Friday, April 6, 2012

.hack//Sign: Six impossible things

.hack recap: Tsukasa is in a special place where he's been told by DVL he'll be protected, but he's been told he need to contact Mimiru.

(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: Guardian, 15:28-End

Having been told to contact Mimiru Tsukasa immediately thinks up a reason why that's not a good idea:

Tsukasa: But the Crimson Knights are guarding the gate!
DVL: Don't worry, Tsukasa. Believe in me. Besides, your guardian is with you.
[Flashback to monster defeating the Silver Knight]
Tsukasa: My... Guardian.
DVL: I will bestow another power on you.

I've decided to use the subtitles as what I quote, but I do want to pause for a moment to say that in the dub DVL tacks a “use it well” onto the end of that last quote. I think it's worth noting because, eventually, Tsukasa will. Which will work against DVL's interests.

Anyway, let's take a moment to recap:

Tsukasa cannot exit the game. This is, of course, impossible.
Tsukasa experiences the game world with all of his senses as if it were the real world. This is, of course, impossible.
Tsukasa has a monster, not in any of the game documentation, that protects him. This is, of course, impossible.
Tsukasa has just been given the power to travel without using the Chaos Gate (that's the other power mentioned above.) This is, of course, impossible.

A couple more things and it'll reach the point where Tsukasa should round off his morning with breakfast at Milliways.

Yeah, I don't have a strong theme for this post, at all.


In Mac Anu (Venice) Bear is standing on one of the bridges over the river observing the Crimson Knights below. Subaru notices this, she seems surprised by it and unhappy with it, but we really don't get much of a sense of what she's thinking or the knights are doing. This is in part because at this point Mimiru shows up and talks to Bear:

Mimiru: So, you're still here.
Bear: You too. I noticed the suspicious behavior, so I just couldn't leave.
Mimiru: Me too. I came back after taking a bath.

I'm going so slowly that it's easy to forget that it's been less than two minutes since the scene in which BT made her argument that you can't stay logged in all the time because you have to deal with the real world. Taking baths would be a good example of the kind of thing she was talking about. Going to the bathroom would be a better example. To be connected to the game all the time means no stopping to take a bath, or use a bathroom, or get a drink, or care for your body in any way.

Regardless, Bear and Mimiru are not meeting to talk about Mimiru's bath, they're talking about the situation. Bear asks Mimiru if she's read the board, she has. Presumably the Crimson Knights have too and that's why they're acting differently than normal. Mimiru also has information no one else does: Tsukasa has done as he was told and asked to meet her.

The place he asked to meet her is on a different server though, which, as noted above, is impossible given that the gate is guarded. That isn't lost on Bear, whom Mimiru invites to come with her.


Next we see Sora who asks a pair of Crimson Knights if the wave-master they're looking for (Tsukasa) seemed to be depressed. I want to point out that Sora saw Tsukasa from behind, from a distance, for a short time and managed to work out that Tsukasa seemed depressed.

I want to point this out because I'm finding it hard not to contrast this with Twilight. Bella shows just as many signs of depression in Twilight as Tsukasa has shown so far in .hack//Sign, but the difference is that .hack//Sign takes the condition seriously. Sora has absolutely no interest in Tsukasa's mental health yet he's still managed to notice that there's something going on. Sora isn't the only one who notices that Tsukasa isn't in a healthy place, and perhaps more important than the characters is the fact that the text notices.

The text takes seriously the fact that what's going on is neither normal nor right. It isn't dismissive of or oblivious to the problems that come with being someone like starting Tsukasa or Bella. It treats it with the gravity that it deserves.

Contrast that with Bella's text. Twilight never really seems to grasp that maybe having no life beyond your immediate family, no hobbies besides rereading a small handful of books you've already read and deemed safe, no drive, almost no emotional response to the world around you (positive or negative), and the litany of other lacks that define Bella Swan's life might possibly be a problem. Just as it fails to take seriously her chronic falling, it also fails to take seriously her evident emotional problems.

Anyway, Sora gets an affirmative but skips out on the knights without giving them any information, then goes back to where he first met Tsukasa, specifically to the wall that Tsukasa disappeared through (which was, of course, impossible.)

Sora runs one of his blades along the wall, confirming that it is solid stone, and says:

So it was him. I love it! I wanna be his friend.

Sora does not know how to make friends. At all.


And finally we get to the meeting of Mimiru which will not go as anyone involved had hoped. It's in the same place where the episode started, a rocky place with lightning and rain.

If a conversation starts with disagreement about who should be present* that's probably a good sign that it's not going to be very smooth. Especially if it immediately moves into headier matters.

Mimiru asks if Tsukasa has seen the board, he hasn't. Bear points out that you need to log out to see it and makes reference to Tsukasa being in front of his computer. And that's about when Bear realizes that Tsukasa isn't in front of a comptuer terminal. Which Tsukasa confirms:

That's right. I'm not in front of a terminal. [Lightning strike] The World... is my world.
[Lightning strike, music kicks in.]

At this point again I feel like there's a problem with leaving what was English in the Japanese version as English in the English version. It would be like if something said, “We will rule over all this land and we will call it, 'Haec Terra,'” and that were translated to, “We will rule over all this land and we will call it, 'This land.'” Sure, that's what it means, but you lose the fact that there's two different languages involved when you translate the whole thing into English.

When he says, “The World,” Tsukasa is speaking English. When he says, “... is my world,” he's speaking Japanese that's been translated into English for the benefit of those of us who don't speak Japanese. Not distinguishing between those two things seems to lose some of the flavor. It can also sound really strange when people say something like, “This world, The World.”**

Setting aside translation and looking at things that matter to the story, this is the first time that Tsukasa has admitted this fact to someone else. It took him most of episode 1 just to recognize it himself. For Bear and Mimiru the big deal is that him not being in contact with a computer is just ... I don't even know how best to say it. It's like if you found out I'm not using a computer. Then how do these words get onto the internet? Where do they come from? (For the record, smart-phones are computers, but to completely avoid any rules lawyering: it would be like you found out that I'm not using any electronics.)

From a Tsukasa's state of mind perspective this is a reaffirmation of his decision at the end of episode 1 to simply accept that he's in The World and not really try to get out anymore.

Anyway, such a statement on Tsukasa' part naturally provokes a reaction:

Mimiru: Don't be ridiculous.
Bear: If you move in the normal way, it's impossible to avoid the Crimson Knights guarding the Root towns. How can you move between servers without using the Chaos Gate?

Mimiru just tries to reject it flat out, Bear asks for more information on the impossible thing that he knows definitely happened. Bear's line of questioning is what will finally get us to this thing on the board everyone's been talking about that.

Tsukasa: I received the power.
Mimiru: Did you defeat the Silver Knight with that power?
Tuskasa: That one's different.
Mimiru: Different? But you're the one who defeated him.
Tsukasa: Yeah... Well...
Mimiru: But how? How can someone defeat his opponent to the extend that he's physically hurt?
Tsukasa: What?!
Mimiru: The player of the Silver Knight was found unconscious in front of the monitor and later they found he had a slight case of amnesia.

This is, of course, impossible. It's also something that kind of throws you off the trail of who the real Tsukasa is. The first episode ended with a young woman found unconscious on the ground in front of her computer with the implication that that was Tsukasa. Now we find out that, more or less at that exact time, the Silver Knight's player was unconscious in front of his computer. We have no more reason to assume that the Silver Knight's player is male than we have to assume that Tsukasa's player is male, so really it could have been either of them.

In the interests of killing all suspense, let me repeat that it was Tsukasa, but this is the first time that the series casts doubt on that, and it will be quite some time before it's actually confirmed.

Anyway, now it's Tsukasa's turn to disbelieve something that Mimiru said:

Tsukasa: That can't be true.
Bear: There's no way to know whether it's true or not, but I can believe it. At least as much as I can believe that you're not in front of your monitor.

If vampires, then werewolves. (Credulousness will actually be a problem for them later on.)

Bear: They are desperate. They're reaching out to the players through the Board to obtain your information. The Crimson Knights won't leave you alone.

A piece of advice for anyone going to talk to a depressed person trapped inside a videogame: giving a speech that basically amounts to, “You are doomed. The walls are closing in. The end is nigh. You have no hope,” is probably not the best idea. I like Bear and Mimiru's willingness to try to help, but their execution needs work. A lot of work.

Though from an outside of the fiction perspective this is a good thing. If they showed up and were right in all that they did, that would be extremely problematic. The fact that they do stumble and occasionally fuck up, as here where they offer confrontation when that's the last thing that is needed, makes them both more believable as human beings and more acceptable as characters.

Mimiru: So, what are you gonna do now?
Tsukasa: Nothing.
Mimiru: But...
Tuskasa: There's nothing I can do. [Starts to walk away.] Nevermind. I shouldn't have called you.
Mimiru: There you go again. Even if this is your world, you'll be surrounded by the Crimson Knights soon!

“There you go again,” refers to Tsukasa's tendency to walk out on conversations when he doesn't like where they're going. Also, Mimiru, see what I said regarding Bear above.

Tsukasa responds to this by trying to find something to comfort himself:

Tsukasa: I'll be fine. My Guardian is with me.
Mimiru: Oh, so that's what defeated the Silver Knight for you? [beat] But what about that player?!

Any comfort he might have had died right there. There was a reaction shot just to make sure you could tell that he's actually not remotely ok with hurting other players. He happens to be facing away from Mimiru so it's not clear if she noticed that.  (My guess is that she didn't.) If she did she decided to drive home the point, if she didn't then she simply decided to make the point.

Mimiru: Losing consciousness and suffering amnesia. It's not “all right”! It's not “all right” at all!

Another issue I have with the translation is that it tends to do a bad job with intratextual connection. If you translate Tsukasa saying something as “fine” you shouldn't translate Mimiru quoting that same something as “all right”. The dub, in its defense in this one instance, uses “all right” for both things.

Anyway, Tsukasa turns back to shout, “What do you want me to do about it?” and then starts running away. Mimiru tries to chase and that situation summons the Guardian.

I'm not totally sure of the Guardian's intelligence and I'm not always clear on it's motivations. It doesn't seem to be all that smart, more on the level of a pet than a person. It definitely has two contradictory goals that it's supposed to be pursuing and while in the end it will have clearly chosen sides, before the end I'm never quite sure where it stands. Or, you know, floats.

Anyway, right now it doesn't seem to be working toward either of those goals so much as utterly failing to understand the situation. DVL does not want this meeting to end in tragedy because she wants things to get better before they fall apart. Things haven't been built up enough for there to be a meaningful collapse yet. Tsukasa doesn't want this meeting to end in tragedy because Tsukasa doesn't want anything to end in tragedy. No one the Guardian might listen to really wants the Guardian to show up and be violent right now, and yet it does.

I think it's a simple case of misunderstanding. Tsukasa is fleeing, Mimiru is chasing, the Guardian thinks Tsukasa needs to be protected from Mimiru.

There's enough of a pause after it shows up for everyone to get a good look at it (Bear is entirely unimpressed with it) and then it takes a shot at Mimiru.

There are generally two ways that the Guardian attacks things, one is the way that it attacked the Silver Knight, a thin sharp spear/rod/thing of guardian material shoots out of the center, skewers the victim, lifts zir off zirs feet puts on a light show, and then drops the victim to the ground dead. (Character dead, I mean. The player apparently ends up unconscious with slight memory loss.)

The other way, the way it attacks Mimiru here, is to shoot out a thicker tentacle of the material it's made of out of one of its orbs, and use that tentacle to strike rather than stab. It does not seem to have an effect upon the player, and does not result in instant death to the character.

Mimiru dodges, Tsukasa says, “Don't! Not her!” the Guardian ignores and continues to attack.

Bear: Hey, if it's your Guardian, do something about it! We're not your enemy!
Tuskasa: I know that! I know but...

Bear draws his sword and charges, Tsukasa shouts, “St-Stop!” it shoots out something that doesn't really fall into the normal two modes of attack. On the one hand, it's a large protrusion from one of the orbs, on the other hand it's very pointy. Very, very pointy.

Sword and pointy Guardian stuff fly towards each other (Bear jumped, you see) Tsukasa and Mimiru each look on with a mixture of horror and shock. The music ends, the screen fades to black.

The episode is over.

The music that was playing in this scene is, “The Key of the Twilight,” I bring this up for two reasons. One is that in the next episode we'll start hearing about that. The other is that the phrase “auguries of destruction” could make anything seem deep. That's what's playing when Tsukasa says, “Nothing,” in response to Mimiru asking what he'll do.


* Tsukasa didn't invite Bear, Mimiru counters that he didn't say for her to come alone either. Bear offers to leave, Mimiru tells him to stay. It gets things off to a start where Tsukasa is feeling put upon, Bear knows he's unwanted, and Mimiru is already testy. Everyone is unhappy before they even get to the gloom and doom.

** Guardian, Bear, BT, and Key of the Twilight are some other things that are in English in the Japanese version. Silver Knight has a Japanese name that happens to translate to Silver Knight, Bear's name is actually Bear. It probably doesn't make all that much of a difference, but it seems worth mentioning. Also, worth pointing out that the vocal-having-music is almost entirely in English.


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