.hack//Legend of the Twilight Complete Collection

.hack//Legend of the Twilight 1-3: The Complete Collection by Tatsuya Hamazaki

I had fairly low expectations of this manga before picking it up. I’ve been vaguely aware of the .hack franchise which is centered around a Japanese role-playing game, and I knew it was fairly popular. I think I attempted to watch an episode of the anime back when it was on Cartoon Network, but ended up confused as to why the characters just seemed to sit around on hills talking to each other while wearing Adam Ant-like face paint and clutching giant swords.

Once I picked up the manga I found a slickly produced story that was filled with references that will likely amuse anyone who has spent some time playing Japanese role playing games. Shugo and his twin sister Rena are the lucky winners of some limited edition avatars – the legendary Kite and Black Rose. Rena is excited about logging into The World and playing the RPG, but Shugo is reticent. He’s not all that interested in leveling up or fighting monsters despite the fact that Rena wishes he would learn to become a hero. The newbies’ interesting character types instantly attract a voracious treasure hunter named Mirelle, who decides to join their party in case they come across rare game items for her collection. They are also joined by a werewolf character named Ouka who has dedicated her game time to becoming strong, and Hotaru, a gentle girl who is visiting the Japanese servers to improve her language skills. Shugo has an encounter with a mysterious woman named Aura who gives him a bracelet that sometimes rewrites the rules of The World. There’s a mystery associated with the avatars Shugo and Rena are using, and it might be tied up with a former player turned administrator named Balmung. Balmung seems to be more interested in preserving the whimsical nature of the world and cultivating interesting players than fulfilling his administrative duties.

The reader doesn’t see the characters’ outside lives. The entirety of the manga is set in The World. I was made more curious about Shugo and Rena’s school life when a side character was introduced that was played by someone they knew in real life. For the most part the characters relate to each other as the character types they are playing – Mirelle is a little greedy, Shugo gradually becomes the prototypical RPG hero, Rena is encouraging and often in need of a rescue, and Aura is the mysterious object of the quest. As the story progresses Shugo and Rena become caught up in the mystery of the dot hackers and the history of a mysterious event that took place four years ago where people in real life were left unconscious after an event in The World. A non-player character named Zefie attaches herself to Shugo. She says that she’s lost and looking for her mother. Shugo unfortunately attracts the attention of an overzealous administrator and he and his companions have to hurry to solve the mystery of the dot hackers before they are captured.

I liked the way the RPG details were worked into the narrative of this manga. Chapters open with e-mails the characters send to each other. Shugo goes on a quest to find some phoenix down to revive another character’s pet. Monsters drop cute treasure chests when they are defeated, and in-game e-mails are portrayed by little envelopes popping up next to the recipient’s head. I’m not sure if someone who hasn’t played an RPG would find all those details entertaining. I thought this manga was a good fantasy story, great for when you would want to read something with your brain turned off. The character designs are attractive, and while there are sometimes a few cheesecake shots of the female characters I didn’t find it very distracting.

I don’t think I’m likely to further explore the whole .hack universe but I do feel like I know a lot more about the phenomenon than before, and this self-contained omnibus seems like a good introduction for anyone who is interested in starting to explore the franchise. Most of the omnibus volumes I’ve read from Tokyopop have been two volumes packaged together. Since .hack//Legend of the Twilight is three volumes, the paper size has been increased and it is just slightly smaller than a VizBig omnibus. While this doesn’t approach the production values of the VizBig volumes, the paper stock is nice, color pages are included at the begining, and there are several extra comics included in the back after the main story.

Review copy provided by the publisher.