.hack//SIGN ReviewAmy Hazel
The world of massive multiplayer online role playing games, or MMORPGs, is a vast place of wonder, intrigue, friendship, hardship and an altered reality that allows someone to become anything they could ever dream. For many, this alternate world becomes a refuge from the stress and struggles of everyday life; where perhaps for just a few hours, the only thing that matters is slaying that last boss and obtaining legendary treasures with a few close comrades while the troubles of work, school and home fall to the way side. It can become an excellent form of escapism but it also bears the risk of forgetting which world is truly the reality in which one truly lives in. Is it worth it?
Venture with me into The World, the landscape for the MMO setting that surrounds the anime .hack//SIGN which explores tones of that exact premise. As Tsukasa, a Wave Master, awakens within a darkened cave in The World he has no recollection of how he ended up there. After a quick meeting with a friendly sword-wielding girl named Mimiru, he teleports himself back to town without a word only to find out he cannot log out and is trapped within the game indefinitely. Character death only leads him to respawn within The World and while Tsukasa only seems to find further mysteries surrounding him, he forgoes all help from those he meets and decides to seclude himself from others as much as humanly possible.
Despite Tsukasas bleak demeanor and frustrating attitude, it does little to deter the other characters within the series from getting involved in his predicament and trying to help in any way they can both in and out of game. In addition to his unique dilemma of not being able to log out of the game (a problem that solely affects him, no other players are affected), he also has involvement with an unidentified player character and a guardian force of indescribable power which bring a great deal of unwanted attention to him from both helpful and harmful forces. Throw in some rumors and leads towards a mysterious item of power called the Key of Twilight and it is hard to know where to even begin unraveling what mysteries The World holds within its depths.
.hack//SIGN is but one part of the larger .hack series and is but a small section of the overall encompassing story told throughout all of its parts spread throughout anime, manga, novels and games. Originally airing back in 2002, this series was in the forefront of the trapped in a MMO genre that has become so popular in more recent years though keep in mind, even if this is a beloved genre, there are a few things to consider before jumping headfirst into this one. Lets get started!
First off, this is a slow-paced anime based primarily on character development. That being said, dont expect it to be chock full of action packed battles, flashy fight scenes or fan-service you will be sorely disappointed. There are some battles, but a majority of the story progression is given through dialogue between characters as they meet up in varying locations throughout The World. This results in a very deep story and a true feeling of getting to know the ins and outs of the various unique characters throughout the series; however it comes at the cost of forcing viewers to withstand painfully slow pacing through the span of its 26 episodes. It is a tough anime to really get into as it takes until about halfway through the season for the story to really catch on, but it holds some merit if you can hold out long enough.
Aesthetically, the animation and soundtrack hold their own quite well and even represent some of this animes finer qualities. The art style displays the fantastical MMO world beautifully and the characters are all uniquely designed and colorful. While the action and animation may have its flaws at times it is not the true focus and can usually be forgiven. Another aspect that was displayed wonderfully was the drastic difference in art style between that within The World and that of the real world. The vibrant colors and life found within the game is rich and full while scenes of the real world are often depicted via static black and white images and words flashing across the screen. It helps depict the theme of escaping a bleak reality for a vibrant virtual one that much more impactful. One of the best aspects of this anime in my opinion is the soundtrack, hands down. Yuki Kajiura is absolutely fantastic and her tracks bring out so much emotion, intrigue and imagination that the anime simply exudes life just hearing her songs filter in throughout the episodes.
Overall, .hack//SIGN is an anime that you will either love or hate. It is slow paced and lacking action but has a truly deep story for those that can give it time to show itself. Having additional knowledge of the .hack universe or a willingness to seek it out will also help further understanding of the overall story and characters involved after all, this is but one anime and one part of the entire series so know going in that not everything is going to be fully explained. So step into The World and witness one of the first stories that trapped a player inside of their beloved game.
Take me back to the land, where my yearnings were born. The key to open the door is in your hand now take me there. To the land of Twilight. Yuki Kajiura.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
Just a happy-go-lucky girl working in the gaming industry and spending nearly all her spare time writing, recording music, working on cosplay, watching anime and horror movies, and trying not to obsess over getting that 100% completion rating on every game she touches.
About the Author: Amy Hazel
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