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.hack//SIGN Collection #1 PDF Print E-mail
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R2 DVD Reviews
Friday, 03 August 2007 17:00
.hack//SIGN.hack//SIGN marked a number of anime firsts for me, away back in the day - the start of my addiction to Yuki Kajiura music, the first Bee Train series I'd seen, the first game-linked series I thought was actually half-decent, and probably a few more besides. It's also one of those rare series that I've watched several times. Will once more from the top be one time too many..?

Tsukasa has a problem. He's a player in the imaginatively-named online game The World, and he's unable to log out - just one manifestation of a number of glitches the system seems to be experiencing. With help from online acquaintances Mimiru, Bear and Tsubaru, he's trying to find out what the problem is - all the while unaware that his real-world self is lying in a coma, with the doctors on the verge of pulling the plug. The in-game dangers he's facing are becoming ever more deadly, too - unable to heal or log out, if he's killed in the gameworld it'll likely mean the end of him in the real world, too. The Key of the Twilight appears to be the key to the problem - much rumoured, much sought-after, but never found, the Key apparently holds the ability to rewrite The World, which should hopefully set Tsukasa free, but he's not the only one after the Key's power, and the problems at the root of The World are greater than he can imagine.

As with all things out of the Bee Train studios, .hack//SIGN is beautifully realised - detailed backdrops, flowing animation, and a soundtrack that's completely to die for. I have the full set of OST CDs for the show, and even a few years now after their original release, they just beg to be listened to. It all creates a world - The World - that's easy to immerse yourself into, which is just as well as under all the gloss the show is sadly some way short of perfect.

TsukasaHardly a noble steed

Let's start with the characters. As leads go, Tsukasa is right up there on the top 10 characters you'll love to hate - he's got a problem, and people willing to help him solve it, but with the notable exception of Tsubaru he seems determined to do everything he can to push his would-be friends away from him, eager to alienate them as much as possible and just find time to spend on his own and mope. That creates a bit of a fatal flaw within the show's main premise - setting Tsukasa free from whatever's holding him in The World - as you simply end up not caring what happens to him.

Fortunately the other characters are more sympathetic. My personal favourite is Tsubaru, who despite never having bothered to progress past Level 1 has used her innate charm to become the leader of the Crimson Knights, an unofficial in-game police force dedicated to maintaining peace and order. A sweeter, less offensive girl you could never wish to meet, and she and Tsukasa soon form a close connection, although her responsibilities prevent her from spending too much time with him.

Also featuring heavily are Mimiru, a young girl, and Bear, a middle-aged man, who find themselves drawn to Tsukasa's problems - both in-game and real-world - despite his eagerness to keep them at arms length. There's also Ginkan, Tsubaru's second-in-command in the Crimson Knights (an overly-officious warrior, although with a good heart under the surface), and a large cast of minor characters who help or hinder from time to time.

Bear & MimiruGameworld

There's a lot of conversation & character development spread over the episodes on these discs, with the main plot initially kept almost to the background. Regular mentions of the Key of the Twilight provided a hook to the main story so you don't forget what's going on, but the characters are the main focus - initially Tsukasa, but every so often the spotlight drifts away from him and onto the others as they try to figure out what to do next. To me, that's no bad thing - he's one of the most annoying characters I've seen & I'm forever at a loss as to why Bear & Mimiru are so determined to get close to him. Go figure.

All the character development, which mostly takes the form of characters standing around and talking, has a price in terms of the pacing - it's glacially slow. If you're looking for wall-to-wall action, this is not the show for you, as you need to pay attention to what's going on & what's being said to be able to properly follow the story. If that doesn't bother you, there's a good show to be enjoyed here. Even though a lot of the episodes are mostly filler, it's worth watching for the interactions between the characters & the glimpses you get at their motivations. For my money, it's well worth watching.

Rating - ***

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