.Hack//Sign Anime Review
US Release By
Psychobabble RPG Sci-fi
26 25-minute episodes
2002-04-03 - 2002-09-25
The World is a futuristic MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) which is something like the Matrix, except set in a medieval world. In The World, there lives a boy named Tsukasa who apparently can't log off. Since he appears to have connections to a player using an illegal mod to look like a cat, he is tracked down by the system administration, represented in-game by the Crimson Knights. After he meets Mimiru, a girl with a big jagged sword; and Bear, who looks like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, they and all their friends set about trying to find out why he can't log out. Oh yeah, and there's a really lame subplot about The Key of the Twilight, an ultimate item that can change the rules of the system.
I'm not quite sure what to make of this show. It seems to be a part of a new breed including itself and Noir, a breed which rose up in the wake of Eva. The plotline is rather nonsensical. In other words, it makes about as much sense as an ink blot (okay, stupid analogy) and about three quarters of the way through the series had me wondering if it even existed.
Well, it does exist, and it does eventually pan out. And this is where disappointment sets in. The big secret (why Tsukasa isn't able to log off The World) turns out to be incredibly disappointing. Sure, it makes sense, but it's pretty cliched. In case you haven't seen it, I'm not going to tell you what it is, but I will narrow it down a bit by saying that they did the same thing in an episode of Cowboy Bebop. There's also the all-powerful Key of the Twilight, which pops up halfway through the series. Let me go off track a bit here to explain this: roughly ninety-nine percent of all the episodes consist of the characters standing around and waxing philosophical. Thusly, after the Key of the Twilight pops up with no explanation and little warning, it appears that the end will come after they solve this mystery. I was watching this on Cartoon Network (as usual), and because of their stupid review episode and forgetting to set my VCR I never did see how the Key of the Twilight episodes resolved. However, since they were back to standing around in their MMORPG accurate environments and waxing philosophical in the next episode, I assume that not much took place. There are some other mysteries as well, involving the cat player, but those were so badly explained that they're not even worth mentioning.
The characters are probably .Hack's worst point (Yes, I know it looks weird with a period in the middle of the sentence). Tsukasa, our so-called main character, has as much personality as a loaf of dry rye bread (I'm really on a roll today). He doesn't even spend that much time waxing philosophical, and leaves Mimiru as the de facto main character. She is just as boring, as is her de facto wise old mentor, Bear, and the other characters: BT, the de facto main bad guy; Subaru, leader of the Crimson Knights; Sora, a player killer; and Crim, a former Crimson Knight (can't you tell from the name?) that befriends BT.
Well, "It can't be all bad, can it?" you say. Actually, it can (Alexander the Great), but in the case of .Hack, it's not. The technical aspects of the show are all top-notch. First of all, the character and world designs (not that anything ever comes of it) are all perfectly-modeled MMORPG designs. I'm not a fan of MMORPGs (I love all the Final Fantasies before Ten), but for someone who was, I'm sure this would be a huge draw. The Venice-like city that Subaru resides in, the snowy mountains modeled after The Lord of the Rings' Caradhras, the stony dungeons, all scream of a real game. The costumes worn by characters also scream this way; Tsukasa wears a robe, a headband, and carries a big staff, so it's obvious that he's some kind of mage. Crim wears a red coat and baggy pants which look more reminiscent of a monk in a SNES Final Fantasy, but he carries a huge spear so you know he's a dragoon or lancer. Bear was slightly cheesy, but I would expect this from any RPG (console or massively-multiplayer).
Animation has to plunge the extremes of being either really good or horribly awful for me to take much notice of it. The animation in .Hack was the former, moving smoothly at all times and very quickly during the single fight scene (in the first episode). It also had a lot of nice tricks and touches (no one ever moved fast enough to achieve the Love Hina blur effect, though). The strange thing is that, being a show about an MMORPG, .Hack had almost no interference by computers that I could tell (save for some of the little distortions and flashes).
The sound is quite possibly the best part of .Hack. All the music is slow, haunting, mostly in English, and achieves the feel of the show much better than the show itself does. This includes the opening, ending, BGMs, everything. The voice acting in the dub is also excellent; for what emoting there was to be done in .Hack, the voice actors did it masterfully. The voices all fit the characters very well. It sure is easy to write about a good dub!
In summation, .Hack is yet another confusing pointless anime. However, it's much more enjoyable than many others (Betterman) out there, but it's not everyone's cup of tea. If you want to see it, I suggest watching it on Cartoon Network. Since the dub is so good, and I'm sure there wasn't a whole lot (if anything) to edit out, you're saving yourself a lot of money. If you insist on the subbed version, try watching it on CN first as a preview, to make sure you like it.
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Notes and Trivia
Gee, not much. The entire staff must have been a huge fan of PC style massively multiplayer online RPGs. There is also a tie-in with a PlayStation2 game, as well as a comic version.
US DVD Review
The DVDs feature anamorphic widescreen video (yes, it was made widescreen despite being a TV series--welcome to HDTV), surround sound, both audio tracks, production art galleries, trailers, information about the story, and more.
Bandai is calling the series 13-up, but the TV version qualifies as 7-up; It will bore kids, but they can see it.
Violence: 1 - One completely nonviolent fight (no hits are landed).
Nudity: 1 - Mimiru's outfit, and a few near calls in the opening sequence.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - None I could spot.
Language: 0 - This may have been edited, but I doubt it.
Available in North America from Bandai on bilingual DVD in several versions: 6 individual discs in regular or special edition flavors, or a box set in regular or more or less identical "Anime Legends" versions. Also aired on Cartoon Network.