Type of Anime: TV
Watched Subbed/Dubbed: Subbed
If you’ve ever wondered how the anime industry might capitalize on the obsessive devotion of MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) fans, then .hack//sign may be your type of anime.
In the .hack//sign universe, The World is the most popular MMORPG out there, having sold over 27 million copies. People play by wearing virtual reality equipment to interact with the gaming environment, thus blurring the line between reality and fantasy.
Recently, there have been rumors of people who fell into a coma while playing the game. Adding to the bizarre nature of these incidents, a mage character named Tsukasa finds himself unable to log out of the game. For most people, logging out is as simple as going to the save point and signing off, or at most, resetting their computer. For Tsukasa, these methods don’t work. Even odder, his character has developed real world traits such as a sense of smell or the ability to feel pain.
Tsukasa is a fearful lad who keeps to himself most of the time, making him the prime target for a mysterious Voice – a female voice that comforts and protects him while in The World. To ensure he survives, she’s given him a powerful guardian that kills any character that may harm him. The act has real world consequences, as those real world players are knocked unconscious when their characters are killed and many suffer short term memory loss. This has a lot of people looking for Tsukasa – including a group of vigilante players known as the Scarlet Knights and their leader Subaru.
Upon investigation, Tsukasa develops a group of supporters who see him as the victim of something larger. They believe the legendary object, the Key of the Twilight, may hold some answers. Unfortunately, no one has ever seen this object. There was a message posted to the game’s bulletin board last year but it was taken down quickly before most people noticed. The group hypothesizes that the Key of the Twilight is an extra, added illegally by a game hacker, and will lead them to answers.
What sets .hack//sign apart from most anime is its focus on the characters as they interact in an online RPG environment. The anime takes place almost always in real time inside the game. The players interact as their characters in the game, so they talk within the game, send each other messages, and chat about the game bulletin board but you have no idea who the players are in real life. As characters in The World, you observe their dialog exchanges and interactions with other characters, so there is quite a sense of depth and motivation involved. You also get hints into the real world players as characters make references to their offline lives and you’re able to see how those real world traits enhance the characters they play within the game.
The anime does an excellent job of mimicking how and why people play online RPGs. Characters must work together to compile their pools of information to put the pieces of the puzzle in order. Some characters act only in their own best interests, while others become genuinely concerned about Tsukasa’s well being and take actions to protect him. It’s an interesting dynamic, although the anime doesn’t really answer the questions it lays out.
Still, with only glimpses of the real world in short animation sequences, it’s difficult to tell what kind of lives these people live in the real world. The game is obviously their escape from reality. To some, that’s the physical limitations of their bodies. To others, it’s a social outlet. And to some, it’s a world free of rules.
In terms of animation, .hack//sign is top notch – some of the best you’ll see for a tv series. The characters are very detailed and the backgrounds are beautiful. The frame rate is pretty impressive too, especially for a tv series.
Like the animation, the music is also beautiful. It is very melodramatic with Celtic themes permeating throughout. There are definite themes to the music as well. Some songs only play with certain characters, others have a techno beat or more base added when things start getting more intense. To me, this ranks up there with the Escaflowne soundtrack, and imho, few even come close to that.
My main issue with the anime is its ending, which is more of an advertisement for the four game .hack series than any type of closure. Overall, this is a great anime that probably won’t appeal to everyone due to its character driven focus and slow, quest-like plot.
Category: Anime Reviews