.Hack//Sign is one of those older anime that many have a love or a meh relationship with. The general theme of being stuck in a game was still rather new when it first aired in 2002. Some aspects of the story are clear and easy to follow, while others, are confusing if you do not pay attention.
- Genre: Game, Sci-Fi, Adventure, Mystery, Magic, Fantasy
- Type: Series
- Episodes: 26 + 2 OVA
- Duration to watch: +/- 9 Hours 30 Minutes
- Age restriction: PG-13 – Teens 13 or older
- Release date: 2002
- Animation Studio: Bee Train
- Does it have a manga: No
Tsukasa plays as a Wavemaster in an MMORPG called The World. One day he wakes up inside of the game with amnesia. Suspected of being a hacker and chased by the Crimson Knights, Tsukasa comes to realise he is unable to log out and unlike other players, he is not in front of a terminal. While he wanders around the world he garners the attention of other players even making it onto the message boards. As Tsukasa starts to interact with other players and form bonds, the mystery of The World comes to light as some players start to seek the ‘key of the twilight’.
While the plot is slow-paced, rather than focusing on action scenes and monster battles – as has become expected from a show about someone trapped in a game to have – the anime focuses on the characters.
The characters drive the story forward and their actions colour the world. The characters also get the illusion of character development. That does not mean that the characters were badly done, but the growth wasn’t really given in the way the end of the anime wants you to believe.
If a character gets a pan shot of their game avatar, chances are, they are a character that will be focal in the anime. It was a clever way to point out characters to pay attention to and characters you could dismiss.
Most of this anime focuses around talking most of the time, nothing is happening other than discussion. Thus movement and action wise the animation is not flashy or showy. Even the action scenes themselves are not over the top nor does it have much to the action sequences.
Through the conversations of some characters, other players would be mentioned – as if everyone already knew who they were – and then either never mentioned again or would have a brief appearance on screen many episodes later. This was both brilliant and frustrating. Brilliant because if you knew the games, novels or other anime in the series, you can place the names. Also, it solidified the ‘reality’ of the world they are in. In multi-player games, it is not uncommon to discuss other players. It was frustrating due to pointless name drops and more so if you only have .Hack//Sign as a reference point. The brief appearance of these characters also add to the confusion if you do not know more about the different .Hack series and their elements, such as the character Balmung. He was mentioned a few times and then had maybe 10 seconds of screen time of him swopping in and battling a monster in place of the main characters. For fans of the franchise it is, yay Balmung! For others it’s more a case of who is this, why are they getting involved, oh never mind they don’t actually matter.
For an anime that is focused on the characters, the bond building between characters at times was weak or forced. We never really got to see why one character cared about another. I would describe it as an awkward attempt.
.Hack//Sign does contain a few dark elements somewhat exploring child abuse and regret. It also explores the role of escapism in gaming. Such as a character spending hour upon hours in the game because in ‘The World’ they can walk whereas they are actually bound to a wheelchair. It also looks into loneliness and second chances as well as providing a sense of purpose and a chance to leave stress behind. This escapism is reflected in the animation, art style, sound and even the colouring in the scenes depicted of the ‘real-world’ vs the ‘game-world’ of the characters.
Overall, I think the storytelling is messy and not as clear as it could be, but it was still done well. I do wish we received more explanation of plot points and the motivation behind some actions. Without the explanation, a lot of this left me wondering, what is the point?
I personally became annoyed at points because I as a viewer (and my gameplay style) viewed the game in a way where my philosophy of ‘do not hurt others’ when I am playing with other real people and not NPC’s affected my view of the characters who took the game as a game.
I became annoyed because these anime player characters treated other fictional characters as just game pieces and rationalised it as ‘it’s just a game‘ and that they are ‘just playing‘. This picked at my thoughts of real-world interaction to game-world interaction and the morality of gamers. However, that is a whole other topic and too much to delve into here.
Favourite Character: Macha
Kitty! Macha being a cat is a big part of why she is my favourite character. However, even though technically a minion, the self-sacrifice always gets me emotional.
Least Favourite Character: BT
I would not say that I am particularly attached to any of the characters. Saying that, I can easily own up and say that BT is my least liked character of the cast. She betrayed characters, manipulated others and it was all forgiven with the weird explanation of her character name and how she does not like lettuce.
Would I recommend .Hack//SIGN? In the past, as a unique story, I would have recommended it without fail. Now that the ‘game’ genre is so saturated with new titles and angles I would only recommend this to people who enjoy character-based storytelling.
What do you think of anime .Hack//Sign?