Company: Bee Train
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 4/4/2002 to 9/25/2002
In the near future exists an incredibly popular online RPG known as The World. Over 200 million people play the game, but one person, Tsukasa, is having a unique problem; he is unable to log out and return to the real world. After discovering this, many weird things start happening in The World and they all seem to be linked to him. When confronted by one of the Crimson Knights (the protectors of The World), a large, unknown monster appears and kills it. Now Subaru and the Crimson Knights, along with several other players set out to track down Tsukasa and get to the bottom of things before it gets out of control.
summary by Keitaro
Highs: Wonderful art and music; imaginative character designs; story gets better and better; truly original concept
Lows: Moves awfully slow; very little action; only appeals to a small audience
When many of the biggest names in anime came together with the intention of creating a masterpiece, .hack//SIGN was born. Everything came together wonderfully. From the music and the art to the deep characters, this is a technically brilliant anime. Yet, never has a series left me with more mixed feelings than this one.
Everyone seems to share the same complaint about this anime: the pacing. I won’t argue with that. The truth is the story moves terribly slow. In fact, I almost gave up watching about halfway through. It’s not that the story is awful; it is just very hard to watch things move so slowly. Unlike a real online RPG, there is almost no action. The whole anime is dialogue between characters. Maybe the series would have fit better into a thirteen-episode format instead of twenty-six. Thankfully, things got better. As every episode passed the pace picked up so much that upon finishing my opinion had completely changed. The story just goes so deep, and there is so much symbolism. Every person, item, detail… they are all symbols, and if you can recognize this, the story just becomes that much more enjoyable. Is the story slow? Yes. Is it remarkable? Definitely.
People just love to debate whether the plot is worth two-cents or not, but you can’t argue about one thing: this is a technically amazing anime. Not that I wasn’t expecting this. Bee Train is known for wonderful art and music, as seen in Noir. The OST is possibly the best anime soundtrack of all time, and the animation is just so fluid. So much imagination and creativity was put into designing a unique world for this anime. In addition, I felt the seiyuu did a wonderful job; Toyoguchi Megumi was fantastic as Mimiru.
When it comes down to it, the whole series is hit or miss. In order to enjoy this one, you need to be able to sit through twenty-six episodes of nearly nothing but dialogue and have a basic knowledge of online RPGs. .hack//SIGN is a “love it or hate it” anime, and I personally just couldn’t help but love it.
Highs: Perfect background music; characters with emotion and depth
Lows: Pacing will lose viewers
I started .hack//SIGN with something of a different perspective than I do with most shows. I watched it through the eyes of a long-time player of multi player online role-playing games, knowing what it’s like to be in that environment and with people in that setting. With that in mind, I can safely say that it’s almost exactly like playing an MMORPG; the majority of the time, you basically stand around and talk to other players. .hack//SIGN has this game setting nailed perfectly, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the creators drew from existing online games for realism.
Even the background music seems to play consistently for each zone or area, just like a game. And what great music it is! I knew I had to have the soundtrack after the first episode. With a wonderful blend of fantasy and technology coming through the background music, Kajiura Yuki works her magic yet again with a soundtrack that sets the mood perfectly.
With all this realism and consistency in an online game, there are definitely drawbacks; after all, it is an anime and not a game. The story moves so slowly that a whole episode would go by before I’d realize I had just watched nothing but characters talking to each other, basically repeating what they know already. At the beginning of the series, the plot advancements are few and far between, far enough apart to probably deter many viewers.
But as the series progressed and the story developed, I stopped thinking of .hack//SIGN as an online game in animated form, and started to recognize it as an anime with a great story and characters with depth. The characters begin to show the personalities behind their online personas, especially Mimiru and Subaru. They are searching to solve a mystery, and in the process show a loneliness that hints to a search for real human contact and friends. With this attention to the story and characters, .hack//SIGN is not merely a long commercial for a video game, but an anime that can stand on its own merit.
.hack//SIGN is licensed in the U.S. by Funimation, and episodes may be viewed legally in the United States HERE.