.hack//SIGN – Review

Reviewing an oldy again. This one’s got a bit more of a legacy than friggin’ Half-Moon, and for good reason – it’s exactly the kind of wibbly-wobbly character-based show that I’m guessing appeals to a lot of people who are into anime for the long haul. It’s a mess, but a mess with a whole lot of great things to recommend about it. Strong characters, interesting ideas, beautiful landscapes and music – all that is great. Its inability to actually tell a story, or even to coherently articulate itself half the time – not so great. My notes kinda reflect how long it took this show to win me over – the first half has a whole lot of giggling about how poorly the story’s conveying itself, and even in the second half, it’s a friend you like in spite of their many failings. But I enjoyed it! I had a good time with .hack, and it does feel kinda sad that my time with these characters is over. I kinda appreciate how these reviews force me to engage with things I might just drop otherwise – there’s good to be found in almost everything.

Here’s my full review. Episode notes below!


Episode 1

Oh god, this techno opening. Right, old-school internet

And early 00s character designs, of course

Episode title: Role Play

Opening with an interesting chanting song, compelling fantastical backgrounds

Our MC is a “wavemaster” class

Yeah, nice painted backgrounds

MC has amnesia

Subs are almost exactly the same as dubs

Guards looking for a mock cat character, who apparently illegally edited their character

These environments are great so far. Distinctive fantastical worlds

The storytelling is kind of abrupt. They’re just sort of making assumptions of camaraderie between these characters, and lines don’t really come from much, yet

MC doesn’t really care about his actions. He thinks he can always just log out. And then he tries, and can’t

Kinda random progression of scenes, too

Bear is the face-painted guy

Is this show following a game that already established these characters? It feels like it’s just sort of tossing me in

“The increased number of users has caused a decline in morality”

There’s a Lord Orca of the Azure Sea and a Lord Balmung of the Azure Sky

This show definitely has some “meditative” pacing

The localized dialogue is pretty aggravating, and the acting is too flippant and bouncy for the mood of the show

Wow, the characters aren’t really emoting to match what the characters are saying

“Good, because I hate your guts.”

These two main people aren’t acting like human beings. This is a really, really weird interaction

This world has police who investigate cheating in the game like actual detectives. It’s a nice concept

Music continues to be good, songs with vocals, good melodies

And here’s the cat-headed dude – Macha

MC opens a chest, activating something that’s been “waiting a long time” for him

And then the show depicts him slowly walking back out. Such weird pacing

A new monster appears to defend MC from the guard

So MC is sullen, antisocial, and kind of a dick. Alright then

“Instead of dwelling on the fact that I can’t log out or thinking that I want to… I’m here. After all, now I don’t have to return to that ludicrous world.”

Nice shot transition to the greyscale real world, where our MC seems to have collapsed

Good use of greyscale and static in general

Episode 2

Title: Guardian

The character expressions just don’t actually work a lot of the time. They don’t express what the characters are clearly trying to

The Crimson Knights – I thought they were official police, but it looks like they’re an in-game group taking the peace into their own hands

“An edited character doesn’t mean much, after all”

Another nice track – piano-based, this time

Visuals look kinda smudged, as all these old 00s DVDs do

Blue-haired girl is still hanging out in the boat on the river

I do like that this show assumes how the world works, and doesn’t explain things to the audience. Unfortunately, that also extends to how the characters work

So they can actually guard the place the MC wants to log out

Sora is the PKer’s name

This MMO feels viscerally old-school – like the directionless linked zones of Everquest, where characters just slowly wander around

MC just wants to be alone

Apparently the cat talks to him, but we can’t hear

MC walks into a technicolor dreamworld. More nice backgrounds

There is a floating child above a bed

Everyone’s awfully concerned with what the MC’s doing, for some reason. Even the non-Knights

“What if the main body, in front of the terminal, is lost?”

“Every time I reset, I wondered what happened to the world I reset. It’s only a fantasy. But thoughts become reality.”

The floating girl tells him to contact Mimiru

Tsukasa is the MC. And that monster is apparently his Guardian

“I will bestow another power on you”

Whole bunch of characters looking meaningfully at each other in this show

“Tsukasa sent me an email.” So apparently Tsukasa and the brown girl know each other from before?

PKer is interested in Tsukasa now

“The World… is my world.”

So he received the power to cross servers without using the Chaos Gate

Apparently the Silver Knight was actually physically hurt by being defeated by the Guardian

Whole bunch of closeups, too

“Don’t! Not her!” Yeah, I guess Tsukasa does have some relationship with her

Things move pretty slowly, still. Even just slow character movements

Episode 3

Title: Folklore

Another great song, like a pop lullaby this time. And more lovely colored painted backgrounds

“We are players as well. We are merely playing these roles, and nothing more.”

Lady Subaru is the blue-haired girl. And apparently someone named Crim left them

Bear’s consistently a bit of a philosopher

“What if he’s found the one item that’s supposed to upturn the foundation of the world?”

More about if the player exists or not

“The Key of the Twilight”

Now I’m kinda interested in what the existing relationships between these characters are

A flashback with the bed-girl. She used to have a cat, then sads. Or wait, is this Tsukasa’s memory?

So the girl isn’t the voice talking to Tsukasa. “Do as you wish. Imbue the girl with your color,” the voice says

Like Punch Line, this show so far lacks the base grounding of character or tension to justify how it leans on mysteries. There’s not enough to care about if the characters, the plot, and the world are all mysteries

Tsukasa having fun with his Guardian

It feels like the show includes some useless scenes, and then lacks other important ones

I really like the sepia/echo effect for flashbacks

And now an old, forbidding castle. More great settings

And a great guitar-led track that builds into strings, with light percussion throughout. Such great music

Mimiru is the red-haired girl

Tsukasa’s such a moody kid

“Do you believe you have finally become something great?” Lines just don’t follow each other sometimes

Subaru apparently can contact the sysadmin

So the cat stopped the Guardian last episode

Another nice violin and flute track to end the episode

Episode 4

God this OP is cheesy

The logs say Tsukasa has been here for ten days

Sometimes the text is more awkward in subs, sometimes in dubs

“Maybe he himself doesn’t know that what’s going on is unusual, either.” More vague half-philosophy

Tsuakasa still hanging out with the floating girl above the bed

“You, me, and that child. We will never be threatened by anyone.” The creepy voice playing on him just wanting to be alone

“You should know who I am, and the reason I do not appear before you.” (the voice)

Greyscale flashback again. A funeral – Tsukasa’s mother

Yeah, sometimes the subs are just straight unclear. “Sora? We’re going after anything we can get our hands on” doesn’t really convey the “Sora? Man, we’re desperate” of the dubs. So the performances are a bit more fitting in the sub, but the script is better in the dub

Another great setting – giant, decaying mushrooms this time

Discussing whether Tsukasa got the Key of the Twilight with Sora, the assassin dude

Oh wow, this track is GREAT. Awesome synthed percussion. Such a diverse soundtrack

“How that Wavemaster is behaving is unbelievable.” We really, really, really needed to know Tsukasa before he became the target of all this fascination. He’s just a weird dude – the “leave me alone” audience avatar

Sora sure does like to overact. But I guess that’s his character

Subaru’s having her own real-world flashbacks?

“The character name ‘Tsukasa’… it’s ambiguous, don’t you think? Whether it’s name or nickname, male or female…”

Bear has possibly tracked Tsukasa down

Bear saw someone in a coma, living off a machine. A girl

Subaru’s limiting Tsukasa’s movements through the sysadmin’s interference

But the actions don’t do anything. He doesn’t obey the World’s rules

The dub says “My Guardian,” the sub says “This child”. WELP

“Are you, the player, a girl?” “Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m a guy.”

Man, Tsukasa’s emotions are just so awkwardly portrayed. This show has real trouble making its characters act like people, him in particular

Oh no, Tsukasa’s under attack by amazon women!

“Remember, I gave you fools a change.” Ugh

And of course Tsukasa’s crazy-ass guardian just keeps attacking the women

The floating girl is just following him too now. Tsukasa’s not in a good place

Episode 5

Title: Captured

Oh hey, Crim has finally appeared. The dude Subaru kept talking about

“There must be some reason we were brought together here.” Why? Why would there be? Why do all of these characters act like their random encounters with others are so significant?

It sort of works like a stage play. There are beautiful backgrounds and songs, but they’re all just paintings on the wall as various characters walk to the center and recite their lines together

I guess the main thing is that everyone seems so resolutely interested in Tsukasa’s business, regardless of if they have any reason to

And also, the game never really feels much like a game. It’s a stage for talking about Tsukasa. That’s the big problem, which the show reflects in a few ways – nothing is grounded here

Crim was on a business trip to Indonesia

Some really awkward dialogue. “I guess it was wrong of me to say I wanted to see your face for just a bit.”

And reaaally awkward voice acting from Crim. Everything about this show is kind of awkward

More cryptic arguments with the cat who we can’t hear

So often the show just withholds information to create suspense. It’s a bad sign when you’ve got an entire character who speaks in lines the audience doesn’t get to hear

Someone else apparently has a Guardian too

But it doesn’t actually exist. The rogue is sending a message to bait out Tsukasa

Now some synthy chimes. Not only is the soundtrack diverse, it makes unique choices for what you’d expect to be generic moods

So yep, they’ve set up an ambush

BT is the blonde woman

I love this almost spanish guitar track for the dramatic scenes

Ooh, some nice animation here

Tsukasa and Subaru meet!

The Silver Knight planned this attack on his own. Subaru wasn’t involved

And Crim arrives, riding a cow with huge shades. Okay

Crim scolding Tsukasa, as he should

Man, it’s pretty great seeing Tsukasa whining in captivity. Little twerp

Episode 6

Title: Encounter

The main setting seems kind of like some sort of Himalayan retreat – high peaks, colored balloons strung between mountains, strange symbols painted on the mountainsides

BT’s saying the story got leaked to the Crimson Knights. I like that she has her own, entirely separate motivations

And now she’s guilt-tripping red-haired girl

Again, the faces are weirdly unexpressive, or expressive in ways that don’t quite work

Subaru speaks with Tsukasa

Nice shadows in this scene

Tsukasa saying he can smell and feel things here

Tsukasa seems nicer in captivity

Again saying he just wants to be left alone

She asks him about the Key of the Twilight, he doesn’t know anything

“No one paid me for it, so you can’t say I sold him out.” See, this is the kind of dick I can get behind

And the rogue happily betrays his allies. He’s certainly got the PKer style down

Subaru urging Tsukasa not to leave with the rogue

Crim once again with his bad voice acting

“Do you hate being with me that much?” “Yes.” Tsukasa being his charming self

“I just want to be by myself.”

“Everyone is only thinking about themselves! No one is thinking about my feelings at all! I don’t really understand who I am anymore. I don’t want to know about other people.”

“You must recognize your weakness, and turn it into your strength.” Thanks for that, Crim

Mac Anu is the canal city

So Crim quit the Crimson Knights

Another strange monster sighting on the Boards

More nice animation for the Guardian-like monsters

I like the Guardians’ creepy whale sounds

So now there are Guardians popping up all over the place, or one popping up in many places?

Mimiru’s the brown-haired girl. Gotta remember

“What is this rising flow that has swallowed Tsukasa?”

Tsukasa pouting as usual, saying he’s just gonna sit where he is

Episode 7

Title: Reason

Another flashback – people walking to work. A brief moment with Mimiru, who pretty much matches her character

BT mentioning Bear being stressed from his job

“As long as we’re still in the game, I really can’t look at our target objectively”

The dungeoning basically consists of the characters walking up to chests

A flashback to when she met Tsukasa, which just kind of reenforces the fact that they don’t really know each other

There’s a weird girl at the teleport gate, asking Mimiru to join her in a tough dungeon

Aw shit, this girl’s dissing the game

“Why do I want to go there? Because I want to try. Isn’t that reason enough?” Nope

A-20 is the girl’s name

So they’re sneaking through a high level area

“Where’s the fun in this world?” “That depends on the individual player.” “But I wonder… doesn’t it get a little tiring keeping up all these player relationships?”

Apparently she’s only been playing for a week

And Mimiru ditches

Mimiru asking BT about what Bear does for a living, but BT respects his privacy

“The younger players. Do they always depend on others?”

“Sometimes I wonder why I even started this game”

Mimiru accusing Subaru of not caring about Tsukasa. But WHY SHOULD SHE?!?

“I hate quitting right in the middle.”

Mimiru’s getting some very necessary development this episode. We’re beginning to see why she might have gotten herself stupidly involved with Tsukasa

And now they’re spelling that right out

Decent fight depiction here

They got a rare item

Again articulating that everyone finds something different in their online experience

Episode 8

Title: Promise

A new area of the main hub, more focused on gardens than the peaks and bridges

Mimiru’s pretty excited about her plan to meet with Tsukasa again. She’s become one of the stronger characters

The show’s getting better. The characters are gaining texture – we weren’t introduced to them gracefully, but they’re mostly reasonable people, so they can’t help but get more engaging over time

And there’s actually chemistry between the main group now

“I have a feeling that the key to solving this mystery lies within this game”

And now there’s a friggin’ banjo track? THIS SOUNDTRACK

Sora (the rogue dude) is roughing people up for info

The importance of managing player expectations on a macro level is a nice element Subaru and the Crimson Knights add to the story

Mimiru runs into someone with almost the exact same character model and outfit as Tsukasa. Pretty funny idea

“Maybe you were just here waiting for that guy Godot. Oh well, that wasn’t funny at all.” DAMNIT .HACK

This show consistently thinks it’s deeper than it is, but that’s actually kinda endearing. It’s really, really trying

Mimiru just holding a vigil for Tsukasa

Oh, now they’re actually explaining Waiting for Godot

Crim talking about his character type

Now Sora stops by. Everyone’s meeting up with Mimiru

Mimiru’s become a topic of interest on the message boards, because her waiting is so ostentatious

I’m starting to like Sora, too

BT’s trying to form an alliance with Crim to figure out larger points regarding the shifting flow

Aaand yet another great track. Interesting percussion this time, along with what sound like electronic… kazoos?

“I’d get scolded if I stayed up any later.” So Sora’s probably a teenager, which makes perfect sense. The show’s actually making the distance between the characters and the roles they choose to perform a real narrative concern, which is very, very nice

More sad memories with Tsukasa. Bullied and alone

And Tsukasa finally arrives

“This is good. Tsukasa knows nothing. The higher up it is dropped, the worse the crash will be. Hope is the best spice to bring out despair.” Alright, disembodied voice is up to no good

Episode 9

Title: Epitaph

“Just believe that it’s real. If you assume it doesn’t exist, you won’t be able to see it even if it’s in front of your eyes”

Discussing the existence of the Key of the Twilight. Apparently Subaru’s knights searched for it, once

“Above all else, you should be ashamed of fearing failure”

Tsukasa wandering around, runs into a girl who’ll be away for three days, and needs someone to take care of her grunty (the silly cow things)

“I can tell you that the existence of the Key of the Twilight is completely obscured in a great deal of mystery.” What else is new

Everyone just musing about the Key of the Twilight

“There’s a medical term called apoptosis.” Bear talking about cells dying to create fingers, and using that as a metaphor – the Key of the Twilight might destroy the existing systems in order to create something new

Apparently Tsukasa’s weird floating island used to be an island in a lake. The water disappeared after a strange message appeared on the message boards

So much slow standing and talking this episode. Every character has to discuss a new episode’s couple points

Oh no, Tsukasa’s Grunty is dying!

Oh no, it has Grunty Distemper! “It’s actually a worse disease than the name implies”

Time to find a purple cherry!

Tsukasa actually getting cold and blowing into his hands in the winter area. A nice touch

Mimiru goes to ask Sora about the Key of the Twilight’s initial posting

And Sora gleefully decides to join her. He’s a pretty great troll

More sad flashbacks of people yelling at Tsukasa. Like the cat, we can’t hear what they say

Mimiru learns from Sora that they can trace the info back to a character named Helba

Helba is a hacker

People repeat things other people say pretty friggin’ often

Sora cautioning BT to beware of Crim, since he might side with the Crimson Knights

Oh shit the Grunty died

And the girl is right there, accusing him of being a bad caretaker

“I had no idea that a baby Grunty was that warm. So I decided I didn’t want it to disappear.” Oh hey, Tsukasa is developing emotions

Episode 10

Title: Compensation

Bear meeting with his son, who’s basically fleecing him for money for a car. They talk more in the game than in real life

Bear asking Tsukasa how he spends his time

Bear prodding Tsukasa to do stuff with his time, Tsukasa responds predictably: “you’re selfish, but you don’t know anything at all”

Mimiru talking about how playing the game conventionally can become boring, but joining a party is fun, because you’re with real people. The game is just a backdrop to human exchanges

Helba mailed them

“When the Twilight Eye doth open, so too shall the path to me.” Helba just sent them some goddamn cryptic bullshit

“This sucks. But then, this is me too.” Thanks for that, Bear

“That’s why I told you to be sure to save the game first!” Does that work? Isn’t this persistent?

“You’re using this game as a replacement. What you can’t do in real life, you do in the World.”

“Towards a certain character, you’re playing the role of father that you couldn’t play in real life.”

Silver Knight’s keeping Tsukasa from meeting Subaru

“Please don’t disrupt Lady Subaru’s heart”

Talking with Crim about fragments of the original forum post

BT talking about the game creator as the “god of this world.” Continuously framing the World in terms of philosophy of existence, of why we take actions, of how we connect to others. But again – grounding

Like, why do we even care if the Key of the Twilight does “reset” the world? What are we invested in here? The world is pretty, but that’s about it – the characters just wander around in it and philosophize at each other

“This is the game. It’s all in play. I’d like to keep the playing within the field, you know?” But Bear’s story here points out the opposite – that we can use the game to act out what we want to, but cannot

Holy crap, this Tsukasa-Subaru scene is peak .hack. Just each of them staring and making faces at the other. It’s perfect

Why is she so invested in Tsukasa, anyway? Well, why is anyone

“Meeting someone is God’s doing, but parting is what humans do themselves.”

And then Bear and Tsukasa make up, sort of

Episode 11

Title: Party

And now a piano and opera singing track

Tsukasa dreaming of running with the little girl, and then being stabbed by her

Tsukasa’s joining Mimiru and Bear in a party for an event

Giving Tsukasa something to do. Making him actually engage with the World, and with others

Bear just looked up the answer to the first riddle online. Mimiru is impressed by this. I guess we’re a little pre-wikipedia

Bear talking about the speed of technology improving. Making a map by hand

Tsukasa’s opening up a bit, having a good time

Tsukasa keeps getting terrible flashbacks to his hard family life while spending time with Mimiru and Bear. Angry father, and his mother died. That’s what makes him act out and run away

Mimiru hammers on the importance of them working together, as friends

Apparently Tsukasa’s father was the one who decided to take his mother off life support

Episode 12

Title: Entanglement

His mother was in a vegetative state. There was a chance she could have come out of it

A good device for a story about living in the game

“It doesn’t make sense. Greed even here?”

Dancing around talk of the real world

“Sometimes I go unconscious, but it feels different from sleep”

Tsukasa is likely from Tokyo

Evil vines are creeping over the floating girl!

Ah, so his dad actually unplugged his mom. More painful flashbacks. “Is it all my fault?”

Bear seems to have discovered Tsukasa

Or was the vegetative patient Tsukasa himself?

The voice is taking the girl as a hostage to keep Tsukasa here in the World

Talking about returning Tsukasa’s consciousness in the World to his currently vegetative body

Tsukasa doesn’t want to talk about his injuries with Mimiru

Tsukasa is the little mermaid, told by his “mother” that he should never leave the sea of the net

Episode 13

Title: Twilight Eye

BT and Subaru discussing the “prophecy.” Were they friends?

Sora gets really mad when Mimiru refers to him as a lackey. Makes sense

And now Sora tells Mimiru about the real situation with Tsukasa

I like that the non-Tsukasa characters actually forgive each other for small betrayals

A Tsukasa memory, staring into a blank TV screen

It seems reasonable to think the floating girl above the bed is some representation of Tsukasa’s body. But it’s also perfectly likely she’s some other character. Or Tsukasa’s mother? It’s all pretty vague

Talking about fragments of the game from old versions of itself. More mythology of the World

Apparently Tsukasa may have the ability to circumvent waiting for the Twilight Eye

And Tsukasa decides to join them

Yeah, now they’re baiting that the girl on the bed might be the real Tsukasa

“The world hasn’t changed, but it seems you’ve gotten more complicated in your old age”

Talking with Silver Knight about the Legendary Lands

Looking for the three words Tsukasa needs

Now Tsukasa doesn’t want to be left alone, understandably

Bear’s been called out by a mysterious woman, likely the hacker

Ah, three words create a field. That’s why they need three words

Crim and BT have figured out that Tsukasa’s island is the key

But Bear also got the three words from that mysterious woman

Tsukasa’s made the cat thing mad

Some nice smoke animation

And the twilight eye opens!

A spectral bridge extends from the castle

Episode 14

Title: Castle

Upside down spires descending from the ceiling, with ominous faces carved into them. More wonderful environments

“This feels more like an action game than an RPG”

“I’m not a weak city dweller, I’m a blademaster… and I won’t be defeated.” Bear and Mimiru both grappling with whether this is a game or not

Crim constantly playacts his part, which makes him kind of a mirror for Sora

Jeez. Some kind of organic monster molded around a person at the core of the area

Sora talking about how it’s lame that Crim acts serious. Crim counters that not taking anything seriously is worse. Fighting the troll ethos

BT seems disturbed by what she saw/what happened

I like the weird digital boxes effect here

They go down what Tsukasa senses to be the “most evil” path

“I wanted to leave behind my feelings and yours in a tangible form. Proof you were alive. Proof I loved you.” (the dude in the core)

“I’m sorry. I failed as a father.” So he’s the floating girl’s ‘father?’

Aw shit, Tsukasa’s getting stabbed by the guardian

And he dead

Episode 15

Title: Evidence

Opening with a bit of a recap of the last couple episodes. I guess that makes sense – 14 did kinda feel like the first half finale

Long recap, though

Oh, this might just be the entire episode. Now we’re getting a recap of Tsukasa’s whole journey

The “bond” between Tsukasa and Subaru seems as weak here as it did in the actual series

“She is our hope. In her lies the dreams of all of us.”

Oh, I like this more driving version of the standard chorus track. Nice synths

More memories of Tsukasa being alone. People maybe tried to help him, but he stuck to himself?

We’re getting all the flashbacks in a row

0s and 1s slowly floating into him

How the hell can Subaru tell he’s in trouble?

Episode 16

Title: Depth

Uh oh. Image of someone flatlining, seems like it could be Tsukasa

Mimiru’s getting some nice VA work here. The cast is uneven, but she’s come together okay

“So, you don’t trust me.” “Well, that’s certainly your character type, isn’t it?”

“Sora kills BT to test if she has the key

Another flashback to Tsukasa and Mimiru’s oh-so-evocative first meeting

“Do you still think the Key of the Twilight exists?” “I think it’s more like a concept. A male character’s wishes that loop like a memory left behind. And what he wanted to leave behind… that girl”

“The name ‘Key of the Twilight’ has a life of its own” “If you say it exists, then surely it does.”

The players had to do a hard reboot to rejoin the game. Tsukasa might not be able to

Craaazy images as Tsukasa just screams

And now he’s with the girl and the bed again, in some horrible flashing light world

Aw shit, those floating boxes, and now the girl opens her eyes. BUT IS IT A DREAM?!?! ?!?

Tsukasa’s getting propositioned by the voice again

“Where am I, really? I’m not in front of a terminal. I exist here, in the World. But I don’t know about the me that’s here. Is this the real me?

Tsukasa’s finally getting curious

Subaru handing over her duties to the Silver Knight

“Can we rely on the fact that you will always be Lady of the Crimson Knights?” “If you want to believe that, then go ahead and do so.”

Tsukasa and Subaru meet again! More meaningful stares!

“I can’t run away from here. I can’t even die if I tried. Can you still say that I’m alive?”

Doing the classic “can you feel my heartbeat” thing

“I promise to wait for you to return. I want to see you again.” “But why? I don’t understand.” Neither do I

“There is always a path through the darkness in the direction you desire.” Alright cool Subaru

“Sometimes it’s best not to understand right away.” You’re not gonna sell me on this show’s storytelling, Subaru

“Who was that old man? Who was the person he loved? And what did he mean when he said ‘our hope’?”

“I guess we should gather information for now.” That’s what we do here!

“He is questioning whether he, who regenerated from the data, is real.”

Tsukasa needs to maintain his sense of self

“What’s wrong with him? It’s like he wasn’t all there.”

The girl landed on the bed!

Episode 17

Title: Conflict

Tsukasa seems to have lost his memories of Tokyo

Tsukasa’s such a vague dude that we kind of have to be told that he’s lost memories at all

“Misunderstanding or not, as long as we’re here, it is reality.”

This show handles “validity of virtual world” questions from a lofty, distanced, ‘what makes anything real?’ position, which honestly makes it a whole lot weaker than SAO’s more specific interrogations

BT has nothing but disdain for seeing this world as real. She sees it as easy escapism, where you can play out the fantasies you couldn’t fulfill in real life

Sora’s such a kid

“Even if you’re annoying, as long as you’re useful, that’s fine with me.” Oh Sora

Mimiru expresses vague interest in Bear’s handle, and then says she’ll just look for Tsukasa instead. A very Mimiru moment – don’t reflect when you can act!

BT now wants to meet with Crim in the real world. She’s pushing against everyone prioritizing this world

Crim says he has no intention of letting their relationship move offline

“I’m interested in a partnership, but only with the player character named BT”

Crim keeps things separate, and always prioritizes his player’s style within the game

BT pushing against Subaru trying to act outside of her position. BT’s tired of people walking over her, and doesn’t like the thought that Subaru could change relationships when she couldn’t

BT agrees to help two “newbies,” who of course betray her

And then Tsukasa shows up!

“How does it feel like to die in this world?” BT finally expressing some interest in what is real in this world

Tsukasa actually defending BT

BT’s name comes from BLT. But she doesn’t like lettuce. Fair enough

Real-world BT tearing up a letter to attend her high school reunion

“I think I’ll be BT a while longer”

Episode 18

Title: Declaration

Subaru learns that Silver Knight has been going behind her back to separate her from Tsukasa and the others

Crim advises her to play in the way she wants to. Very Crim advice

Silver Knight pushing back even harder, wanting to make the Crimson Knights an actual police force

Aw shit, he’s betraying her orders

The group discussing Tsukasa’s reaction to the old man’s message

Subaru goes to meet with Tsukasa again

The two saying they want to see each other again. Holding hands, etc

“Power without justice is incompetent. Justice without power is also incompetent.”

Silver Knight asked the system administrators to give the Crimson Knights access to players’ personal information. Shiiit

Subaru laying down the law

Silver Knight accusing her of abandoning justice to save Tsukasa

“Do you think that you are some sort of god?” Silver Knight getting pretty into his counter

And so Subaru disbands the knights altogether. They’ve lost it

Episode 19

Title: Recollection

Talking about how many fake Subaru designs there are. Nice worldbuilding detail

Crim advising Subaru on how many MMO dudes are creepers who won’t get even a direct message

“I thought I could meet people here and become friends regardless of our circumstances in the real world. Was I wrong?”

“You’re not wrong, but it’s all about attitude. Stand up straight, don’t look down.”

Flashbacks back to when Subaru and Crim began the Crimson Knights, who were intended to maintain peace in the World to keep players from being attacked unjustly

The Crimson Knights urge Subaru to return. Silver Knight has set up his own organization

Crim quits when the Crimson Knights become too much of a duty. But it also seems like he’s giving Subaru a chance to lead

“You didn’t become that character because you copied the look, right?”

“I’m going to cast a spell for you now. It’s my phone number in the real world.” Aw dang. Crim took a really big step for Subaru

And the angry PKer beats her up

Oh dang, driving dance track for her getting back up

And she ends up collapsing into Tsukasa’s arms, who was waiting for her

The real Subaru’s in a wheelchair. So she values the World more than most

Great ending to this episode, with Tsukasa’s staticy “I’m right here.” The show’s questions become much more engaging when they’re put in human contexts like this

Episode 20

Title: Tempest

So knowing Subaru’s situation helps make sense of why she’d be so invested in Tsukasa. But this is a bit late in the game for that

Mimiru and Bear discussing how strong or weak their internet friendships are

Sora and Silver Knight meeting

Silver Knight being frustrated is pretty great. That humanizes him a bit

BT on Silver Knight: “his simplicity and honor are his only merits”

“You’re probably laughing at me in front of your terminal”

Silver Knight thinks of the Key of the Twilight in practical terms, of what exactly it can do. I like that

BT trickin’ that old knight

Jeez, the quality is blurry as hell

Bear calls together BT, Mimiru, and Crim to finish the Key of the Twilight search

Tsukasa and Subaru sharing another Moment

Tsukasa talking about the girl floating over the bed – he used to enjoy that place, but now it just makes him unhappy

The girl is gone

Bear is 46

Crim: “When does everything change? Since when do we have to make a conscious effort to do something fun in order to have fun?” Bear: “Well, in order to get something, you must give something up in return. Maybe that’s what it means to have an adult”

Crim doesn’t want to give up his youthful spirit

So now BT, Sora, and the Silver Knight are sort of a party. BT’s telling them Bear’s info

They’ll just wait for Bear’s party to figure out the next step, then steal it first

Aw shit, someone invisible’s beating up Tsukasa

And now he’s being placed on the bed

Initially Tsukasa wanted to be alone, but the whole show has led towards him valuing his human connections, as all the other characters also discuss the validity of their relationships

Oh shit Tsukasa’s being torn apart

Solid animation here

“I am… not me.”

Episode 21

Title: Despair

Mimiru, Bear, and Subaru all can’t find Tsukasa

More characters staring meaningfully at each other

Tsukasa’s zoned out by the bed

BT and Sora trolling Silver Knight about being jealous of Tsukasa

“Someone else told me this was a game. He also said ‘play in the way that you’d most enjoy.’” Subaru has threaded the needle of treating the world as a game and embracing it – she plays the way she wants to, and what she wants to do is embrace it and find Tsukasa

Welp, Tsukasa’s whole forest has died

Unusual monsters have begun appearing all over the world. They can’t be harmed by player abilities

Another track with unusual percussion – light brushes and sticks/triangles, as a sorta… middle eastern guitar track plays, along with bubbling flute melodies?

They’re going to try talking to the broken man again

Harald Hoerwick – the programmer who created the prototype of The World. He’s gone missing, and apparently he’s the broken man

The show’s building kind of slowly. There’s no real sense of urgency to the larger plot – it’s still just an issue relevant to Tsukasa specifically

Helba might be able to lead them to other backups of the broken man

The girl’s stuck upside down in some creepy green pool, watched by the cat

The cat’s actually arguing with the voice about Tsukasa

Now a track with some organ keys and heavy drums

Episode 22

Title: Phantom

Helba told Bear that it was Harald who programmed some sort of “hope” into the world

“Like Orca of the Azure Sea and Balmung of the Azure Sky, and like… you know, those guys.” Sora just nails this ridiculous line. Sora’s pretty great

Fourth time replaying the Tsukasa-Mimiru meeting

A big vocal song this time, a kind of epic ballad

Tsukasa just keeps slowly digging at that stuffed bear

Macha is the cat

And Aura is the girl. The voice is giving away all sorts of info now

Ooh, now a fun synth and guitar track. Great guitar melody

Subaru’s party runs into an unbeatable monster

Someone new appears!

Balmung of the Azure Sky, a cool-looking white-haired dude, saves Subaru’s group

And now Sora and Silver Knight attack their own unbeatable monster

Bear, Subaru, and Mimiru head into a new portal to “meet the ghost,” the broken man, under Helba’s guidance

Mimiru mentions “the girl,” which seems to jog Harald’s memories

“Can it be you know about Aura?”

And Sora gives up, leaving Silver Knight to deal with the monster

“I made a grave mistake, a mistake that cannot be undone. Aura, our precious daughter, I wanted to leave the proof of my feelings for her. But I had no right to be a father.”

“There is a being that is trying to take Aura away from me. The current Aura is not the one we hoped for. I also created that being as well. I created it to awaken my Aura. My hope was changed into an evil being who awakens nothing but despair. The warped Aura should not be awakened. If my Aura could be awakened without the knowledge of that creature…”

“Then Tsukasa was a tool created to warp Aura and give birth to her.”

And the voice destroys Harald

Silver Knight runs into Crim. Silver Knight’s in a bad place

“How long has it been since you actually played the game? No matter how you look at it, you’re still alive here. Why do you log in?” Crim encourages action while embracing the artificial nature of the game

So Harald tried to give birth to a girl in the world to give essence to his feelings. And Tsukasa is being used as a tool to create a warped Aura

A beautiful artificial sunset in the World

Tsukasa’s still a vegetable. Oh wait, he woke up a bit!

Sora piggybacks with the cat into the weird Aura world!

Episode 23

Title: The Eve

New track – heavy synth opening, electronic noises, ominous synth melody enters

Someone contacts all the leads

The bed has turned grey

Tsukasa says “Helba?” Seems to be waking up

Daaang do things move slowly in this show

A new environment – narrow, high spires against a black-red sky

Sora acting like a child again

“I really don’t like you.” “I don’t care. I’m stronger than you.”

Bear: “Tsukasa was just a starting point. This has always been my quest to see through.”

“There’s no meaning to simply meeting someone. Finding meaning after the fact – that’s up to the individual.”

“I wanted to use him, then and now.” BT sees in others the only thing she can see in herself

BT and Bear have met offline

Subaru now wants to check in on Tsukasa in the real world. Crim is hesitant, of course

The show keeps focusing on these little fireflies

Another new track – background noise almost like echoing shakers, with a melancholy piano melody

Half the time the show checks in on Tsukasa, he’s just sitting there, all throughout the show

“I’m not expecting anything from the game. It’s from the people.” Nice line, Mimiru

BT and Bear rescue Mimiru from Sora

And now a track that’s… harpsichord and horns? THIS SOUNDTRACK

Tsukasa teleports to where Crim is, and he’s traumatized

The VA is really nailing this scene. We’re getting a lot of vulnerability from Tsukasa

Crim talking about how Subaru was once weak to give Tsukasa some courage. And about how her real self can’t move around freely like her character can

Crim’s giving him a great pep talk here

Another flashback to his abusive father

Silver Knight also received a message from Helba. The group finally accepts him, and it’s super cute. Silver Knight ended up being a pretty solid character. This is basically a C story populated by A characters

“If you desire to know the truth, you also need the courage to accept it.” And then they take a step forward

Jeez this transition looks cheap

Another great vocal melody-based song

Episode 24

Title: Net Slum

Holy crap. This area with all these fragmented Tsukasa memories is wonderful. What a great visual concept

“It looks like some kind of ghetto”

“Data remnants. Copies of Tsukasa”

Tsukasa finally arrives

Another nice track. Violins over martial drums

Tsukasa and Subaru arrive, followed by Helba

“Welcome to Net Slum. It’s a place where old unremembered data goes. It’s a place we constructed ourselves.”

The data started appearing six months ago, when Tsukasa began to not be able to log out

This terrain looks almost like a Dr. Seuss landscape – colored, lined hills fading into the distance, etched with weird eyes

“All along, I thought I was a guy back in the real world. But that’s because my own memories were altered in some way”

Tsukasa admits his real self is a girl to Subaru, and Subaru accepts that. “I was touched by your soul” alright Subaru

Aura is linked to Tsukasa – when he’s positive, she grows in the right direction, when he’s negative, she gets warped

“The enemy has no intention of giving birth to Aura at all”

In order for Aura to awaken, Tsukasa must be able to log out

Sora refers to the voice as “old lady,” of course

“What’s your goal?” “To give Tsukasa deeper despair.” “That’s really not all that interesting for me”

Sora doesn’t want a guardian. He likes his own strength

The cat’s very sad

Silver Knight: “I’m 23. I work part-time at a video rental store. That’s all I do though.” Wow is this an endearing moment

Silver Knight and Mimiru bonding. Pretty damn cute

Bear suspects the enemy will attack Subaru, Tsukasa’s weak point

But of course they won’t convince Subaru to leave, and Tsukasa needs Subaru anyway

Aw shit, Macha (the cat) is attacking Subaru

“Tsukasa, I’m trusting you.” SILVER KNIGHT NUMBER ONE

“Subaru, you should log out from this horrible place and not look back” “If you can’t log out, I’ll stay here by your side”

Tsukasa’s guardian appears, and they attack each other

“What is it you want to do?” “I want to log out. I want to go back.”

Episode 25

Title: Catastrophe

Even up to the end, there’s still a lack of momentum in the audience understanding what will actually move the plot forward

BT is ambushed by Sora

Bear musing on what might happen if they fail, Crim says he’ll leave the musing to him

BT rushes off to warn Bear and Crim about Sora’s discoveries

“Old lady, who are you?” “I am The World”

“Anytime something begins, inevitably it has to come to an end.”

Bear volunteers to be Tsukasa’s foster parent back in the real world. He says it’s BT’s words that convinced him to take care of Tsukasa

“I want to provide you with a choice. That’s what this is.”

BT: “Just for once, why don’t you ask like Crim in the real world?” “Because I’ll lose my job.” “But you may get something greater in return”

Another Guardian appears

Silver Knight’s a goddamn sweetheart

Tsukasa is finally ready to contribute

And they beat it!

Aaand now there’s three more

Macha takes a stand to a jazzy sax solo

Tsukasa, Subaru, and Mimiru all disappear

Episode 26

Title: Return

They’ve been teleported to a vast, desolate canyon, all of them separated

Tsukasu runs into a fake Subaru who tells him to go away

And Mimiru runs into a fake Tsukasa

Same with Subaru and Tsukasa, etc

“The Mimiru that I know wouldn’t give up that easily! Who are you?!” Tsukasa figures it out

And now they’re all together, and they get warped into the friggin’ BOSS CHAMBERRR

“I just have to open my eyes. Even if what I see is painful”

“I understand why you use your power. It’s because you’re afraid”

“I’m not afraid of you or my father”

Aura wakes up

And Sora finally jumps in on their side, telling them to run with Aura to Net Slum

Aaand holy shit Sora’s getting crucified and turned into a monster

We get a brief shot of Sora’s room, apparently he’s in 4th grade

So Helba abandons the field altogether to trap the monster

A shot to Tsukasa and Subaru in the real world

They smile at each other, and the world gains color. Great shot

This is almost weirdly well-animated

And then it cuts to the voice in The World, saying “I’ve been waiting for you.” THE END?!?

Episode 27???

Title: Intermezzo

Mimiru and Bear are doing a limited time event

The art actually looks better here. I guess they had more time for an OVA? Figured it’d be the other way

Oh shit, actual fight animation!

A crazy powerful woman spear-user appears

So the spear-user is actually three girls?

A dungeon where level requirements are basically randomized

“Try to understand me. We’ve been playing together in the same party for a long time.”

The game balance is messed up here. The girl doesn’t like it – she thinks the place is toying with them

It’s basically a “haunted dungeon episode”

The three girls see the character as something theirs, something to take care of

Wow, some really atrocious voice acting for one of the three girls

“We’ll do our best in The World until we graduate”

The girls crystalize themselves to beat the monster

Mimiru comes across the crystal woman. Apparently she was the girl from the story

Episode 28

Title: Unison

Oh shit, are we getting a character reunion?

Silver Knight appears! AND THE CROWD GOES WILD

“Justice is not found in following rules, or by following numbers… but rather in the hearts of each individual” SILVER KNIGHT IS JUSTICE

And Crim appears!

And then “BlackRose” appears, who is a version of Mimiru from the games, maybe?

Tsukasa and Subaru have a Moment

This OVA seems to assume familiarity with the game characters

Yeah, here are more game characters

So the characters like Balmung and Orca that the show referenced were from the game

“Why did Aura trust me with the bracelet?” Alright, clearly I missed a lot of context for the show

Time for a dance party, I guess

Sora’s all alone, feelin’ sad

“This shindig looks like the bomb diggity” god fucking damnit

7 thoughts on “.hack//SIGN – Review

  1. Another potentially interesting series that was ruined by forcing itself into the wrong amount of episodes and some really drab directing (those dialogue scenes shot from afar where absolutely nothing was moving were killer, get off that goddamn rock and do something Bear!). Definitely keeping true to Bee Train’s reputation for having tons of panning shots, off-model characters and general boring presentation.

  2. What a coincidence, I also tried giving this anime a go a couple weeks ago. I unfortunately couldn’t make it past episode 9 before I had to bow out. The premise was interesting but I found the character interactions almost painful. (The only character I found remotely believable was the juvenile sora.) That combined with a glacial plot had me pulling the plug. I do hear from a bunch of people that it picks up in the last half so maybe I’ll give it another go in a month or two once its bad taste has worn off a bit. It’s defiantly a show that I want to like.

  3. Hey. ^_^

    I gather you need to watch some of the other .Hack stuff (Games I think) to understand who’s in the final “party” episode. And the Sora cameo in that ep is apparently “not canon” because he’s actually not actually… conscious at that time. I rewatched this myself quite recently with a young friend and we found ourselves with questions and Wikipedia-d them. If that’s a valid verb.

    There’s a list of characters for the game that we found and if you read the descriptions you get a spoilerish understanding of who’s who and the answer to our most burning question: WHAT HAPPENED TO SORA?!

    So if you’re interested, you too can take a look. Then again, maybe it’s more work than you need now you’re super-over-committed in your anime writings area. Enjoying it though, I hope. I enjoy reading.

  4. I totally fell in love with this series when I watched it for the time back in 2003. Yeah, it’s painfully slow and the characters don’t really come alive until the second half. But it has some heart and some interesting things to say, which is quite a bit more than I can say about brainless stuff like SAO.

    I always loved the interaction between Tsukasa and Subaru in particular. Yeah, at first we didn’t know why she cares so much about him, but it always felt like she could empathize with him somehow. Every time she said “it must be hard” to him, it was clear to me that she was talking as much about him as about herself. That’s why I was invested in their relationship even though we didn’t learn her reasons and backstory until much later.

    While SAO feels like it’s just a glorification of escapism, with a false premise at its core (that the virtual world -the fantasy- and the real world are the same) .hack actually deals with the issue from many different perspectives, and never really gives you an easy answer. You get pros and cons to the virtual world instead, which is a lot more interesting and less manipulative. There are things you can only do in the virtual world and things you can only do in the real world. Contrary to what Kirito would like you to believe, you can’t replace one with the other.

    • Hey. ^_^

      I don’t think the SAO premise is entirely false. A fully-immersive experience you can’t escape from and where you can permanently die would be pretty real to me I think. More interesting is Kirito’s assertion that you should always treat the virtual world as if it were the real world, that the morality you hold in one should apply equally in the other.

      I think a lot of the problems we have as people stem from the way we tend to compartmentalise the real world into areas where we allow ourselves to put aside how we ought to act and instead, act viscerally. It’s how flame wars and worse turn vast tracts of the Internet into a cesspool of anger and hate. It’s how road rage is a viable thing. We feel we’re at a remove from reality and just let it all hang out.

      The more we do that, the more removed we become from empathising with others, even face-to-face. It’s how we can let thousands of desperate people adrift at sea become not our problem, just for instance.

      And a fully-immersive virtual world would be just another compartment for us.

      Well, that’s what I think, anyway. ^_^

      As someone recently said, there’s good to be found in almost everything. Even SAO.

      • It doesn’t matter how technology works in the series. What matters is how it relates to our lives.

        With that in mind, I interpret the virtual world in SAO as a representation of fantasy in general, and a desire for that fantasy to be real. This is most evident in the first season. Kayaba’s whole motivation was a desire to make the fantasy real. That’s why he made it so that death would be real in the virtual world.

        Perhaps in the far future, turning fantasy into reality will be possible, but not right now. Right now those who indulge too deeply in their fantasies end up losing touch with reality to some extent. This, not coincidently, is what happens with the core anime audience in Japan: the Otaku. These are people who obsess about anime and related media like light novels (fantasy) so much they have little to no social lives. For this kind of people, SAO’s main premise is highly appealing, because it validates their deep immersion in fantasy.

        That’s why, in my opinion, SAO’s core premise looks like an idealization of escapism. It tells the target audience exactly what they want to hear, that they’re not wrong for preferring fantasy over reality (which Kirito himself does to some extent). This is probably one of the reasons the franchise is so popular in Japan.

        .hack’s core premise seems more honest to me. There are things you can only do in a fantasy and things you can only do in reality, so you can’t replace one with the other. And if you engage too deeply with one of them to the point you lose touch with the other, it becomes an issue. And yes, this goes for reality too. Focusing too much on reality without taking a breath from time to time is as much a problem as being obsessed with fantasy. .hack shows pros and cons to both sides, without ever trying to manipulate its audience to choose a particular side like SAO does.

  5. I remember watching this as a kid it was deep but misplaced, as the mmo world was practically non existent at the time or at least when stuff like Everquest owned the landscape. Most of the things and concepts talked about in the anime were probably alien to people then. Seeing it again makes you realize yeah I suppose that could happen in a Dystopian world something like Tron I guess. Dependence on change will probably lead us in that direction. I describe modern technology as a curse having been a techy most of my adult life, I really don’t like where society is headed with cloud, vr, smart phones, smart tv’s etc.. We maybe controlled by powerful corporations today, imagine ten maybe twenty years from now soon we will be controlled by artificial intelligence. At that point a future like Dot Hack is really not that far fetched considering where Apple, Google and Microsoft now sit.

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