Sword Art Online is often a controversial series in manga communities, but the much earlier Dot Hack franchise tackled the same premise with class.

  By Carlyle Edmundson

  Published Jun 07, 2021

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  The idea of being trapped in a video game has been around almost as long as video games; while the Isekai series Sword Art Online may currently be the most famous, there have been other executions of this premise before it, and the 2002 series .Hack// (pronounced “Dot Hack”) is definitely one of the most notable. With rich characters, a complex world, and a compelling mystery, Dot Hack may be just what?manga fans who’ve been turned off by Sword Art Online’s many controversies are looking for.

  In many ways, Sword Art Online and its sequels have become emblematic of the problems with modern manga and anime: the series uses the game aspect as a base for the “Isekai” genre, a type of wish fulfillment series with a hyper-competent protagonist who suddenly shows up in a new world and becomes beloved by all,and is key to saving it. There’s plenty of good media, even in the West, that might be considered Isekai, like C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. In modern anime and manga, however, the wish fulfillment often comes with problematic tropes, like the stereotypical harem situations, the “1,000 year-old elf in a 12 year-old’s body,” and the “pervert character” type, like My Hero Academia’s Mineta, who exists only to provide viewers with fan service and immature jokes. While all these tropes can exist outside the Isekai genre, these works tend to cater heavily to otaku (anime and manga fans) with lots of disposable income and a desire for escapism, meaning that Isekai will often pack in as many as possible to hit as wide of a group of fans as they can.

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  Related: New Manga Turns Sword Art Online Upside Down

  Dot Hack, while technically set in another world, foregoes many of these genre conventions to focus primarily on the mystery at the core of the series. Players of the MMORPG known as “The World” are falling into comas while playing, a fact which the game’s publishers are trying to cover up. And even after becoming comatose, some of these players’ characters are still present in the game. The main characters of?Dot Hack investigate how this might be happening, and eventually why, as they uncover a secret plot that lies at the very core of what The World was designed to do.

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  Dot Hack was created to be a multimedia franchise, telling a story across multiple forms of media. The three main components include the original anime series, .Hack//Sign, the four PlayStation2?.Hack// video games, and the three-volume manga, .Hack//Legend of the Twilight Bracelet. Several light novels also exist that were translated into English, including the prequel .Hack//A.I. Buster, and novelizations of the games. Each component focuses on different characters and different aspects of the problem, often passing the torch once their little section of the story has resolved. And, despite taking place in a video game, the series manages to maintain its stakes, as the game’s problems can not only land the protagonists in comas, but even begin to disrupt the wider internet, creating disasters in the real world. And, in spite of the interconnected nature of the series, each component functions as a complete story on its own, allowing the audience to engage with as much or as little of the franchise as they wish.

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  Since many of the characters are working adults playing The World for fun, they tend to be more mature than many other anime and manga protagonists. They have lives and relationships outside of the game as well, although these are only rarely shown. While the series, particularly the anime, is often criticized for being slow moving, this is only due to the attention it places on developing its characters and the slowly unraveling nature of the mystery. The anime and games tend to maintain a more serious tone, while the manga is lighter and more comedic; still, all three focus on interesting themes of love, family, friendship, and what it means to be human, providing the series with a solid emotional grounding that keeps it relatable. By using its video game setting for more than just Isekai escapism?like Sword Art Online?does, .Hack// greatly surpasses what’s come after it, ensuring the series has left its mark as an anime and manga classic.

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  Next: New Manga Combines Sword Art Online With Black Butler

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  About The Author

  Carlyle Edmundson

  (70 Articles Published)

  Carlyle Edmundson is a news and features writer with an affinity for science fiction and fantasy. He graduated from the University of North Carolina Wilmington with a BS in Film Studies and is glad that it’s relevant to his work. A lifelong fan of anime and manga, he has attended dozens of conventions over the years and may or may not have cosplayed at them. He is also the author of the Dystopian Detective series, available from most places ebooks are sold.

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