Title: .Hack//Sign
Rating: 2.5/5
Genre: Animé, Fantasy, Adventure, Mystery, Drama
Duration: 25mins (26 episodes + 2 OVA)
Language: Japanese

I have no hesitation in admitting that I was quickly enticed into this concept; I'm sure this isn't the first time I've mentioned the web-based comedy “The Guild,” focussing on the real lives of a handful of MMO players with a certain comical accuracy that only the niche audience of other MMO gamers, or at the least those – like myself – who have in the past become infatuated within a fictitious world would be able to comprehend. This mystery that promises of maturity in its subject matter, delving into the world of Tsukasa, the wavemaster who becomes 'absorbed' into the game, not in front of a computer screen nor an NPC but a living entity whose consciousness exists entirely within this fabricated world. With the ability to question the divide between whether it is still merely a game for one who lives, loves, feels pain and pleasure within its confines, not to mention the matter of just how he came to be and the subsequent effect this anomaly will unleash upon the inhabitants of 'The World.' Yes, these are just some of the questions that come to mind that are repetitively and bluntly asked with no sight of intelligent clues to further the curiosity.

I should give credit for the actual world created; its nothing if not accurate in its portrayal of an online world, but that comes with both the benefits of believability and the drawbacks inherent within the MMO medium. The animation naturally suffers as a result of intentionally wooden movements and there are only a handful of different avatar designs, so inevitably slight colour variations will appear time and time again which whilst doesn't make the different characters hard to discern, certainly feels rather bland. There was also unquestionably a lost opportunity in many of the backgrounds, instead choosing cheesy and juvenile monsters without any sense of danger to them, bland generic dungeons and uninspiring scenery. Many of the episodes also feel limited in the scope of stories they are capable of telling, the many side stories often involving repetitive MMO quests involving fetching items, grinding for experience and dungeons, all of which work far better in its original format.

As for the characters themselves, they too felt a little stereotyped if not inaccurate, and many who have experienced online gaming may readily liken the style of playing found here; the asshole of an assassin who betrays everyone for his own purposes 'because he can,' the crimson knights maintaining order, the firm but fair leader of the world acting as a Queen in her kingdom. Even such situations as the experienced players mixing and helping the newer, the collaboration of both the old and young and the troubles of when players meet offline in particular being a major source of interest, despite its minimal consideration in the grand scheme of things. These welcome aspects gave me pangs of nostalgia – something non-gamers would not receive – but was still not enough to overcome the issue of the two-dimensional characters, not in the least the constantly whiny and fearful lead 'Tsukasa' and his predictable and hot-headed friend 'Mimiru.'

The resolution at the end; the denouement for the entire series feels unfulfilled and poorly executed. The mystery of Tsukasa's inability to log out is barely concluded sufficiently, Bear's occupation is never revealed, precisely who or what the “Maha” character is, Subaru's “affliction” and what happened to Sora in his final confrontation are all issues left to be resolved, and instead of addressing them we instead get two OVA episodes that feel as though complete throwaway's involving unnecessary side-plots and a bizarre celebration involving half a dozen characters that feature nowhere in the story yet emerge as though they were there all along. For a series that desperately tries to entice the viewer with guessing games I at the least expected an answer to at some point be revealed. Sadly, this felt a little too much like watching someone else play a game rather than embracing the medium for its own merits.


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