It’s time to look at what I’d consider to be a fairly iconic anime. It’s not so much that it’s known as one of the greatest anime of all time like DBZ or that it’s super long like One Piece, but it’s just an anime that you’ve likely heard of over the years. The .Hack franchise is also pretty popular in its own right and this is certainly the most well known show. It’s definitely a fun adventure that takes a pretty deep look into the online gaming genre.
The show takes place in the future where online games are finally on the rise once more. In particular a fully immersive game known as The World has gotten incredibly popular because of how realistic it is. Just pop on the helmet and you are inside the game. A player named Mimiru was exploring a cave like normal when she bumps into a player named Tsukasa. He runs off and she thinks nothing of it at the moment. However, it turns out that Tsukasa is unable to log out of the game and can’t even recall what is happening in the real world. The other players suspect that he is a hacker while others are worried about what has happened to his real world body. The secrets can be found with the Key to the Twilight. It’s an object of immense power can can change the game itself. Of course, finding it will be tough since the heroes don’t even know if it exists at all or if it’s merely a legend.
A big part of the anime is about exploration as the characters look around for a dungeon that isn’t in any of the official guidebooks. Effectively, they are really getting into the game now since it’s like going back to the days before the internet. Of course the stakes are high since Tsukasa’s life hangs in the balance. The heroes have to decide if helping like this is worth it or if the game is starting to take up too much of their time.
Despite being the main character, Tsukasa is actually pretty annoying. He is constantly snapping at everyone and feeling sorry for himself. From the start things would have been better for him if he had talked to the Crimson Knights instead of making a break for it and acting all suspicious all of the time. From his actions he basically told them that he was a cheater so of course they would try to arrest him at that point. Then Tsukasa actually destroys a few players. He never turns into a total villain or anything though and his actions are not malicious. He attacks in self defense but naturally the Crimson Knights won’t believe it. Tsukasa doesn’t have an easy time of it at all, but the reason why he is annoying is that you feel like the lead is making the situation a lot worse on himself.
Mimiru is the main heroine here and in a sense you could say that she represents the average player. She is intelligent but not a pondering philosopher like the rest of the characters. She is just here to enjoy the game at first but gradually gets pulled into Tsukasa’s web. I’d say that she definitely has a pretty tough experience here since the wavemaster is hard to be friends with and tends to panic or run away when the going gets tough. Mimiru’s definitely a fun character throughout and was certainly crucial in Tsukasa’s personality change. I dare say even more than Subaru as she got him to take the initial steps out of his shell.
Subaru is the leader of the Crimson Knights but she tends to disagree with their methods. She wants them to just go around talking with people as opposed to actively keeping the world safe. I rather disagree with her on this one at the very least on the idea that they should be so lenient on cheaters. They should report them to the admin right away and in the meantime locking them up makes sense. It would be like locking someone’s account for a little while. The knights naturally did take it a little far by the end, but I felt she was too far in the other direction. Subaru is a nice character though even if she isn’t the best fighter. She can just be rather naive at times like when she actually expected the Crimson Knight to tell her if the friends that he disliked leave her a message. I don’t think anyone expected him to actually do that.
Bear is another one of the main characters. He hangs out with Mimiru a lot as well as BT. Inside the game he is probably the deepest thinker and is also the most pro active in trying to find out the truth behind Tsukasa’s predicament. He has to make a lot of tough calls on his own and ultimately ends up making the right ones. It would have been rather tough on the kid without him. Bear can always hold his own against the other characters in a verbal battle and is good at planning as well. He’s just a very solid all around character.
BT is a character who really doesn’t care for lettuce since it erodes the taste of whatever it touches despite society telling her that it has no taste. It’s a pretty interesting backstory. In the game she likes to play as a very tricky character who will betray the heroes for a good item. She plays both sides quite a lot throughout the series before finally choosing the right side. As a result she is rather annoying though and it was too little too late when she came to aid the heroes. She also tries to go after Crim in the real world even though he’s pretty decisive in rejecting her. Of course it’s always tough to move on immediately.
Crim is essentially the “Top Player” character of the game. He has a considerable amount of skill and vows to use it for justice. He role plays as a Superman type figure who is always around to help those in need. He definitely ended up being the best character in the game. For starters he is the only one who didn’t really bring any drama with him to The World. He likes to keep the real world and the video game separate and completely gets absorbed into his role. That’s definitely the way to play and he is able to do this while still appreciating the stakes that the game now holds.
Sora plays a big role in the series as he likes to manipulate all of the characters and hatch plans of his own. As he is one of the strongest characters in the series there typically isn’t much that the heroes can do to oppose him. Only Crim is able to properly stand up to the guy. He can be fun to have around, but I definitely wouldn’t say that he is a likable character. At least he ends up trolling both the heroes and villains which is always nice for a wild card. At most you might feel bad for him during the end of the series since he tries one last betrayal which doesn’t even matter and ends up getting himself a little too deep into The World.
For a while the Crimson Knight was easily the best character in the show. He’s one of the big antagonists of the series who believes in hunting down the hackers so everyone will have a fair gaming experience. He isn’t pleased when Subaru tells him that they are just a fan group with no real power. At this point he decides to take matters into his own hands. It’s not as if he goes crazy and starts trying to destroy everyone though. He merely stays in his quest to stop the cheaters and it’s a shame that by the end of the show he didn’t get to do as much as I would have hoped. His fight scene with Tsukasa early on was cool though. I think that may have even been the first episode. Even there he wasn’t in the wrong you’d think since Tsukasa was obstructing Justice. On the other hand, since the Crimson Knights are a fake group with no authority then are they outside their jurisdiction? I’d say no.
As the characters mention from time to time, they are all role playing inside of The World. Why not role play as a police officer? While the Crimson Knight gets a little extreme towards the end, he is not unreasonable at the start. If someone is hacking the game then they must be stopped before other players are hurt right? Especially since this game does seem to give you some level of pain feedback in the real world. In the video games a lot of the characters also don’t like the hackers since they mess with the game so much. The Crimson Knight does get distracted by the romance angle quite a bit, but otherwise he had a pretty interesting mission throughout the show.
The show is very dialogue heavy of course so don’t go in expecting constant fight scenes. Fortunately the writing is really good so the dialogue works. The show never feels dull or boring despite all of the talking because the show is just very interesting. You’re engaged with what they are talking about. The characters may go in circles at times but it won’t dampen your enthusiasm as they will at least gain some kind of new clue which alters the conversation. I think the voice acting deserves a lot of credit here as well. Every character sounds rather monotone and robotic but that makes sense since they’re all role playing within the game. It adds to the effect pretty well and makes them easy to listen to.
.Hack also manages to avoid some of the negatives that typically go hand in hand with anime as well like fanservice. The show avoids this which seems to be pretty tricky for video game anime like this or at least that’s the impression you get from titles like Sword Art Online. It was tough deciding whether this show would be a 7 or an 8 because it is fun, but is it great? It was very interesting throughout and while the show lacked action the mystery was fun. It’s not the kind of mystery that would lose much replay value on the second watch since it’s not about a culprit that you are finding, but secrets of the world. Everything is very meta so I think it would hold up well enough on a second viewing.
I also liked the soundtrack quite a lot. We get many different operatic themes which help get across the show’s mysterious tone. “Come with me to the Twilight” works well for all of Tsukasa’s moping scenes where he’s wondering what to do next. The show is constantly throwing in both lyrical and instrumental themes at you which fit in well. They are epic but can also be interpreted as sad depending on the scene. The only theme that I really didn’t like for epic scenes was Sora’s. It’s a really happy theme that seems completely out of place whenever it pops up. For example, it pops up during the final battle between Crim and Sora which is a hype scene but the music doesn’t fit at all.
It’s not a theme that pops up too often though so it’s fine. Also, as we don’t get too many fights during the series it’s always fun when they do pop up. The Sora bouts are always enjoyable and the invincible monsters were also cool. Each fight is fairly short so enjoy what you get from them. The thing is that most of the characters aren’t too strong here as they want to enjoy the game and aren’t grinding their stats. Only Sora and Crim decided to grind their way to level 100 and at that point it all comes down to their skill level when wielding their weapons. Since The World is so glitchy, it’s probably for the best that they don’t take that part too seriously.
The animation is also pretty good and holds up well. It’s a classic 90s-early 2000s aesthetic. The colors are bright and the backgrounds have a lot of detail. I liked how they animated Skeith as well. He certainly comes across as a very intimidating figure. The gray, faded out look for the real world also did a good job of showing that aside from The World, Earth hasn’t changed much and that’s why everyone wants to be playing the game instead of just going through the same motions as always. It would be cool to see more of the human world, but this way it does keep more of a mysterious vibe.
How much you enjoy the show will depend on what extent the vibe works for you. The first half can be rather slow as all of the characters keep heir secrets and don’t really do a lot to shed light on the situation for anyone else. It’s not til we enter the second half where the characters all start to team up and realize that an enemy is near. Then we get the fun dungeon exploration and battles against the mysterious being. As it is the show basically just ends around this point as the clean up is left to the characters of the original 4 video games. It’s not like these characters can fight a being who is a part of the game like this so I wonder how often they would log on after this or if they began to take a more cautious approach. Either way as long as you find the show interesting like I expect you will then the lack of activity at times won’t really be an issue.
One thing that would have been nice would have been to include more of the video game characters. Several of them got cameos here which was cool, but having them around more would have been even more exciting. I suppose they could have stolen the show since they were so OP though. By not having them around, it also showed that while the situation was huge for the main characters, it wasn’t necessarily an end of the world event where everyone had to show up. Even by the end of the show a lot of people probably didn’t even realize what was happening since they would probably just ignore the forums.
Overall, .Hack//Sign is definitely a fun show. It’s the kind of title that has a lot of replay value since the dialogue is engaging from the start. It’s very solid across the board so I wouldn’t say that it had any specific weaknesses. At most I do think it could have used some more fight scenes but the characters do stress that this isn’t really that kind of game. Combat is a feature though so it’s always an option. The show is also better in batches than weekly since the show likes to progress at a slow pace in order to allow all of the characters to process what is going on and discuss it. If you haven’t seen a really solid video game adventure yet then this is a great way to start. Now I just need to go back and play .Hack part 4.