For those of you who don’t remember, or weren’t old enough to, the particular perplexing time that was early 2000s anime, let’s me give you a quick recap. Some of it was very good, much of it was terrible, and very few of it landed in between. However, if you were an American growing up in this era, you were only now being exposed to the wide variety of anime there was to sample, and none grabbed my imagination as much as .hack//Sign. With its brightly colored character designs, haunting soundtrack, and fantastic visuals I was hooked and watched every episode and played several of the games. However, will I adore the show as much now that I’m an adult with a more (supposedly) refined palette?
Let’s take a look at .hack//Sign.
A review copy was provided by FUNimation Entertainment
If I had to sum up .hack//Sign in a single sentence, it would be this: it’s Sword Art Online‘s much better predecessor. And yes, this is in fact coming from someone who though SAO was the best anime of its year, probably because it has a lot of what makes .hack//Sign great. SAO also, however, lacks this show’s sense of pace, cool designs, intricate world building, plot dealing with deeper issues than have a crush on your cousin/brother and awesome mysteries. Thankfully, .hack//Sign lacks SAO‘s disturbing rapey-nes, harem bullshit, and overall melancholy tone.
The story at play here follows the player Tsukasa, a Wavemaster, who finds that he has lost him memory and cannot log out of the MMORPG “The World.” However, he comes in contact with Morganna who protects him and helps him move around the system. Soon he and several other players are embroiled in the mystery of the Key of Twilight, an item that is said to control The World entirely. In terms of the plot, the series takes its sweet time. It’s all about forming the intricate and well-defined relationships between the characters and really exploring the world around them. This makes for some interesting character conflicts as well as adding drama to the actual events that unfold later on. The plot also deals with a lot of dark issues, like abuse, loneliness, disability, morality, and control.
While the plot shines, the animation did not hold up as well as I thought it would. Sometimes, the imagery would be downright stunning, with fantastic use of color and detail. Other times, however, the animation is choppy and jerky, looking more like a well colored doodle than a finished product, or the faces will look frozen and dead, likely due to budgetary and time constraints. The computer generated animation still looks good, considering that they don’t employ it too often. The character designs are also gorgeous and to this day remains some of the most original character work in a tech-fantasy setting.
In terms of music, very few animes have this show beat. The opening theme, Obsession and the ending theme, Yasashii Yoake both by See-Saw are gorgeous to listen to and are a treat I look forward to every episode. Even just the background music is great to listen to, mixing in classic fantasy music with techno, very much like music from the Final Fantasy series. But in terms of the audio, I certainly prefer the Japanese voice actors to the English ones. It’s not because the English dub actors are bad or don’t match their characters — they’re quite good actually and I have a lot of love for it having seen it originally on TV. However, it’s not well matched to the faces and movements, especially in the beginning, and makes the pacing feel off.
At 27 episodes, .hack//Sign is a bit of a commitment but it is worth your time. It is an excellent cyber-fantasty-MMORPG series that delivers on its promises of a good plot and even better characters. If you’re looking for a classic that you can sink your teeth into, this should be at the top of your list.
– Great character design.
– Great plot.
– Excellent music.
– Animation has a few issues.
– English dub feels just slightly off.