.HACK//SIGN (2002)

 

Format: 26 24-minute TV episodes

Rating: PG (V; but see below)

American Production: Bandai Entertainment

Japanese Production: Bandai Visual/Bee Train

 

Grading

 

Premise:

A-

Story:

B+

Writing:

B+

Character Design:

B+

Animation:

B-

Artistic Merits:

B-

English Dub:

A-

Musical Score:

A

Songs:

A-

Opener:

A

Closer:

B

 

 

Humor Content:

C (minimal)

Action Content:

C

Drama Content:

B+

 

 

DVD Presentation:

not reviewed

DVD Extras:

not reviewed

 

 

OVERALL:

B+

 

Synopsis

      A few years into the future an immersive VR-driven online fantasy RPG set in The World has become very popular. Several players with diverse backgrounds and game philosophies work sometimes individually, sometimes together, and occasionally even against one another to sort out two great mysteries in The World. One is the nature, purpose, and location of the mythical Key of the Twilight, and the other is Tsukasa, a Wave Master with special powers whose player not only seems unable to log out, but may, in fact, not be present in front of his/her terminal at all! The answers to these mysteries could very well shake the foundation of The World to its core and even have a strong effect on the personal lives of the players involved.

 

Quotes

      “All I really want is to be alone.” (Tsukasa)

 

The Long View

      Anime series based on video games, and vice versa, are common occurrences in Japan, but .hack//SIGN distinguishes itself from this crowd by taking two novel approaches: not only is the anime about the game itself (instead of the story and characters in the game) but the anime forms an overall continuity with the accompanying video games. Nearly all the action takes place within the vibrant online realm of The World, with brief shots of people and events in the “real world” depicted with a dull, off-color haziness which seems to imply that the real world isn’t as interesting as the game world – and for some of the players involved, it isn’t. For Tsukasa, the game world is the only reality, since he/she (the character is a young male but the implication is that the real player might be a girl – apparently cross-gender characters aren’t common in The World) can’t disconnect and may, in fact, be in a coma in the real world. As the series implies, the forces which drove him/her into that state – both within The World and in the real world – are powerful ones.

      Despite being set in a fantasy RPG where characters go around exploring dungeons and battling monsters, .hack//SIGN has remarkably little true action in it. The series instead focuses predominately on how the players and their avatars within the game interact with each other. Each brings a distinctly different look and attitude to the game, and their motivations for playing vary widely. (For sake of convenience, I will not hereafter make a distinction between the player and their character.) Tsukasa, the young Wave Master, is a teenager who seems to have gotten into the game as a way to escape an awful home life. He/she is very much a loner who only reluctantly opens up to the other players. Bear, though he appears in the game as a barbarian warrior, is the most thoughtful and deliberate of the characters, a man who seems to play as much for the love of solving mysteries as for the action – and, possibly, as a way to forget his failings as a parent in real life. The elfin Heavy Blade Mimiru, who is clearly a teenage girl in real life, seems to play the game for the spirit of adventure, though she gets thoroughly wrapped up in attempting to befriend Tsukasa and solving the mysteries about him. BT, an older female Wave Master, seems to play the game because she enjoys interacting with people, spreading gossip, and generally trying to manipulate events. It is also implied that she plays because she is lonely in her personal life. Crim, a monklike warrior, seems to play because the game is a simple diversion for him and because he likes to help less experienced players get established in The World. Then there’s Suburu, the gentle, diminutive, and highly-principled Heavy Axe who formed the Crimson Knights as a volunteer organization to promote order within the game. For her, the game is not about accruing treasure or experience; it is a blessing that she seeks to protect because it represents freedom from the physical disabilities she suffers from in real life. For this reason she ultimately connects more strongly with Tsukasa than anyone else, though their relationship is rocky at first. Chief among her Knights is the Silver Knight, a somewhat older man who seems to enjoy playing the role of a volunteer police officer and is fanatically devoted to the Knights, to Suburu, and to the cause of maintaining order within the game – latter of which can lead him to go overboard at times. Last among the main characters is Sora, a self-centered, impetuous, and immature young man who has illegally edited his character, isn’t above killing other characters (which is a violation of game rules), and generally regards everything as being there for his amusement.

      The artistry and animation in .hack//SIGN is creative but a bit too cartoonish for my tastes, although the appealing character designs partially make up for this. The soundtrack for the series is wonderful - I highly recommend the OST – and the opener, which features the fantastic dance-beat number “Obsession,” is among the best. The closer, which features the great song “Yasashii Yoake,” is excellent musically but unoriginal in its graphics. The English dub for the series is very sound, nicely complementing a script that is heavily dependent on characters talking to one another.

      The violence in .hack//SIGN is on a cartoonish level and there is no other objectionable content beyond a couple of scenes where a character’s death gets a little intense. Any viewer old enough to understand that the character can just restart from a saved position should be able to handle those scenes, however. For these reasons I have only given the series a PG rating. However, the storyline and character interactions are complex enough that much of the series’ content would probably go over the head of younger viewers. For this reason I recommend the series more for somewhat older (say, 12 and up) audiences.

      If you like .hack//SIGN, check out the links provided below for details on additional anime and video game material that make up the .hack franchise. Neither the OVAs or second animated series are currently available in the U.S. at this time.

 

DVD Extras

      Most of the TV series DVDs are available in the States as of this writing. The review is based on the (unedited) Cartoon Network broadcast, however.

 

Links

      Bandai official site – Contains significant useful info about the series and game.

      .hack//SIGN Defragmented – An ambitious fan site with considerable info on all things related to the .hack world.

 

Principle English Voice Actors

Role

Voice Actor

Tsukasa

Brianne Siddal

Mimiru

Amanda Winn Lee

Bear

Paul Mercier

BT

Donna Rawlins

Crim

Lex Lang

Lady Suburu

Kim Mai Guest

Silver Knight

Doug Rye

Sora

Dave Wittenberg

Morganna

Valerie Arem

 

BONUS: “Obsession” Song Lyrics

      The lyrics for the opening song can be a bit hard to make out despite being in English. I have listed them below, courtesy of the series OST.

 

[Chorus]

“How come I must know

Where obsession needs to go?

How come I must know

Where the passion hides its feelings?

 

“Deep in the night

Far off the light

Missing my headache

 

“Visions of light

Sweeter delight

Kissin’ my loveache

 

[Repeat Chorus]

 

“How come I must know

Where obsession needs to go?

How come I must know

The direction of relieving?

 

 

 

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