by Amber Tamosaitis
What if somebody decided it was time to raise the stakes in an online game? In .hack//SIGN, the players in The World are quickly realizing their game is no longer just a game, as users on the outside are falling into comas during game play.
The amazing thing about .hack//SIGN is that it is only a portion of a multimedia phenomenon. The storyline runs from .hack//SIGN, through a four-installment series of Playstation2 RPGs, a four-episode OVA (one episode comes with each game), at least one other manga and another anime series (.hack//tasogare no udewa densetsu (legend of the twilight bracelet)). And the people at Project .hack, CyberConnect2, and Bandai show no signs of stopping there.
Project .hack has some of the strongest personas in anime behind it. Director Koichi Mashimo brings over a decade of experience with him, which includes such series as Irresponsible Captain Taylor, Dominion, and Noir. Mashimo also directed the game Xenogears. The intriguing plot of .hack is headed by writer Kazunori Ito, who not only has credits from his writing on Urusei Yatsura, Patlabor, Maison Ikoku, Creamy Mami, and Ghost in the Shell, but also for such live-action films as the cyber-thriller Avalon, Pistol Opera, and three Gamera films. Yoshiyuki Sadamotos character design may be most familiar to fans of Neon Genesis Evangelion and FLCL (FuriKuri/FoolyCooly). Another familiar name to anime fans is composer Yuki Kajiura, who also provided the music for Noir, EAT-MAN.
Currently in the US, .hack//SIGN holds the midnight slot as part of Cartoon Networks Saturday night Action Block. There are twenty-six episodes in the .hack//SIGN series at this time. The fourth US DVD will be released on September 2nd as a Limited Edition pack containing a soundtrack or by itself. The third installment of the Playstation2 games will be released on August 5. TokyoPop is releasing the manga version of .hack//tasogare no udewa densetsu to stores in early September.
In the year 2007, the MMORPG (massively multi player online role-playing game) The World has over two million players across the world. One player, known as Tsukasa, awakes in the game one day, confused, unable to log out, and with the senses of touch and smell within the game. Tsukasa has forgotten who he is in the real world, but with the few painful memories he has, Tsukasa decides he doesnt even want to log out.
Tsukasa is found early on by both friendly Mimiru and the not so friendly player faction, the Crimson Knights, who believe Tsukasa is connected with a player whose character includes illegal cat-like features and quickly pin him as an outlawed player in The World after an accidental encounter. All Tsukasa wants is solitude, to be alone and away from other people. He comes across a stone and a mysterious voice that assures him protection and happiness in The World, as long as he is obedient to her.
Upon agreeing, Tsukasa is led to an area of the game not accessible by other players. There, he finds the sought after cat player and a mysterious little girl who cant seem to awaken. Tsukasa is given an odd looking bubble-like creature to be his guardian and so makes his way back out into The World.
The series follows Tsukasa and those he meets along his journey as they all try to divulge the secrets of The World. Why cant Tsukasa log out? Who is he in the real world? And why are people falling into comas during their play time in The World? Its just a game...isnt it?
.hack is something fresh and unique. The story develops slow (heck, to get everything, you not only watch the anime, but also play the game, watch the OVAs, etc.) But its well worth it.
By itself, .hack//SIGN is amazing. The story is intriguing and well-written, and the mystery of The World and its devious functions will keep viewers coming back for more. Itos talent shines through as he develops realistic characters with human emotions and insights. Ito picks up on a lot more than just an interesting adventure - he toys with the reasons why people take up interaction over the internet through gaming. His characters, many of whom try to escape who they are in reality, end up exposing themselves more than they had thought possible through their journey together.
The artwork is astounding and very reminiscent of popular MMORPGs.
Something else that impressed me was the acting. The Japanese voice-actors alone gave a believable performance, but then I saw the English dub. Ive always heard anime fans giving dubs a bad rap, but when I saw this dub, I was certain even the most cynical fans would concede that it was a job well done. The English translation is true to its Japanese counterpart and the English voice actors truly portray the attitudes of their characters.
But I have to say my favorite thing about .hack//SIGN is the musical score. Yuki Kajiuras soundtrack is beautiful and stands alone. Not only does it properly capture the mood of the anime, but even by itself its an amazing soundtrack. From the haunting melody of Auras theme music to the upbeat techno style of the opening theme Obsession, its truly worth a listen.
All in all, .hack//SIGN is something fresh and definitely worth a look from fans of all types of anime.