The .Hack (pronounced Dot Hack) Project is a new experiment by it's creator Bandai into the multimedial exploitation of a new title, created by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (well known character designer of Neon Genesis Evangelion), Kazunori Itoh and Mashita Kouichi . After a 2,5 year preparation period, the first part of the .Hack console game was released on the Playstation 2 in the summer of 2002. It also included the first part of the .Hack OAV series. At the same time, TV Tokio started broadcasting the anime .hack//Sign, which serves as a kind of a prequel to the game. There is also a manga series, that also started about then.
Usually successful anime titles draw games in their wake, and vice-versa, but this time, all launches were carefully synchonized and planned in advance. Each title has it's own story, and yet they all fit together perfectly, and supplement each other.
The background is quickly recounted: In 2007, a so called massively multiplayer online role-playing game MMORPG called “The World” is launched. It uses a combination of virtual reality and internet gear to immerse the player in a medieval world of sword and sorcery. Such games have become commonplace and are an accepted method for all members of society seeking relaxation. But something is amiss in “The World” and strange things are occurring: Behind the scene a new type of AI is feeding on the information within "The World", hiding within the deepest part of the network program.
The TV-anime, .Hack//Sign is set in The World and tells the story of the character Tsukasa who has discovered that he cannot log out. He bands together with a group of other characters to try and get to the bottom of the mystery. It had 26 episodes and just recently ended. There are talk of making a sequel with the manga as a basis.
The OAV is set in the Real World: While playing the online game The World, two junior high school game club friends, Mai Minase and Tomonari Kasumi both lose consciousness. Mai recovers but Tomonari remains in a coma. CC Corporation, the creators of The World, insist that there is no relationship with the strange events and the game. A mysterious man named Junichiro Tokuoka approaches Mai and suggests that the two set out to investigate CC Corporation and the reason behind the comatose phenomenon taking place throughout the world.... The series has four parts, one of which is included with each part of the game.
The animation of both series is absolutely top of the line, the music is nice as well, and the concept is very ably executed as well. I recommend watching it as soon as it hits your local shores. The US launch is slanted for early 2003.
The manga tells more stories from within The World. More as I buy/read.
Finally, the game is set as a link between the real world of the OAV and the online world of The World. As I have not yet played the game (bought it to watch the OVA), I can't comment on that aspect _yet_. The game has been divided into 4 parts, half of which are out as I type, the next one due in december.