Dot Hack Sign (.hack//SIGN) is the first animated addition to the dot hack empire. It is set almost entirely in 'The World' (or 'Za Worudo' ala the Japanese voice actors) which is massive and completely immersive online RPG. It takes place before the four part PS2 video game series but after the novel AI Buster.
The story starts with the chance meeting between Tsukasa and Mimiru in one of The World's dungeons. Mimiru takes the opportunity to introduce herself; Tsukasa decides he rather be elsewhere. He teleports away. Unfazed by Tsukasa's aloof attitude, Mimiru manages to catch Tsukasa later and tries to understand his attitude.
Tsukasa's reasons for his disconnected and uncharitable attitude are only the surface of his problems. He also claims to not be able to log out. This mystifies Mimiru and others in The World as it is an unheard of situation. Mystery and intrigue gather around the party that Mimiru forms with Bear, BT and Tsukasa. It will take much adventure and conversation to figure it all out. Mimiru ends up tasked with trying to figure out what is really going on with Tsukasa and why he can't remember and is unwilling to consider the real world.
Some of the characters include:
- Bear: A swordsman and the oldest in real life.
- BT: A skilled sorceresses who befriends Bear and Mimiru but whose true loyalty may not be to them.
- Ginkan: 2nd in command of the Scarlet Knights and fiercely loyal to Subaru.
- Mimiru: The generous and all-round nice player who decides to help Tsukasa.
- Subaru: Leader of the Scarlet Knights. Trusted for her fair and wise judgment.
- Tsukasa: Tsukasa is hurt and confused by his ordeal of being trapped in The World. His ultimate decision whether to face his pain or hide from it will effect the very essence of The World.
Dot Hack Sign spends some of its 26 episodes developing the characters almost to the point of the total exclusion of plot. It's a strange phenomenon, but, this level of depth in the characters makes them the focus rather than the unrestrained bounds of an immersive RPG world. Dot Hack Sign uses the fact so little of the real world is shown, besides snippets of Tsukasa life, to tease the viewer into conjecturing about what the players in the game are really like. This task is complicated by the fact several of the characters use the game to act out in ways they cannot in their real life.
The animation and artistry in the first couple of episodes and other key episodes is well above average. The flip side is that, comparatively, the art looks undefined and stiff in some of the more intricate character development episodes.
The music provides an appropriate atmosphere to the series and fills each scene. A fair number of the songs are sung in (simple) English and don't even suffer from any "Engrish" problems. The music is by Yuki Kajiura and it retains the distinctive styling of the soundtrack she previously produced for Noir. I have to admit to being a bit of a fan of her work and loved the addition that a more heroic and larger than life tint to her music this time around.
The one problem with Dot Hack Sign is that there are periods where characters tend to endless drone on and on with no breaks for a little action and adventure. This is a somewhat amazing oversight considering Tsukasa is stuck in a RPG and not on Late Night with David Letterman. The upside to this is that the conversation isn't wasted. Tsukasa's problems, character's relationships and loyalties and the mystery behind the "Key of the Twilight" are all presented as complex and deep mysteries.
While I highly enjoyed the series, I doubt that many people will have quite so favorable opinions of it. It's lack of adventure will turn off some viewers for sure. It does pull off far more than similar shows like Pokemon which were created as companions to video games. Overall, a very interesting show and it quite possibly predicts the future of video games.
North America Distribution:
Dot Hack Sign was snatched up and released onto TV in North America by the Cartoon Network. I've never watched the dubbed version they showed so I can't comment on its quality.
See Also: .hack//Dusk