Movie: With the growth of the internet and it's complexity, an increasingly larger number of people are playing online role playing games. In such games, people log on and assume the role of a character with special abilities. As they accomplish various tasks, they gain points that enhance the strength and powers of the character. The last few years has seen the expansion of such virtual reality worlds and the big draw is that you can interact with a lot of like-minded people. In days of old, people interacted in real life but such worlds open up a whole new set of possibilities. This brings us to my review on hack//sign, an anime series that looks at one such virtual reality world.
I haven't seen the first volume of the series but based on what I saw in the 5 episodes of volume 2, "Outcast", I can make a fair guess at what's gone on and where it's going. The main thrust of the show is about a group of characters who are searching for a guy named Tsukasa. Tsukasa is unlike the other people in the game in that he's not quite sure what he's doing there. Everyone else is either playing a role, where they leave when their character is killed or they need a break (to sleep for example), or a NPC-a non-player character which is a group of characters set up as part of the computer program. Tsukasa has abilities beyond either group and a growing number of characters want to solve the mystery behind him. Is he a human playing the game, is he part of the program, or is he something else?
I liked the production values which were well above average. I liked that you could get a general idea of the show, as a stand alone release, although I get the feeling that I missed out on a lot of the story by not watching the first volume. The music was great and contributed a lot to the show as well. That said...
What I didn't like was that the dvd didn't provide enough background on what has happened to this point. That's a common problem with anime series, at least on later volumes, that could easily be addressed by an extra in the form of a synopsis. Maybe an overview which outlines the events to date. Further, the episodes seemed geared to an audience that are big fans of online computer role playing games. I know there are a lot of them out there but unless the folks at Bandai make some effort to tie the series in to something beyond those people and the ones playing the related videogame, they are limiting their market here. In all, I'm sitting on the fence about the quality of the series until I see more.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 ratio Anamorphic Widescreen and looked great. The colors were vibrant and as clear as I think I've seen on my television. Anime sometimes has a lot of moiré effects, artifacts, and other problems but this was very solid. I think the animation style was a bit limited at times but overall-it looked great!
Sound: The sound was presented in 2.0 stereo English or Japanese with optional subtitles. It was good enough to warrant a special edition which included a CD of the score. The isolated music track was solid but the integration of the music into the scenes really shined here.
Extras: The extras weren't great here but getting 5 full episodes made up for that a lot. The extras included a character gallery, a limited timeline where you could discover how the near future world of the show evolved from our own, some commercials of the show, and trailers as well as a paper insert that provided some background to the show and credits.
Final Thoughts: I wanted to like this one but the director, Kouichi Mashimo, known for his awesome series Noir, seemed to deliberately make this one less accessible to general fans of anime. I strongly suspect that people will either get this one completely or not at all but it's a tough call to make for me so I'll list it, temporarily at least, as a Rental until I can see more of the show. The technical stuff is first rate, but jumping into the story part way through left me a bit uneasy suggesting more than that.