Bandai // 2003 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Ryan (Retired) // September 23rd, 2004
The World is a vampire -- and despite all his rage, Shugo is still just a cyber-rat in a virtual reality cage. Or something like that.
The third anime iteration of Bandai's .hack// franchise reaches its middle stanza -- and like all good Empire Strikes Back-like middle stanzas, things get mighty rough for our heroes, and all seems grim and hopeless. But hey -- maybe a little brother-sister lovin' will cheer folks up!
As discussed in a prior review, .hack//Legend of the Twilight is part of Bandai's great big .hack// project; an attempt to create a synergistic franchise of anime, video games, and manga that hopefully will achieve the level of success enjoyed by Nintendo's Pokémon franchise. This time, though, the anime series isn't a tie-in to a video game; it's a stand-alone anime series using the previously-created .hack// universe as its foundation.
When last we left the world of The World, a virtual reality massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG), our twin 14-year-old heroes, Shugo and Rena, had just begun their journey. The two had won special in-game avatars in a contest -- avatars that were recreations of the characters Kite and Black Rose, the heroes of the .hack// video game series. They begin adventuring with a group of virtual friends whom they meet online: Mirielle, a young magic-using rare item hunter; Ohka, the wolf-woman with the big chest; and Hotaru, a quiet girl with a pet grunty (a pig-like creature that's the only pet available in-game). Things are amiss in The World, though -- strange non-standard events and creatures are appearing in the world, and users are falling into real-life comas, just as happened back in the time of "The Twilight" (the events that were explored in the video games). These oddities seem to be connected to Shugo and Rena in some way. Investigating these problems -- and keeping an eye on the twins to keep them safe -- are long-time veteran players Sanjuro and Lord Balmung. Balmung also works as (basically) an in-game customer service rep for the company that owns and operates The World.
Please note that there are some spoilers contained in the rest of this review.
Enter the Nightmare! picks up where A New World left off, with the middle four 25-minute episodes (out of 12) of the Legend of the Twilight series:
* "Mansion of Terror"
The source of the mysterious program flaws is revealed: a group of four kids with (presumably) a lot of programming skill and way too much time on their hands. They're plotting against Kite/Shugo for some unexplained reason. They set up a trap for him, hoping to draw him into a game zone where they can whomp him with a specially-crafted monster. The plan works -- except it's Rena who's entangled in their web, not Shugo.
* "Trap of the Hot Steaming Water"
Rena has disappeared, and everyone is looking for her. Mirielle is convinced that it's all a special game event, and finding Rena is the required task to complete. Sanjuro and Balmung assure them that this isn't the case. A mysterious email leads Shugo, Mirielle, Hotaru, and Ohka to an ice zone, where they discover a hot spring in the middle of the landscape. Everyone gets naked, and who should appear out of the mist but...Rena! She seems very happy to see Shugo. Very happy. Happy in a way that makes all of us watching extremely uncomfortable. But Shugo knows his sister, and knows that this isn't her. He's right. Battle ensues. The episode ends with Balmung revealing some shocking information about the avatars awarded to Shugo and Rena, and Shugo learning some extremely disturbing real-life information -- Rena has fallen into a coma.
* "Twilight Moon"
Rena lies comatose in reality, but is still logged in to The World. She is restored to a semblance of consciousness by the ghostly girl Aura, and realizes that she isn't in The World itself, but some subset of it that's unconnected to the main servers. Back in The World, Sanjuro and Balmung tell the story of The Twilight, and the .hack crew who saved The World from catastrophe. They reveal that they both were members of that party. Shugo goes off on his own searching for Rena -- which is just what the Gang of Four were hoping for. They spring a monster on him, but Sanjuro and Balmung come to his aid in the nick of time. Shugo has a clever idea about how to trace the monster back to its source via his data drain ability, but the plan is scotched when the fascist Cerulean Knights, led by a woman named Kamui, show up to delete the monster. The Knights, it seems, are the attack dogs of the corporation, and rule with an iron fist. Balmung and Kamui -- who've got some sort of romantic history between them -- argue about jurisdictional issues over the Rena disappearance. Kamui wins.
* "The Solitary Knight"
We get a picture of how drunk with power the Cerulean Knights are when we witness characters being "publicly" deleted (and their associated accounts banned) for relatively small violations of the rules. Sanjuro realizes that Shugo's bracelet is a big violation of the rules, and that it's only a matter of time before the Knights figure that out and come for him. Balmung gets called on the carpet by the corporation, who tell him in no uncertain terms to stay out of Kamui's way. He, of course, ignores them. The Gang of Four is concerned about Rena's reawakening, and try to get to the bottom of the issue. Shugo is leveling himself up while he tries to find Rena, and he's gotten quite powerful. The Gang of Four watch him, but are biding their time until the heat from the Cerulean Knights dies down. As Sanjuro predicted, the Knights do indeed find out about Shugo, and attempt to arrest him. They are thwarted by the appearance of a relic from the past -- a legendary player-character named the Silver Knight. The Knights are not amused, and delete him -- but Shugo gets away. The corporation gets wind of Balmung's continuing investigation and strip him of his power for insubordination. As the show ends, Aura helps Rena send an email to Shugo.
This set of episodes is more interconnected, and better linked to the overarching storyline, than the set contained in A New World. The "big picture" starts to take shape here, and that makes these stories more compelling and interesting to watch. There's a darker tone here in the middle stanza -- I mentioned The Empire Strikes Back on purpose, as it's a valid parallel.
Beyond that, it's more of the same. There's still a great anamorphic widescreen transfer; still a well-balanced Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio track. The colors are bright and sharp (but not as bright and sharp as, say, Mobile Suit Gundam -- the .hack// world is a bit more impressionistic in tone). Animation is simple, but not cheap-looking.
This disc is thinner in the extra department than the first disc. There's no "liner notes" section this time -- although there aren't any Japanese folk tales that need explaining, so there's really no need for one. The textless opening and closing are absent as well. The "art gallery" returns, with different characters. Two new trailers for other Bandai anime series appear on the disc; but the video game trailer is just the same trailer for ".hack//Quarantine" that was included with the first disc.
Now, 200 minutes in, the voice acting is really starting to grate on me. Shugo yells an awful lot, and it's not good (nor realistic) yelling. Half the time it sounds like he's trying to poop out a watermelon. A large watermelon. Some of the female characters are so shrill that they could be used to drive away bats and small insects. Make sure your tweeter has a circuit breaker installed...just in case. Again, I ask -- is this all really necessary? Why can't Shugo sound like Fred Savage, or Haley Joel Osment? Why does he have to sound like Howie Mandel getting an enema? Sometimes I just don't get Japan...
Oh...and then there's the incest.
Yep, it's back! Couldn't get enough of Shugo ogling his pre-jailbait-looking sister's avatar with a virtual tingly feeling in his virtual naughty bits? Well, fear not! Getting everyone naked in the hot spring, even though it's a show aimed at early teens (co-ed naked early-teenagers is a recipe for disaster -- trust me on this), is at least borderline acceptable if you're not concerned with things like "propriety" and "wisdom." But then Rena comes along. Naked. And hugs Shugo. Who's naked. And we see Shugo's hand...hovering over Rena's naked buttock. Will he grasp the glistening, naked buttock, and pull Rena firmly towards him in his first real expression of illicit and taboo sexuality?
Thankfully, we never get the answer, because he quickly realizes it's not Rena, and she turns into an evil wizard. But why do we even get to the point of asking the question?
Thank goodness the writers separated these two for most of the running time of this set, or else they'd surely by going at it like rhesus monkeys in heat by the end of episode 7 at the latest. Ick. To reiterate: Ick.
Enter the Nightmare! gets a slightly higher grade than A New World thanks to its superior storytelling. This is still a pretty decent anime series, and I'm still curious as to how it all turns out.
Sentence suspended again, pending Volume 3. But keep your damnhands off your sister, you little perv!
Review content copyright © 2004 David Ryan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Art Gallery
* Liner Notes
* Video Game Trailer
* Anime Trailers
* Official Site