This particular anime strikes a bit of a chord with me where I find myself frustratingly confused with whether or not this show is really smart or really dumb. In my humble opinion this anime had amazing potential but unfortunately shirked on a lot of the interesting philosophies and ideas it was trying to build up throughout its run. In essence, “.hack//SIGN” loses focus way too often and you will immediately become bored when the show flat-out refuses to examine the core mechanics of its themes and ideologies and instead suffers from an extreme lack of focus and a really underused cast of characters.
The setting for “.hack//SIGN” takes place in an MMORPG called The World. The first episode introduces us to the avatar Tsukasa who has amnesia and cannot log out of the game for unexplained reasons. Eventually Tsukasa meets up with some other avatars and they try to help him escape from this virtual world.
As stated before this anime had potential; the core mechanics of this anime are actually really interesting upon further examination. The story take place in a fantasy inspired virtual reality but this video game world ceases to be an actual place and more of a character in and of itself when the theme of escapism is brought to light in later episodes. Certain episodes also deal with social anxieties, disabilities, self-doubt and interpersonal relationships, which adds some really nice flavor regarding the concept of virtual role playing.
The real world is also competently juxtaposed with the virtual world. While the video game world is bright and colorful the real world is muted and static emphasized by the heavy use of black and white imagery. Each episode has a specific red herring included somewhere, which adds a nice detective element to the story, especially in the later episodes and in the amazing twist.
For all of its technical ingenuity and complexities “.hack//SIGN” still suffers from lag when you step back and examine the bigger picture. The character Tsukasa is a really complex and interesting character but the show would have us believe he is the ONLY character. All of the other characters are constantly pushed onto the back burner way too often to focus on Tsukasa and his problems. This becomes slightly annoying because the show teases relationships developing between these secondary characters or drops hints about the problems that these characters are experiencing outside of the video game only to immediately grab us by the collar and force us to devote our entire time to examining the perils of this singular protagonist.
“.hack//SIGN” also takes way too long to tell its story at certain points and you will find yourself quickly falling asleep because this anime has the pacing of a 1980s 8-bit game with corrupted data. Also, more time needed to be spent examining the philosophical construct concerning escapism. If one wants to tackle the concept of escapism then time needs to be spent examining the place one is escaping from and the show fails to do this on numerous occasions.
This show builds itself up as being a think-piece with an emphasis on escapism and philosophical inquiries sprinkled on a fantastical virtual reality filled to the brim with adventure and awe. “.hack//SIGN” may deliver on the latter but suffers from an inability to use a varied cast of characters and fails to uphold any analyses of the philosophical concepts of the show resulting in this anime containing about as much depth as a shallow puddle.