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.hack//SIGN #1 PDF Print E-mail
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R2 DVD Reviews
Tuesday, 14 April 2009 00:00
.hack//SIGNPart of me wonders why I'm rewatching .hack//SIGN - this is my fourth time through the now-venerable Bee Train show, and I wasn't exactly blown away by its rewatchability after the 3rd time. But something has prompted me to give it another go, and it's missing from the review archive, so here we go again with the tale of one of anime's more unlikeable lead characters...

1 - Role Play
Welcome to The World - the ultimate MMORPG, with players from all over the globe taking part in an immersive virtual reality that truly is a world in its own right. When player Mimiru encounters a rather anti-social Wavemaster-class player, little does she know that it's the beginning of an adventure that will change The World forever. The Wavemaster is Tsukasa, and he has a problem - not only have The World's guardians, the Crimson Knights, taken an interest in him after he was spotted with an illegally-modified Player Character, but he's trapped inside the game and can't log out. Elsewhere, the leader of the Crimson Knights, Subaru, is wondering what to do about an increase in problems that are being reported inside the game...


2 - Guardian
The killing of the Silver Knight means that the Crimson Knights are now more determined than ever to capture Tsukasa, and guards have now been placed at the World's teleportation gates - if he's going to move around the game, he'll have to travel through the gates, meaning it's only a matter of time until he's found. Not that Tsukasa is overly worried - he has his Guardian, who it far more powerful than any of the Knights. Mimiru and older player Bear have begun to take an interest in the Knights' actions - partly because of Mimiru's interest in Tsukasa, but also because rumour on the BBS would suggest that Tsukasa isn't the only player in trouble. It's clear that something unusual is going on inside The World - but how to go about finding out what..? Tsukasa, meanwhile, is brought to the special place that's been prepared for him by the entity responsible for his situation, and gets his first indication of what's in store for him...


3 - Folklore
Subara has taken an interest is Sora, the player-killer who claims to know of Tsukasa's whereabouts. Back in the game after having been killed by Tsukasa's Guardian, the Silver Knight is keen to get on with is and track him down, but Sora's playing his "hosts" for all that they're worth and refusing to give out too much information too quickly. The more she hears of Tsukasa and the events surrounding him, though, the more Subaru is convinced that he's at the root of The World's problems. Tsukasa, meanwhile, is wanting to meet with Mimiru again - something she's not so keen on after their last meeting, and so she sends Bear in her place. He's wanting to show off his Guardian again, but Bear is far from impressed...


4 - Wanted
Having the Guardian at least sort-of under his control has improved Tsukasa's confidence, and he's now openly wandering The World with it in tow and giving the other players plenty to talk about. At Bear's request. Subaru has checked the game logs and confirmed that Tsukasa does indeed seem unable to log out - he's been in the game continuously for far longer than someone should be able to manage - but that situation creates more questions than it answers, not least: how is he able to do it? Bear's convinced that the only way of getting to the truth is to find Tsukasa in the real world - but getting a player's personal information is far from easy. Sora, though, may have some information he's willing to share...


.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 - although with noticeably less enthusiasm each time. Last time through, I decided enough was enough, and even went so far as to sell off my box set - so I was more than a little surprised when the urge to see it again bit enough that, even prompting me to rent the series for one more whirl. Go figure.

Our "hero" 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. His problem comes to the attention of fellow players Mimiru, Bear and Tsubaru, who each take an interest in him for different reasons: for Mimiru, there seems to be an attraction or curiosity there that's driving her; Bear is drawn in by Mimiru, and Subaru first takes an interest thanks to her leadership of the Crimson Knights, but whatever their motivation they're looking for the same thing: a solution to the problem that Tsukasa represents.

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 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 Subaru - a sweeter, less offensive girl you could never wish to meet, it's not immediately clear how someone so less inclined to combat and confrontation could become the leader of The World's in-game police force (it's revealed later in the series), but she's someone who is just very easy to watch. There's also Mimiru, a young girl, and Bear, a middle-aged man, who find themselves drawn to Tsukasa's problems despite his eagerness to keep them at arms length. There's also the Silver Knight (aka 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 other characters who help or hinder from time to time, including BT, a friend of Bear's, and Sora, a double-dealing player killer who also finds himself drawn to Tsukasa's mystery.

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.

There's a lot of emphasis on conversation & character development, with the main plot so far kept almost to the background and the characters 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, focussing on the others from time to time is no bad thing, as Tsukasa'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 that 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. Just be aware of the flaws, and you'll get along just fine...

Rating - ***

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