Sunday, May 20, 2012

.hack//Sign: What Just Happened?

.hack recap: Tsukasa, Mimiru and Bear met, it went badly and the Guardian intervened.

(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 3: Folklore, Start to 4:50

Welcome to episode 3, Folklore. As you might imagine, there's folklore in it. It seems that there's a rumor about the game that's passed into a sort of legend amoung the players and we'll be hearing about that now. But first, remember how we left on a thrilling cliffhanger? Remember how a meeting between Tsukasa, Mimiru and Bear went terribly wrong and the unconsciousness and amnesia causing Guardian was taking shots at Mimiru and Bear against Tsukasa's wishes? Remember how Bear and the Guardian were moments away from impaling one another with sharp objects?

Well we're not going to pick up from there.

When I watched through the series to refresh my memory before starting these posts some things surprised me, like the fact that DVL was the one who tried to push Tsukasa to be around Mimiru, but the only thing that made me think something might be wrong was the beginning of this episode. I was worried that my DVD had been damaged and skipped a track or something because the beginning of this episode didn't seem to follow from where we left off.

We left in the middle of an action scene, we return to nothing of the sort.

We don't even return to the same place or the same characters. Instead we find ourselves in Venice (Mac Anu) where Subaru and the Silver Knight are on the boat Subaru seems to run the Crimson Knights from, having a conversation.

Subaru: So, are you all right now?
Silver Knight: I'm sorry I had you worried.

You may recall that the last we heard about the Silver Knight was that his player was found unconscious in front of the computer, with some memory loss. Memory loss that would have prevented the player from saying exactly what led up to falling unconscious.

Subaru had pretty good reason to be worried. Anyway, the Silver Knight goes on to say something that indicates that he thinks his job, as one of the Crimson Knights, is to support system administration. Subaru disagrees with this. She should know, she founded the organization. It's not that simple though.

Subaru: System support. That is not the true purpose of the Crimson Knights.
Sliver Knight: I don't mean to contradict you but many of us think of it as our first duty.

There's probably a discussion to be had about who controls an organization. Subaru and Crim founded the Knights, Crim left, Subaru has been its leader continuously for the entire period that the knights existed and its sole leader since Crim skedaddled. As such you'd think she has a pretty strong say in what it is and what it stand for.

On the other hand there are a lot more knights than there are Subarus, and if Silver Knight and the others primarily disagree with Subaru then surely they, the bulk of the organization, have some say in things as well?

But then we come to the third hand. Are they the bulk of the organization? Silver Knight assumes that the lurkers are on his side, and he might be right. As someone who works in the field and runs patrols and whatnot he probably is better able to get a pulse of the population than Subaru. Silver Knight might have a privileged position, but he's not The Boss and that alone might mean he's more in touch, but that assumes he's really paying attention. Is he, or is he just assuming everyone else agrees with him? Even if he is paying attention, is he right? Just as Subaru is probably more likely to hear people agree with her than challenge her, so too is Silver Knight.

We never really get into this debate though, because there always seem to be other things that come up at the same time. As, for example, this time. Silver Knight doesn't leave off with stating that he disagrees with Subaru, he carries right on talking:

Silver Knight: Though the other players often hate us, under the name of the Crimson Knights we are-

And Subaru cuts him off right there. He's setting the Crimson Knights up as something apart from the players, they hate us, we do awesome stuff. At least I assume that's where he was going to go. If he ended it with “we are complete jerks,” that would hardly be a good argument in his favor.

Anyway, a foreseeable result of thinking like this is a sense of superiority. Silver Knight is already doing it. He's setting himself apart from the players and giving himself the (nonexistent) role of system support staff. Somewhere between player and administrator. He's claiming authority and prestige that the Knights don't actually have.

And Subaru will have none of that.

Subaru: We are players here as well. We are merely playing these roles and nothing more. Please do not forget that.

Subaru takes what goes on in The World very seriously, she's devoted herself to it for basically as long as the Crimson Knights have existed. For her “merely playing these roles” is not something that lessens the actions done. I think that that needs to be realized because if you don't realize that, as is the case in a first viewing or, I suppose, for someone who doesn't pay attention then these lines could be seen as dismissive of what the Knights do.

There are people who treat what goes on as if it doesn't matter because it's just a game, Subaru is not one of those people. Once you realize that you come to understand that this quote is entirely about not seeing oneself as above others. The other players have made other choices, but that doesn't make them less than the knights.

Anyway, this brings us back around to the question of the purpose of the knights:

Silver Knight: Then, Lady Subaru, what is the true purpose of the Crimson Knights?

And veer right away again:

Sliver Knight: Is it just as Crim has said?
Subaru: (Angry) I do not approve of his ideas.
Silver Knight: Is that the reason Crim left us?
Subaru: (Calm) No.

The way that Crim being brought up angered Subaru is uncharacteristic for her. He was brought up before, when Subaru was under greater stress, and her only reaction was a quiet reflective, “Crim, huh?” I think it's probably the assumption that she agrees with him on this point when she very much doesn't. In many ways the two end up at the same place, but through very different means.

Crim is of the, “It's just a game,” school, but because of the way he chooses to play the game his ideals are pretty similar to Subaru's. The glaring difference being commitment. Crim left the Crimson Knights because to him a game is about doing what you enjoy, and the moment he stopped enjoying the Crimson Knights he was out the door and gone. It might not have been quite that fast, we don't really know, but from the outside (which is Subaru's only angle) it looked like his idea of loyalty was, “I'll stick with something so long as it amuses me.” That she's still pissed off about.

But the general things that the knights promote, civility, generally not being an ass, playing nice, protecting the helpless, so on, those are all things that Crim values just as much as the Knights do.

Anyway, bringing up Crim stopped us from getting the Knight's mission statement.

Subaru turns away.
Subaru: I have an appointment. Let us speak of this issue at another time.


And we go to the mountains in the clouds.

BT: Do you expect me to believe you?
Bear: I'm sure you'll have a hard time believing anything I say. However, I am not exaggerating. This is a true incident that occurred yesterday.

What? What is the true incident? The last time I saw you, you were in combat. The critical moment had arrived, horror was written on the faces of the onlookers, and now it's the next day. What happened? Tell me!

I am easily manipulated by suspense.

Or that's just a really annoying way to create suspense.

Also this is one of those times that I have to remind myself that this is very early in the series. Having seen the whole thing I know that BT lies all the damn time, so her acting like Bear is the untrustworthy member of the pair kind of stands out to me. I'd say something like pot kettle, except Bear isn't lying. In fact he almost never will.

Someone seeing it for the first time couldn't know that. I don't think she's had an opportunity to lie yet.

Before I move on from these lines, I'd like to point out that in Bear's position I'd be tempted to respond with sarcasm. I probably wouldn't, but the temptation would be there. You know, “No, I told you all of that on the expectation that you'd casually dismiss it out of hand because I like wasting breath. Of course I never expected you to believe me.”

BT: That's systematically impossible.
Bear: That's why... Tsukasa transcends the system.

I actually have no idea what she's referring to. The most interesting parts of the incident were not, so far as I know, systematically impossible. It was the groundwork that was. Tsukasa being trapped in the game, Tsukasa reaching that server without using the gate. That sort of thing. But the incident itself seems like it's just really weird, not impossible.

Perhaps they're talking about the lead up to the incident rather than the incident itself.

BT: But how?
Bear: I have no idea. That's why it's troubling me.
BT: Troubling you?
Bear: It's as if he's playing under and entirely different set of rules from the rest of us. It's creepy.

Creepy isn't anywhere in the list of things I'd think to use to describe that, yet I suppose it is.

I'm not sure why creepy doesn't resonate with me here. Disturbing would have. Then again so would a good old fashioned Spock “Fascinating.”

Anyway, strange things are happening to someone that shouldn't be possible. Bear is troubled by this, BT changes the subject and we start getting to the folklore:

BT: Bear, what do you think about that rumor?
Bear: Which one?
BT: About the single hidden item that is said to exist in The World.
Bear: That rumor has no foundation. It is simply a hoax, nothing more.

So many things to say about this. First off, and most irrelevant of all things I could say, the first two lines here remind me of Disney's The Three Musketeers. Apparently they remind me of two different parts that got conflated in my mind, but as I said it's irrelevant so I'm going to throw further discussion of that into a footnote.*

More on topic we've got the fact that it is a rumor. An actual rumor. Not a bit of game-flavor that says, “Rumor has it there's a [insert quest hook here],” an actual rumor about the game. Something that the players talk about which has no apparent foundation in the game, the manual, the releases of the developers, or much of anything else.

Such things do spontaneously come into being, but if we're going to take it seriously, as BT is, we have to wonder where it came from. If it is something with no apparent basis, and yet it is true, how did the truth get out? Did someone on the development team leak it? Did some glitch allow a player to access content that wasn't supposed to go live yet? Did some hacker get a copy of an internal email referencing it? What?

Then there's the fact that BT's explanation of which rumor is pretty vague. There are two things worth taking from this. The first is that the rumor is well traveled because Bear immediately knows what she's talking about even though she hasn't said much of anything. This rumor about a special hidden item is so well known that if someone talks about a rumor about a hidden item they know exactly what rumor is being brought up.

The second thing is why BT doesn't just come out and say it's the rumor about “The Key of the Twilight” (which is the item's alleged name) and that is that she doesn't know. She's heard that it exists, but doesn't even know what it is called. There are multiple possible explanations for this. A simple one would be that she overheard someone talking and immediately went to ask Bear. That doesn't seem like BT to me, and also doesn't account for her not finding out the name sooner than she does.

What seems more likely is that she's tried to look into it and hit dead ends. She may have heard people talking about it in passing, or seen references to it in records, but everything that has the actual name recorded, every board post with the words “The Key of the Twilight,” is gone.

Some of this, we'll learn, is the result of deliberate suppression. From the start discussion was deleted. The thing that got everything started was deleted almost as soon as it was created. Some of it is probably just that archives are not always maintained. Some boards don't even have archives, some places when something falls far enough into disuse it just disappears. Not all fan sites last forever.

When the rumor started people were interested in it, it captured everyone's imagination, but nothing ever came of it, most people reached Bear's conclusion, and it stopped being important. A combination of active suppression in some places and total disinterest in others could erase it from searchable records, especially if you don't know exactly what you're looking for when you start looking.

Maybe once BT learns that it's called The Key of the Twilight she'll be able to find more information on it just by sticking that in a search engine.

Anyway, Bear isn't interested, so BT tries to get him interested in a different way, she ties it to Tsukasa:

BT: What if he's found that hidden item that is said to override the foundation of the world?
Bear goes hmm
BT: I'm interested in actually meeting this boy, Tsukasa, on the other side.

“The other side” being real life.

Bear still doesn't care about the hidden item, but he does think that they might have to meet Tsukasa, his focus not being on hidden items or epic quests or whatnot, but on the simple question of what is happening to the player while Tsukasa is online all the time. He's right to be concerned. Tsukasa's player is in a coma, and if not for being found and brought to a hospital would either be dead or nearly so at this point. There's only so long one can go without eating and drinking.

Of course, neither he nor BT knows that at this point. BT brings up another possibility:

Does the player even really exist in the real world in the first place?

Yes. She does. Very much so. But it's a completely valid question given the information they have available.


* Ok, so BT asking, “What do you think of that rumor?” as if Bear could immediately respond in an intelligible way reminds me of some things that happened between the King and the Cardinal.

I thought that they were part of the same exchange, but when I checked I found that they happened at very different times, basically they're two difference conversations started with the same dynamic

King: Your Eminence, I demand an answer.
Cardinal: Perhaps if I knew the question...

King: You Eminence, I've heard some troubling rumors about you.
Cardinal: There are so many to choose from.

The second one goes into one of the best sarcastic confessions I've seen. The King clarifies that the rumor was, “Betrayal.”

The Cardinal responds: Ah, yes. That is usually the first. Let me see if I remember it correctly. While the English attack from without, the wicked Cardinal undermines from within, forging a secret alliance with Buckingham and placing himself on the throne. But really, Your Majesty, why stop there. I have heard much more festive variations. I make oaths with pagan gods, seduce the queen in her own chamber, teach pigs to dance and horses to fly, and keep the moon carefully hidden within the folds of my robe. Have I forgotten anything?

Given that of the eight things listed he has attempted or is attempting four of them one wonders whether there are some interesting training sessions going on in his stables and sties, if there could be a secret altar to some other gods, and whether the moon might have been stolen. (Really, when was the last time you saw it?)

It's also notable that there's nothing particularly nefarious about making oaths with pagan gods, teaching pigs to dance, teaching horses to fly, or keeping the moon on your person for safekeeping. So of the eight things he listed, the ones that are definitely true are the bad ones. And yet, in these exchanges with the King, Tim Curry makes evil seem so fun. (It's the rest of the time when he reminds you that evil is, in fact, evil.)


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