Thursday, September 11, 2003


Genre: Cyberpunk / Drama
General Audience
Credits: 2002 Koichi Mashimo, Project Hack, Bee Train, Bandai Visual

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Skysenshi Description:
Directed by Kouichi Mashimo, .Hack//SIGN boasts character designs by famed illustrator Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (Neon Genesis Evangelion) and an engaging storyline scripted by Kazunori Ito (Ghost in the Shell).

In the year 2005, a computer virus called "Pluto Kiss" destroys the networks of computers all around the world, subjecting the cyberspace to severe restrictions. Two years later, as free access to the networks recovers, people are now crazed over a full-immersion virtual gaming environment called "The World."

However, when reality and virtual reality collide, a whole new adventure unfolds as a mysterious accident leaves Wave Master Tsukasa permanently logged in. Now a group of ciphers must figure out the truth behind Tsukasa while a rash of mysterious game-related incidents in the real world begins to draw the attention of even the most powerful players within the game.

Like watching Meteor Garden 2 >>> by skysenshi

.hack//SIGN was definitely an intriguing anime. It goes hand in hand with the dotHack role playing game series, which garnered critical acclaim and caused general gamer addiction. dotHack is about a popular MMORPG called The World, wherein thousands of players go online to meet with other players, trade, chat, level up, kill monsters and so on. In SIGN, your lead character is Tsukasa, a Wavemaster who suddenly finds himself burdened with unusual powers not really available in The World . This occurrence coincides with the newly discovered glitch that the admins have vowed to fix. Because of this, they promptly point the blame at Tsukasa. Tsukasa, on the other hand, is put in a bind, unable to log out and having sensations that he shouldn't be experiencing in a virtual world. The pain is real. The touch is real. Everything becomes real.

Like in any other RPGs, he finds friends who struggle to help him out, and enemies who want to use him for their own personal gain. What the others aren't seeing, however, are several NPCs (non-player characters) affecting Tsukasa, both in The World and out of it. There is a whole set of mysteries to be uncovered, and everyone is scrambling to get to the bottom of it.

SIGN paints a world of parallel reality that can be distorted in such a way that it merges with your non-virtual life. It shows exactly how other players in MMORPGs would usually behave-the naïve ones, the a-holes, the strong and fair, and generally those who try to hack into the system. It is possible to fall in love or develop real enemies, even without knowing the person behind the computer. And sometimes, The World dangerously becomes preferable to the outside. Real and virtual make surrealism. Yes, it was definitely an intriguing anime.

Until I started to doze off.

It took me more than half a year, a dozen anime titles, and half a dozen games (including .hack//INFECTION and .hack//MUTATION) before I was able to finish .hack//SIGN. This is probably one of the worst when it comes to storytelling. All that talking and thinking, and talking some more and thinking some more - insert exhausting flashback scenes here - made me feel like I'm watching the animated version of Meteor Garden 2. Think sedated Furi Kuri (FLCL) stretched into 26 episodes. In other words: terribly slow pacing, sleep-inducing useless dialogues, and painfully pointless scenes you want to fast forward forever.

.hack//SIGN also requires you to pay attention, even when it feels like wasting your time. I space out in between long sequences that I didn't even realize the players who used to be friends have already taken different sides - until the 20th episode or so.

It shouldn't be such a disappointment, really. The production values scream high budget. The character designs were superb. The art and animation are nothing short of impressive. The setting is unique, something worth experimenting on. And the soundtrack, by gawd! New Age and Techno combined never sounded so good! The piano backgrounds remind me of Final Fantasy X's haunting opening theme. I'm not forgetting to mention the strings. They perked up my ears long enough to keep me awake through the last few chapters. Thank Yuki Kajiura, the genius behind Noir's music, for an awe-inspiring work. That alone can be easily given a perfect 10.

Don't get me wrong; there were a few hilarious moments here and there, just some bloopers that regular newbie players are susceptible to. I even appreciate the slew of twists and turns near the end. Plus points for the anti-climactic ending. I find it good in the sense that the gamer in me is continuing where the anime left off. But please, dear creators, if you want to philosophize everything, kindly shorten it to a movie or at least 3-part OAVs. The case of good-story-bad-telling can be awfully draining. If it's any consolation, I used SIGN as a cure for my insomnia. Heck, I could wake up full of energy in the morning and it can still manage to put me back to sleep within 10 minutes.

On the bright side, I now know what I'm fighting against in the game. .hack//OUTBREAK, you're next!

Individual Rating: Art/Animation 10; Story 8; Characters 10; Sounds 10

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