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volume 3 issue 11

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Animefringe Coverage:
.hack//Sign
By En Hong

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the author are his own and not necessarily those of Animefringe Online Magazine. This article may not be suitable for small children or those who can't figure out what En is talking about.

Video games are becoming a mainstay of our culture. I say this because everyone I know puts off doing useless things like going to classes or working to play them. Of course, by "everyone", I mean just me. Anyway, since games are obviously a rapidly growing form of entertainment, a bunch of people smarter than you at Bandai Visual, decided to take a new approach in marketing video games by creating an entire anime series based on their upcoming game .hack. I don't know anything about the actual game because my religion prohibits me from buying a Playstation 2, but I can still enjoy anime goodness.

Since I live in a perpetual fear that one day a horde of mutant rabbits will teleport within my torso and cause me to explode, I'm going to be breaking up this feature of .hack//Sign into several distinct categories; plot, gameplay, sound, and graphics. You'll complain that these are things that video games are often judged in, but I digress. Mr. Jack Daniels here tells me that I'm always correct, so that's how this Dot Hack-Sign (the anime) feature will be broken up.

Plot:

.hack//Sign revolves around the massively multiplayer game "The World". It's a Role Playing Game (RPG) so people choose to play as different characters such as "Heavy Ax user", "Mage", "Heavy sword user", or "Bondage Mistress". Ok, so maybe I made up the last one, but there are so many character classes that I can't keep track. The story involves the mage Tsukasa, who we find laying down in front of a chest in the first episode. Apparently, earlier he opened up this chest and found himself trapped in "The World". From what I can tell, trapped inside a game means that one day you wake up and find yourself as the character you've been playing. Frankly, if that happened to me, I'd think it was coolest thing since the Japanese invented the bonsai rush back during WWII.

Tsukasa seems to be in a perpetual state of, what we like to say in Quake terms, a "lama" (i.e., "look at me, I'm a pansy") and doesn't really do much in the series but teleport away when confronted. So it's up to the other characters to investigate why he can't log out and let the rest of them play in peace. First on the roster is Mimiru, a large sword user who bumps into Tsukasa in the first episode. He runs away for no apparent reason, so she continues playing. Then there's Bear, a seemingly middle-aged man who plays as a Heavy Swordsman to temporarily escape his problems in the real the world. Also appearing is BT, a female mage who apparently knows Bear in real life. Finally, there's Subaru, a little girl Heavy Ax user who is the leader of the Scarlet Knights – a sort of player run police force within the game. Apparently, Tsukasa inherits some kind of odd amorphous monster thing after he becomes trapped in The World. He uses this monster as a sort of Freudian love toy and so when he bumps into Ginko, a high ranking officer in the Scarlet knights, his monster kills him. He then performs many unspeakable acts upon Ginko's lifeless digital body. Needless to say, this pisses some people off, but makes others curious, so the first part of the series involves Mimiru, Bear, BT, and Subaru investigating the monster and Tsukasa.

My memory may be totally shot from the time that I "accidentally" spilled a few bottles of my aforementioned friend Jack D down my throat, but I believe that the Tsukasa monster storyline eventually just gets left unresolved as they move onto the bigger issue of why Tsukasa can't log out. This involves them searching for some mysterious artifact called "The Ring of the Twilight", which may be the key to The World or just some small locker in the airport containing the dirty panties of some perverse Japanese businessman. You would think their search would lots of action packed dungeon delving and the like, but that's not the case. Apparently, in this game, things are accomplished by sitting around, talking and emailing elite hack0rz for clues, which brings us to…

Gameplay:
Since "The World" is a RPG, people generally spend their time forming parties, doing quests, and delving into dungeons. .hack//Sign takes place sometime in the not so far future, so they have small cool headset-like input devices for a type of virtual reality-esque immersion. It seems that the writers never intended .hack//Sign to have any action at all, so whenever a hint of dungeon delving, swordplay, or other activities beside talking to each other occurs, the scene immediately shifts to something else. Everything else that you can think of is included. Rocks, the sky, birds, beetles… you name it. This gets pretty annoying fast, convincing me that if I ever played this game, I would surely just run around killing everything in sight, be it other players, monsters, or just that grassy hill over there. Gameplay in "The World" revolves around talking to other players and scheming behind their backs (to what purpose this scheming is, I do not know). Of course, everyone else who is not a main character in the anime, actually goes out and partakes in gaming goodness. That leads me to conclude that either all the main characters are quadriplegics or they like to pretend to have no arms and legs.

Graphics:
I have to say that when it comes to animation, .hack//Sign is pretty damn good. The studio who did the art and music are the very same folks who brought us "Noir", so you can expect the characters to be expertly drawn and animated on top of breathtaking landscapes. Every one of the characters has their own unique look which conveys their personality traits. Mimiru has a cutesy outfit and character, but she carries a big sword – so you know she's just there to have fun (or she's some sort of twisted little Japanese female serial man-rapist). Bear has that stern but kind big blue man with a sword look, and Subaru is this small girl with tiny wings and an ax. Aside from the lack of action sequences, the eye candy won't disappoint.

Sound:
The music is by far the best part of .hack//Sign. It's one of the main reasons I continue to watch. It's also throwback to Noir, but Noir music was damn good, so I'm not complaining. I mean, I could just sit there and leave .hack//Sign playing in the background and just listen to it. In fact, that's what I do. Other than the rousing video game/anime hybrid soundtrack, the voice acting is good, so that's a definite plus because they converse more than they do anything else.

Overall, .hack//Sign is a good concept, but it seems like Bandai Visual worked on the art and music first then realized that they needed a plot to make an anime. But, the music is awesome, and for that reason alone I would recommend you to go out and take a look at this series. And while you're out, please watch out for the crazy Japanese mutant rabbits who want to take you to their magical land of PAIN.

.HACK//SIGN - CHARACTER DOSSIER

Tsukasa

He's the main character, but from watching the series, you wouldn't think so. I think he exists just as a catalyst so everyone else has something to do. He is a mage character class, but I've never seen him cast a damn thing.

Mimiru

She's one of the cooler characters in the series, sporting cool arm bracers and a big sword. Mimiru is the only person in the series that they show going into a dungeon and playing the game.

Subaru

She's a Heavy Ax User class player, and sports two tiny wings sprouting from her back. Subaru's also the leader and founder of the Scarlet Knights – a player run police service in the game.

Bear

A big blue man with a sword. He often gives advice to Mimiru, and she calls him "old man". He's like 40 years old which puts him under 'living zombie' in my book, but that's just because I have a distorted view of the world.

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