.hack//QUANTUM is the Gundam Unicorn of its Franchise

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?

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17 Responses to .hack//QUANTUM is the Gundam Unicorn of its Franchise

  1. marthaurion says:

    i liked quantum a lot too
    have you ever tried .hack//G.U.? the gameplay was much more enjoyable for me than the Kite series

  2. I really enjoyed these and yes thankfully no damn Bee Train! Even thou I got into .hack//SIGN back when they aired it on TV, because it blended two of my favorite things MMORPGS and Anime. These OVA’s have some impressive animation and top quality acting it was cool seeing some familiar characters from some of the past series, and of course the three main girls are fun to watch together.

    I haven’t played any of the games but heard they were decent for fans. I always laugh when they mention player killing! Because I have played a few PVP centered online games xD

    • I just found the games boring (and, retrospectively, pretentious). You know in Japan they actually had a .hack-themed MMORPG, but it sadly never made it stateside. I’d been pretty excited at the idea, too.

      • marthaurion says:

        I’m not really sure what they were thinking when they made Infection’s gameplay…not at all intuitive and it’s too much of a hassle to do anything other than a standard attack

  3. Myssa Rei says:

    My only issue again with the OVA is that, once again, CC Corp gets away scott-free with basically using unstable software that, when abused (and we’ve seen time and again that it CAN) can lead to people getting killed. Nothing really gets solved, aside from the personal issues of the three girls, and the World still chugs along.

    • Well, this being a simple action/adventure type of show, I wouldn’t expect that side of things to come up, but it certainly would be nice if we got a series that did it. Of course, that can’t happen as long as there are stories that need to be set in The World.

  4. Turambar says:

    Wait…it’s actually good? After roots, I wanted to have nothing to do with that series outside of the games ever again.

  5. kadian1364 says:

    I’ve sunk enough time into .hack in my early fandom that I feel obliged to see what is likely the only good iteration of the whole franchise. Thanks for the heads up.

  6. Turambar says:

    Just finished, and indeed, it definitely was probably the best piece of .hack animated works in the franchise. The degree of user interface they gave things made it a step above signs in terms of making things actually feel like an MMO, while the plot itself was short and sweet, and a good way of displaying what .hack stories have always been about.

    A good degree of references as well though none felt like “you see what clever thing we did there” kind of thing.

    Do have to say though, for a setting that takes place when Aina is an adult, can’t we start having flying cars.

  7. >>Maybe now I can has a new awesome Boogiepop OVA?
    Yes, please.

    I totally forgot about this coming out, probably because it was released as an OVA. Totally going to check it out now.

  8. schneider says:

    What? Ayumi Fujimura, Miyuki Sawashiro, and Kana Hanazawa are in this show? All of three them are my favorite seiyuu! I must check this out.

    Funny how you write that Gundam Unicorn doesn’t require much UC backstory from its audience. I had a couple of people try it out as their first UC show, and they were confused as all hell, which made them not willing to continue past the first episode. I think it won’t be satisfying to just watch it if you’re someone who badly needs context in order to enjoy a story.

    • I recently showed it to my Sci-fi loving Aunt who has no knowledge of Gundam whatsoever and she enjoyed the heck out of it. However when trying to show Unicorn to normal anime-fans the response has been more varied. Maybe your enjoyment of it in that regards depends on how used to being dropped into massive, convoluted space operas you are. (But even then, the themes and story of UC is pretty simplistic compared to most literary SF)

    • It probably helps that if I see pretty girls and explosions, I stop giving a fuck about everything else.

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