Friday, February 17, 2012

.hack//Sign: Responsibility

.hack recap: Tsukasa has accepted that, since he can't log out, the game world is his world now.

(I recommend actually buying .hack//Sign since my words don't really do it justice.  One can get either the DVD this episode is on, or the full series as a set.)

.hack//Sign, Episode 2, 1:35*-4:31

This episode is called Guardian and, as you might have guessed, Tsukasa's Guardian will show up in it. Before we get to that, though, we'll have a lot of other stuff to look at.

The episode starts with Tsukasa standing in the rain in a thunderstorm. He says, “No way,” and I honestly have no idea what he's referring to. I could just randomly make something up (e.g. he realizes it should be impossible to feel the rain on his skin and yet he does anyway) but there's really not enough in the scene to know.

The next scene has him in the same place he repeatedly met Mimiru in the previous episode, a place that appears to be in the mountains above the clouds, with wooden bridges that disappear into the fog/mist/cloud below.  It's also defined by green grass, and sort of kite things in the air. It's very welcoming looking.

He's sitting on a fence and throwing a cartoonish bit of produce to a cartoonish animal. (Vegetation should not have a face with which to smile at you if it is about to be devoured. Just saying.) Eating the fruit causes the animal, a grunty, to level up into an adult. So it goes from being a furry hippopotamus with blonde hair the size of a small dog to a furry hippopotamus with blonde hair about the length and height of a donkey (though, as you'd expect, wider.)

It says that there's no need for another adult in the area, and flies away. (It just sort of tilts upwards 45 degrees and walks away even though there's nothing for it to walk on.)

Probably the most important part of this scene is that Tsukasa seems amused, almost bordering on happy. Which, at this point, appears to be something he only does when no other human beings are around. He goes for a walk and it turns out other human beings are around.

The first person he walks by is Bear, whom he notices but ignores until Bear asks him if he's read the message board. Tsukasa hasn't. Tsukasa can't. You have to log out to access the BBS. The only time Tsukasa ever learns about something on the board is when someone tells him. And it's not as if he asks anyone. His response here isn't, “Why?” or, “What did it say?” but instead, “It's not my problem.”

Bear doesn't press the issue, though the way he says, “Never mind, then,” is laced with enough suspicion to provoke a visible reaction from Tsukasa before Tsukasa resumes walking way.

The next person he passes is Mimiru who, on seeing him, takes a moment to collect herself and then smiles. Tsukasa completely ignores her, he doesn't even glance her way as he walks passed. While Mimiru is annoyed and distracted by that, Bear sneaks up on her and startles her. (He doesn't actually say “Boo” but he might as well have.)

Then we cut to a conversation between the two in medias res. Since it does start in the middle we don't know if this is the first conversation they've had on the subject, or simply the first we see. Either way, it's the first of many conversations they'll have concerning Tsukasa and the events surrounding him.

I said in the first episode that I think it's incredibly important, enough so for me to see it as the result of a benevolent destiny, that these are the people Tsukasa met. This is why. These two people will end up spending huge amounts of time and energy trying to help Tsukasa even though they never met him before, he's not really a fun person to be around much of the time, and in these initial meetings he's been nothing but rude.

To a certain extent this plays into a fantasy that you see used and abused in other places, the thing at the root of Edward Cullen and Manic Pixie Dream People: that someone can come along and care about you and help you no matter how much of a jerk your insecurities might make you into. That someone will come along and see the beauty that is the real you and you won't be able to push them away and so you'll get what you want in spite of the fact that the way you're acting is making it pretty much impossible to get it.

The parallel is definitely there, though as time goes on we'll see a bunch of places where they differ from the standard MPDP. They're not always right, they will make mistakes, they'll work off bad assumptions, they'll occasionally make things worse, but more important than all of that is that they're not controlling. They won't say, “You will bake for me,” the closest they might come is something more like, “I really think you should find something you like doing. Have you considered baking? If you don't want to bake that's fine, but I just wanted to let you know that baking is an option.”

Anyway, I think there's also something else at work beyond the standard, “Someone will save you even if you're a jerk,” fantasy. I think there's also a question of responsibility.

What I see with Bear and Mimiru reminds me of a post by Fred Clark on the question of responsibility. As is always the case with Fred Clark, the whole thing is worth reading. That said, the most relevant section is when he talks about an Ethics 101 question:

It might be helpful to look at this through the lens of a textbook example from Ethics 101: The Drowning Stranger.

"A man is drowning near the end of the dock," the professor says. "What is your responsibility?"

"I didn't push him in!" the student says, with abrupt, vehement anger.

From the professor's perspective, this anger is strangely out of place, but for the student it seems justified. The student, instinctively, heard the question of responsibility as an accusation of blame. And, for what it's worth, the student's statement is correct. He didn't push the hypothetical stranger off of the hypothetical dock.

The problem, of course, is that the student's response — standing by as the stranger drowns while adamantly insisting on his blamelessness — is itself so irresponsible as to incur the very guilt the student set out to deny. Very well, he didn't push the man in, but he did just stand there and watch the man drown without lifting a finger to save him.

The reason that it's so important that Bear and Mimiru are the ones Tsukasa met is because of how they respond to questions like this. It isn't their fault, they didn't push him in, they are not charged with looking after people like Tsukasa, they are not system administrators or therapists, they are not connected to Tsukasa in any way other than being strangers whose paths crossed and they are under no more obligation to help him than anyone else who happens to bump into him.

And yet none of that seems to come up in their thinking.

One gets the impression that if either of them were asked the above question their answer would be somewhat different:

“A man is drowning ne-”

“I save him.”


“I save him. If he's close enough I offer an arm or a leg, making sure to keep enough of my weight on the dock to avoid being pulled in, otherwise I run off the end of the dock and dive in, not straight at him because drowning people have a tendency to anyone or anything that appears in front of us, and that would kill us both. I dive off to the side and then circle round behind him. I grab him, my arms under his armpits, and lean back so that he's supported by my buoyancy, and then I start swimming back to to safety. With my legs; my arms are occupied holding onto him.”

“But I haven't asked the question yet.”

“I don't care. I've got a hold of him and I'm kicking back to shore. Or the dock. Whichever is closer.”

The exact details might change, it'd probably be a good idea to ditch your shoes before attempting that, for example, so there might need to be some tweaking, but I picture them responding something like that because we see what they think their responsibility is. A stranger is trapped in an online game, what is your responsibility? Their answer seems to be to help him.

But it's not quite like that because there's not a lot of evidence they ever considered it as a question. Whether he's really unable to log out is a question they'll consider, whether they should be trying to help when they learn that's the case would appear to be a foregone conclusion on their part.

The parallel that comes to mind is Malcolm Reynolds in Serenity. Mal doesn't leave River behind even though his life would have been a lot easier if he had. Afterward Jayne asks him, “In earnest Mal, why'd you bring her back?” and Mal has no answer. He has no answer because he never thought it was a question. He never considered other options, he never considered that there might be other options.

The same seems to be true of Bear and Mimiru. They might have questions as to the factual accuracy of Tsukasa's situation, but they have no question about how to respond if it is accurate. And even when they doubt it's accuracy, they're still concerned for him as a person.


The actual substance of the conversation is thin enough that I considered saving all of the above for a later instance, but it is the first time we see the interest they're taking in Tsukasa and so it seemed simplest to say that the first time instead of trying to weigh which time it comes up is the ideal time.

Anyway, substance. As I said, the conversation is already in progress when the scene starts, so we don't know everything that was said. When we come in, we learn that Mimiru has found out that the Crimson Knights are looking for a cat-character (it was looking for this character that originally brought them into contact with Tsukasa) and Bear is convinced that they're taking the situation too seriously for it to just be that.

And then they come around to Tsukasa, which is presumably where the conversations started as well. At the very least it had to have come up before because Bear knows that Tsukasa isn't able to log out (something Tsukasa has only told Mimiru) and brings it up as something he's concerned about. Both he and Mimiru know that should be impossible. The conversation ends with no conclusions.

Bear says he'll be thinking about it for a while, and in so doing refers to himself as old. Mimiru hadn't known that he was old and, after bringing up that she hadn't know, points out that a character's appearance doesn't mean much. That's an important point because it gives a certain freedom from the expectations of appearance and a certain anonymity.

Regarding expectations, one character started playing The World because it allows her to interact with people without them judging her for her wheelchair. In the game she's just another person so in the game she will never be treated as a wheelchair with a person attached, where in the real world that is sort of treatment is unfortunately common.

Regarding anonymity, the way the game works means that age, race and gender are all things that belong to the game character, not the player, which means that when one meets someone in the game they don't know if they're male or female, 9 or 90, and they have no indication of race.


* Every episode starts with the same opening credits which contain what is, in my opinion, the worst song in the entire series. On the other hand someone somewhere else said it was the best, so opinions vary. At some point I'll get around to seeing what meaning, if any, can be pulled out of what's in the opening credits, but for the moment I'm just skipping them, which means that, according to my DVD player, I'll be starting each episode one minute and thirty-five seconds in.

I'll probably also try to look at the closing credits and the short thingy that indicates the halfway point of an episode in the same post. I very much doubt that there's much to say about any of them, though I do think there might be something to say about one aspect of the opening credits.



  1. I *loved* that opening credits song when I thought it was in Japanese or another language I didn't understand. That was back when I was catching episodes on the Cartoon Network - no subtitles. Later, I watched the DVD with subs and found out that the song was in English with the worst lyrics ever -- like, Wergle Flomp bad. Which made enjoying the *music* of it difficult.

    I like to think there is a real, useful, poignant meaning there, but it was expressed by someone whose grasp of English approaches that of Google Translate. Somewhere, on some alternate world, it has the Right Lyrics and someday I will learn them. Until then... *sigh.*

    1. Yeah, I also noticed a substantial drop in depth when I realized it was in English.

      I first started watching on Cartoon Network, late at night, when I had insomnia, and at the time it seemed like it was clearly in some other language (I assumed Japanese) and it must have some deep meaning I simply didn't understand for lack of knowing the language.

      I'm not sure how much of my present dislike of the song comes from knowing the lyrics now. I think some of it might also be due to hearing it so much. Put in the DVD, that's playing on the menu screen. Start any episode, that's playing. My DVD player doesn't let me skip a chapter until it has first loaded the chapter, which means that I always end up hearing the opening sound, which in terms of how it sounds (so this is when we're not taking into account the meaning of the lyrics) is probably my least favorite part of the song.

      So I wonder if it might be the case that if I could start the song a little bit after the very beginning (just a second or two in, really) and forget that this vacuous Enlgish as opposed to some foreign language, I would like the song.

      I think I did like it more when I didn't know it was English.

  2. I believe the scene at the opening of the episode, with Tsukasa in the rain/lightning in that "dark" kind of field(in terms of the PS2 games), is a preview of the scene at the end of the episode, also with lightning in the "dark" field, sorta like a bookend? At least, that's how I've always interpreted it. I figured Tsukasa was expressing shock at what all goes down.