Anime News Service-Review: .Hack//Sign Vol 1. Login

By: Jay

.hack//Sign Vol 1. Login

Content: B+
Video: A
Audio: A-
Presentation: B+
Overall: A-
Company: Bandai
Length: 125 min

Games and anime have always been tied together, each spawning the other in a regular succession of capitalistic glee. Usually this incestuous relationship between the two mediums breeds misshapen offspring, the games regularly being unplayable and the anime being unwatchable. Usually the original creation is far better than the marketing scheme that follows.

Enter .hack (pronounced .dot hack), a multi-media blitzkrieg, crossing pretty much every platform: anime, games, and manga. The difference is that .hack was created as such a creature; each aspect is supposed to carry its own weight and depth, while interacting with the others to create a complete world. This is not the first time such a feat has been attempted (Blood – The Last Vampire is a good example), this is the first time that America is receiving all of the products. Bandai is releasing the four games for the Playstation 2 (including the OAV series .hack//Liminality), while TokyoPop has recently announced the release of the manga, .hack//Legend of the Twilight (.hack//tasogare no udewa densetsu, in Japan).

With all of that background, we come to Bandai’s release of the TV series, .hack//Sign. The story focuses on interactions in The World – an online role-playing game with 20 million users. In the first scene, a character named Tsukasa wakes up to find that he has lost some of his short-term memory and that he can no longer log out of The World. Soon after awakening he is met by Mimiru, a female player character who attempts to become his friend. The viewer is introduced to other characters, including a group of players called the Crimson Knights who purport to uphold honor and morality in the game.

The viewer always has to remember that these are characters being played by someone else inside of the game. Periodically, there are glimpses into the real world, but they are fuzzy and indistinct. As well, there are some non-player characters that, in the game, appear just as real as anyone else. As different characters become awake of Tsukasa’s situation, each responds differently, as you would expect real people to that are playing a game. Some take it seriously, some just view it as another part of the game. In any case, .hack//sign is very much about the mysteries the characters try to unravel.

The video is amazingly sharp and clean for having five episodes on the disc. Colors are bright and clear with little or no bleeding. Action scenes remain crisp with no pixellation or macroblocking. The animation is good, but hardly groundbreaking in its execution. While the picture is something you might want to show off to friends, they would hardly be impressed by how the show is animated. Then again, you wouldn’t be embarrassed by it, either. The character designs are also nice, if somewhat generic (other than the main characters). The menus are animated and accessed quickly, and, while they are thematically nice, they are not the most exotic in the world.

The sound is quite good, solid across the board, although there seemed to be a drop-out during the beginning of the first episode on the English language track. It was noticeable, but may have had more to do with the player. In any case, it cleared up quickly. There are a few instances where the music seemed either too loud or too soft for the particular scene. It was difficult to tell whether this was intended or not, but the situation would not be distracting unless it was something a viewer was focusing on.

Then again, the music is so amazing, it is hard for one to not focus on it. Those who have not heard the work of composer Yuki Kajiura are in for a treat. A current fan favorite, she has composed the soundtracks for shows such as Noir and Aquarian Age and performs in the J-pop group See-Saw. She has unique stylings, yet consistently comes up with new sounds for her projects. Interestingly enough, a large number of the songs in .hack//sign are in English. The music stands on its own well enough for an enjoyable listening experience, but it so wraps itself into the show itself, the music is almost like a character itself. And, it’s an excellent character, at that.

Fortunately, if you can find it, the limited edition version of vol. 1 comes with the first soundtrack to the series, something well worth the investment. However, you also get a T-shirt, a plush grunty (an animal player characters can raise in the show/game), postcards, and a game demo. The extras on the disc are pretty Spartan, including a textless opening and closing, a character gallery, and the PS2 game trailer. However, this is fine, since the room on the DVD was obviously well used to keep up the video quality.

While The World is a fantasy role-playing game, viewers should not expect Lodoss War. These characters are actually players from the real world. So, while there is some great in-game action, most of the movement through these first five episodes comes from character interaction and dialogue. Whole scenes will often consist of characters in a picturesque environment talking about the mysteries before them and trying to decide what to do. If you are a big fan of mysteries that unfold slowly and plots that hold importance over action, you’ll definitely enjoy .hack//sign. Much like Boogiepop Phantom was to the horror genre, .hack//sign is to the fantasy/cyberpunk realm. It is a thoughtful exploration into folklore and how it envelops people, while being punctuated by moments of action. So far .hack is not as deep or mind-bending as Boogiepop, but it is enjoyable. If you are looking for an action-oriented show or something that does not require thought, stay away.

If there is a downside to the online RPG portrayal is that sometimes it is difficult to realize that these characters actually have lives outside the game. The World actually seems like their world. Some dichotomy between the two should be more evident.

In any case, .hack//sign Login is an excellent beginning to the series, worthwhile to anyone who enjoys series based on interpersonal relations in a unique setting. If the series can begin to create a better concept of the “real world” that the player characters truly exist in, this could be one of the better anime of the year – to a select crowd.

A note about reviews: Reviews are graded on a scale from A to F, including +’s and –‘s. A typical good anime score would rank a B. Content refers to the plot, characterization, etc. Video refers to the picture quality as well as the animation. Audio refers to sound quality and music. Presentation includes the case, menus, and extras. Overall is a ranking of the worthiness of owning this DVD. Unless otherwise noted, all DVDs are bought out of pocket by the reviewer. Full disclosure will be made of any reviewables received by companies. Contact me at jayntampa@yahoo.com.

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