By Keith C. Smith
For my second installment of “Exploring ‘The World’” I wanted to go in a different direction from my last article which was about a novel. This time I’m reviewing .hack/sign, an 29 episode long anime series taking place shortly before the events of the first video game. While the book focused on the real life of its one main character, this story profiles both the real life and in game personas of several players in The World. Though many of the characters have faces you may be familiar with from the game, don’t be fooled. Like any MMORPG there are only so many character creation options available and these characters are only supposed to be coincidentally similar to their counterparts in the game.
The story centers on a mysterious young wavemaster (magic user) named Tsukasa. Tsukasa wakes up inside a dungeon of the game with no memory of who he is or how he got there. Confused and alone, he wanders through The World as several players try to speak with him. However, Tsukasa isn’t the talkative type and teleports away without a word. Then he is approached by three men of The Crimson Knights, self proclaimed protectors of The World. They claim to have seen Tsukasa speaking with an illegally edited cat character they want to question. Tsukasa, having only a faint memory of such a character, runs from the knights and then tries to exit the game. This proves to be a problem as he can’t logout. When another player suggests he just reset his computer, suddenly he realizes; he isn’t in front of a computer. In fact, he has no awareness of his physical body at all. He is completely inside the game and unable to escape.
Rumors quickly spread of the player who can’t logout and The Crimson Knights mobilize to capture and question him. But, when Tsukasa is cornered by their captain, a strange globular creature comes from out of nowhere and defeats the knight. The creature becomes his guardian, a gift by some unseen god of The World. In time this god grants Tsukasa even more powers within The World, making him content to stay there, never wondering who he really is. But his contentment turns to fear as he learns that people defeated by his guardian in the game are falling into comas in the real world.
Several players become interested in Tsukasa and begin investigating who he is and what keeps him trapped inside the game. The first to meet him is Mimiru, a strong willed girl wielding an oversized sword. Her lively and defensive nature can be irritating to Tsukasa, but they eventually forge a friendship. Bear is an old school gamer probably in his 30’s to 40’s. He looks like a war painted barbarian, but speaks with more thoughtfulness and sense than anyone. Helba is an infamous hacker, and that’s nothing you take lightly in a world where hacking is punishable by death. She guides the heroes and uses her influence to preserve The World…despite the system administrator’s efforts to shut her down. Sora is a playful, light-hearted type who enjoys the simple past time of stalking and killing his fellow players. But he’s not without ambition; to collect the member addresses of all the pretty female characters he meets – or kill them if they refuse. He is interested in Tsukasa only for the power he might lead him to. If you’re looking for characters from the game to make cameos, you’ll find them sparse at best, but when they do appear, their visits are important and memorable.