Title: .hack//SIGN (original Japanese title: .hack//SIGN)
Genre: RPG, Adventure, Drama
Director: Koichi Mashimo (also directed Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Blade of the Inmortal, Noir, and, admittedly, almost all of Bee Train’s productions)
Writer: Kazunori Ito (also wrote the screenplay for the Ghost in the Shell movie, some of the Patlabor movies and series, and the Maison Ikkoku TV series, among other works)
Music: Yuki Kajiura (also wrote the music for all the other .hack installments, the second Kimagure Orange Road movie, and the Cossette no shouzou OVA, among other works)
Character designs: Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (also created the character designs for the Summer Wars and Toki wo kakeru shoujo movies, the Gunbuster OVA and, most notably, Neon Genesis Evangelion)
Studio: Bee Train (an animation studio specialized in slooooooow action shows, eg Noir, Madlax, or Phantom-Requiem for the Phantom)
Original air date: 2002-04-04 to 2002-09-25
Length: 26 episodes (25 minutes each).
(two stars out of six: boooring. What’s all the hype about this one?)
The Art: Very colourful and (relatively) detailed. The backgrounds depict typical role playing games environments, so I’m not particularly fond of them. The character designs, however, are really good, and mostly consistent throughout. To be honest, I especially liked them because they reminded me of Evangelion’s faces, not for any other particular reason. Other than that, they ALL are inexpressive, dead and cold as ice, even by anime’s standards. That’s saying something, I guess. The backgrounds are pretty but they become incredibly boring and static after a short while.
The Animation: Slow animation. Very slow. All these characters still move like robots. Hey, they’re supposed to be characters in a computer game, so I guess their movements fit within the overall concept… and yet, I’ve seen characters in actual computer games move in a much more realistic and expressive fashion than these characters do.
The music: Very good, if quite irregular. At some spots it doesn’t fit the tone (which doesn’t mean that the music itself is bad), and other times, especially in the earlier episodes, it is way too loud, making the dialogues almost impossible to be heard.
The Story: Boring as hell. Interesting if you’re into MMORPGs, I guess. Otherwise, really boring. And slow. Did I say it’s slow? The series shows us the day-to-day life within a MMORPG (“massive multiplayer online role playing game”, for those who’re not into computer games), and how one of the characters, named Tsukasa, has some problems getting out of the game. Obviously, each character is an avatar, i.e. a fictitious image that hides the real-life identity of each of the players. By the end of the series, we come to know the reason why the player behind the Tsukasa character can’t log out of the game, and by then I could only think: “Such a waste of time”.
The Ending: Ridiculously clumsy. By episode 22 things start (slowly) moving, and in ep. 26 the climax arrives: Tsukasa’s player can eventually leave the game, and we witness her final encounter with Subaru. So what? 26 episodes just for this? No explanation as to why Tsukasa was in a coma, what happened to Sora, or to the other players, or how come Tsukasa was trapped in the game when she wasn’t playing at all. Crappy ending for a crappy series.
The Highlights: Character designs are pretty solid, consistent and attractive. The music is somewhat good too. Not too shabby animation.
The Lowlights: Everything else.
Overall: I can assure you I love experimental and “artsy” pieces of film and video, but this whole thing is simply stupid. I admit I don’t like computer games (probably because I don’t like computers… I only use them because I have to), so there must be some negative bias in my review. All the philosophical psychobabble about the nature of solitude and fake relationships and friends in the virtual world is, in my opinion, a cheap excuse to hide narrative incompetence and a vacuity in the story only comparable to Tsukasa’s long vacuous stares into the void of her stupidity. If you want to learn a couple of things about being alone in the contemporary world, go watch Welcome to the NHK, or Pale Cocoon or some similar title, but not this one. So in all, I found plot holes all around, the narration and direction was slow and boring, not to mention the load of vacuous and inexpressive stares you’ll have to put up with. Only the visuals were acceptable. Tsukasa is annoying as hell, probably much more than Shinji was.
By the way, I knew Tsukasa was a girl right from episode 1. Was that all the mystery to this series? Meh….