The scenario writer for the .hack//G.U. game turns to the light novel as a way to tell his stories, with suprisingly good results.
Writer/Artist: Tatsuya Hamazaki and Yuzuka Morita
Translation: Gemma Collinge
Adaptation: Gemma Collinge
What They Say
"The World" is a massively multiplayer online game played by more than twelve million people across the globe. Within this virtual world Haseo, a PPK (Player Killer Killer), continues an endless fight. Everything he does is for the sake of the girl Shino, who back in the real world, is hospitalized by an unexplained coma.
However, on finally meeting with his sole lead, a PK called "Tri-Edge," Haseo is dropped back to Level 1 by a mysterious power! Can Haseo save Shino now that he has lost all of his abilities?
The novel does have illustrations, but not enough to warrant me grading them here. I think there were only four or five, and they tend to be simple closeups of objects or character's faces. Pass.
Packaging is pretty similar to most of the other light novels Tokyopop has produced. The book's size is the same as a typical manga size, although not quite as tall. The one thing that differentiates it most from a lot of Tokyopop's lineup is the cover image, a vibrant pose of Haseo wielding one of his weapons with a profile of Tri-Edge behind him, rather than the minimalistic covers that have been common for the PopFiction titles. Text is clearly printed and a good size for reading. Page layout is especially nice, as the chapter title is always printed at the top and bottom of each page, and the chapter header pages have the same hexagon designs that you see on the back cover. The only extra included is a brief but interesting afterward from the author.
Text is clear, sharply printed, and easy to read, which is about all it needs to be in a novel. If there were typos, they were too minor for me to remember. The translation is effective in telling the story, whether through dialogue, action scenes or expressing Haseo's inner struggles. It manages to avoid awkwardness and even gets through the frequent explanations about the game world without sounding repetitive.
My first impulse is to start off the review by saying that I enjoyed the novelized verion of .hack//G.U. better than the manga. Of course, that comparison isn't exactly fair to the manga. Obviously a single volume of manga won't be able to get in as much content as a novel that's nearly two hundred pages in length. Not only can the novel cover more of the story, it has the luxury of covering it with a depth that the manga could never hope to approach at its imposed length. But, fair or not, the comparison makes clear that the novel was the better medium for the story. It provides the depth that the hero needs to come alive.
If you're familiar with any version of .hack//G.U. then you'll know that the hero is Haseo, a young man who's established quite the reputation for himself in the revolutionary online role-playing game called The World. The reputation is not entirely a good one, though it's not exactly bad either. The World has a way of complicating these things. You see, inside The World are a faction of players called PKs - "player killers" that ruin the fun for as many players as they can by killing off all of the characters they're able to defeat. The World has no effective way of dealing with PKs, so a new style of player has emerged, one that turns the PKs from hunters to hunted. They track down the PKs and destroy them. They are the player killer killers: the PKKs. And in the front ranks of these PKKs is Haseo, known to the "inhabitants" of The World as The Terror of Death.
The novel takes the trouble to really get inside Haseo's head, and it pays off. He has one external motivation, which would be enough for most heroes in a story of this kind. A real-life friend of his is in the hospital with a coma, apparently as the result of something that occured while she was logged into The World. The determination to find out what caused the accident and somehow reverse it drives him on. And yet it also hinders him. Haseo was something of a loner to begin with. Now he's even less inclined to invest himself in others. But as he uncovers more and more information, he comes to realize that he needs allies: the lone wolf vigilante style that he's used to won't be enough if his enemy is a bug or virus in The World - or maybe even something in the nature of The World itself.
The theme of G.U. - the effects of a virtual world bleeding over into the real one - is so good, and so timely, that it's hard to believe I haven't seen it more often. Of course it might be there to be seen in 50 books, and I never noticed because I haven't read them. But I love the idea an online game having irrevocable real world consequences, and this book exploits them in a way that satisfied me. The characterization takes it a step further and adds another layer to the experience. I think it works so well because everything about Haseo is a double-edged sword. He wants power, but only in the context of The World and only for a specific, and commendable, cause. But will the search for that power turn him away from his purpose? He doesn't want to involve other people in his personal mission, and yet he needs their help to accomplish it. In the attempt to save his friend, will he lose himself? All of this is at the core of Haseo, and every event of the story plays out in the light of this dark, swirling fire inside him.
When I reviewed the first volume of the .hack G.U.+ manga last year, I thought it was a decent read. It had pretty good main character and a story I liked, but I never ended up getting the rest of the series. I'm not sure if it was because I just wasn't grabbed enough by what I read, or if an ignorance of the .hack world was holding me back, but whatever the reason I never ended up going any further. Reading this novelized take on the story makes me think that maybe I should have. What I found was a much better read than I remembered the manga being. Both versions are the story of a determined hero in a virtual world that's become all too real. The novel won out simply though giving a lot more than the manga did. If it has a drawback, it's just the old "part one" syndrome - you're going to have to read the subsequent novels to get anything like a complete story. But I can't see any way to avoid that, so I won't complain about it anymore. Even if you've read the G.U.+ manga already, these novels are going to be worth checking out. In the .hack//G.U.+ manga, I saw the potential for a good story to develop. In the novel I see the potential realized.