25 May, 2010

.hack//Cell, Vol. 1

By: Ken Haley

Written by Ryo Suzukaze, Art by Akira Mutsuki, Translated by Gemma Collinge
TOKYOPOP, 208 pp
Rating: Older Teen (16 +)

.hack//Cell tells the tale of two young women sharing the name Midori. One is hospital-ridden, the victim of an unknown and wasting disease, while the other is a character within The World, a massive fantasy-like MMORPG, who is known for hiring herself out to Player Killers for 60 seconds’ worth of free shots. What links these two, and what it means for each of their existences, is the central mystery around which the novel revolves.

The story follows the lives of both Midoris, jumping back and forth between the The World’s Midori and the real world Midori. The World’s Midori seems to be the focus of the story, getting most of the face time in the book and with heavy attention paid to her relationship with fellow gamer and sidekick Adamas. For the most part the tale of the real world Midori focuses on the decline of her health and the effects it has on her mental state. Their stories don’t seem to directly intersect within this volume and it’s left to the reader to speculate as to how they connect and influence each other. Given some of .hack’s stories in the past, that could mean just about anything, frankly. Is the Midori in the game the player character of the real world’s Midori? Is this a case of Midori’s consciousness somehow getting stuck within The World? Could The World’s Midori be a completely different person from the real world Midori? It’s a pretty open field.

Unlike a fair amount of the light novels I’ve read this eschews the first person perspective in favor of the third person. It also seems to lack the heavy exchanges of dialogue that often pop up within light novels. I’m not sure whether it’s because of Collinge’s translation or if it’s simply Ryo Suzukaze’s style, but the result is that it reads and feels less like your stereotypical light novel and more like an average novel.

Akira Mutsuki’s artwork is a bit of a strange beast. At first glance, readers will notice how heavily detailed and gorgeous it is, with lots of attention given to the characters’ clothing, jewelry, accessories or more. Midori’s robes flow like water as she poses like some sort of supermodel. The odd action piece shares the attention to detail and sometimes comes with an extra helping of exaggerated perspective as well. Then you look at the characters’ legs. Whereas the rest of the drawing is a thing of beauty, the legs are just bizarre. They’re virtual toothpicks, disproportionately long and lanky, incredibly skinny, thin and fragile-looking, bent in awkward positions, but also covered in heavily detailed and elaborate-looking clothing. Still, one can’t help but notice how wonky-looking the legs are.

I have to admit that I’m bit unsure as to how new-reader-friendly this book is. I was able to muddle through, though I did poke around online to clarify a few terms here and there, mostly character class details but also for clarification on the weird behavior of one player during an action sequence. Still, I thought it was a very enjoyable and engaging read. The mystery surrounding the two Midoris was just the kind of material I was hoping to find when I first became aware of .hack ages ago, and the cliffhanger ending definitely has me looking forward towards the second volume.

Volume one of .hack//Cell is available now.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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