Haven't heard of it? I wouldn't be surprised. It's an odd little fairy tale for the modern age.
Oh, wait... you think I'm talking about the .hack mythos itself, aren't you? No, I'm talking about the production company that's trying to drive the game (as both a playable game and several anime series) into the public consciousness.
The synopsis of their creation, in case you don't want to read up on it yourself, goes something like this: in a near future where one operating system has finally won over all the desktops and networks of the world (they call theirs "ALTIMIT"), there's trouble brewing on a worldwide MMORPG called "The World": areas within it are appearently being ravaged by viruses or something. The wrinkle is that some of these viruses seem to have their own intelligence. And are capable of putting people into the hospital or worse.
(One could say that when there are hazards out there like that, it's mind-numbingly stupid to tighten the user/technology integration to the point where accidents like that can happen. But then I realized: the stuff doesn't exist, so people will continue tightening. Then someone will develop the hazard as a countermeasure. Or for fun. Think virusing someone's computer is fun? It doesn't compare to the challenge of virusing someone's head!! Suddenly the script kiddies could become dangerous...)
As science fiction goes, a lot of it is old hat. Or old chestnuts. Or old somethings. AIs, global networks, multinational conspiracies, and killer viruses are pretty much the stuff of classic William Gibson when it comes down to it. And I've heard people complaining that the anime series has not enough action and too much of what could be considered the "talking heads" style of storytelling.
What I find more interesting is that there is a group of people (the .hack group) who has a story to tell, and is trying to tell it in this roundabout (and somewhat novel) way.
The anime series .hack//SIGN is playing Saturday nights on Cartoon Network. I have to imagine that it played first in Japan because it does show signs of dubbage.
If you have a PS2, then you can follow the other chapters as they're released. The first game, .hack//INFECTION, also came with a 45-minute anime presentation on DVD, .hack//LIMINALITY (at least their naming convention is easy to follow), which parallels the events in the game with investigations outside by a few concerned people. There's going to be three more after that. What a clever trick! Take one very large game and break it up into four smaller games, and make people who want to follow the story every step of the way pay for each chapter! Brilliant! Incredibly cheap and cheesy, but brilliant!
It's not quite a vertical monopoly; they still have to resort to other companies to actually present their content to the masses. But it'll be interesting to see how their story (and their story) will unfold. Could this be developed into a paradigm shift in modern storytelling?
All that said, if you don't have a Playstation 2, I wouldn't say .hack is a reason to run out and get one. But between setting the VCR and toying with the saga on a friend's machine, there is ...something fascinating about the story itself. As if the medium is part of the message?
And as for the "talking head" complaint, that's the nature of the story. It's not really about the action and adventure, but about figuring out what's going on. It's a tale squarely set in the psychological domain, and in a world obsessed with flash and bang, perhaps I find the cerebral story to be refreshing.
If anyone else has any theories, I'd love to hear them. (Provided anybody actually reads this thing.)