion makes a whole lot more sense (through a microchip implanted in the user’s body, they access the world by putting on a visor, and control their characters mentally. There is no handheld interface involved, and in episode 2, it’s shown that The World can be seemingly accessed from anywhere (unless I missed something in episode one about terminals)).
Lots of gamer lingo is used, but not as arbitrary reminders that “yes, this is a game,” which often occurred in .hack//SIGN (an AFK player just to explain what AFK is, etc.). The game aspects are taken into account by the plot itself, so that the story couldn’t be just as easily told by swapping out the MMORPG aspects for something else. This is definitely a story about an MMORPG.
QUANTUM’s plot is nothing unique to the franchise. People are falling unconscious while playing the game, their consciousness seemingly trapped in the game world, and it all may be tied to a giant conspiracy revolving around CC Corp. Because the .hack installations usually refer back to one-another, as is the case in QUANTUM, I assume that CC Corp still hasn’t been called out on whatever the hell they’ve been doing all these years, and with QUANTUM only being a three-episode OVA, I don’t think they’ll be taking down CC Corp anytime soon.
Nonetheless, the plot is handled well. It’s a simple matter of presentation—whereas this plot didn’t interest me in other series because of its heavy-handed delivery, here it’s intriguing, as the story moves along with brisk pace and doesn’t dwell too much on how mysterious everything is, opting instead to explain a lot of it logically. Nothing in this show feels like “the game is just magic that way.” It all makes sense. I assume that the writer, Hamazaki Tatsuya, has gotten good at portraying The World from his experience with writing a number of .hack installments.
But more than anything, QUANTUM’s just a damn great production. Unlike anything Bee Train has ever touched, the art, animation, and designs are all high-quality. (Not to knock Sadamoto Yoshiyuki’s design work across the franchise, but Bee Train doesn’t do it many favors). This OVA is the first major individual production by studio Kinema Citrus, who worked with BONES before to create the Eureka Seven movie and Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 (which shares its director with .hack//QUANTUM). I certainly look forward to the studio’s future works~
Naturally, being the gigantic seiyuufag that I am, what gets me the most excited is the main trio of girls being played by Fujimura Ayumi (Mineva Lao Zabi in Unicorn, incidentally), Sawashiro Miyuki, and Hanazawa Kana. The latter two are in top form here, grinding their previous roles as best friends in Black Rock Shooter to dust. Thanks to the lightning-speed plot development and short overall running time, the characters don’t get much room to develop, so it’s vital that Sawashiro and Hanakana bring them to life so well.
Between this and Gundam Unicorn, this is a damn good time for OVAs, and for franchises. Maybe now I can has a new awesome Boogiepop OVA?