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.hack//SIGN: The Complete Series
.hack//Sign is the acclaimed anime series that started the massively popular anime franchise (which has continued to exist with several other connected series). The saga of .hack is one which has been explored in various anime series, video games, and manga publications. It continues to be a popular series amongst anime fans to this day. Funimation now presents .hack//Sign and other .hack series on DVD in North America again (following a out-of-print period) through their license rescue of the franchise.
The main character of the story is Tsukasa, who is a wavemaster playing inside the virtual reality game environment which is known as The World. This massive multiplayer online role-playing-game (MMORPG) allows characters to take on brand new appearances and go on adventurous quests in the cyber game design. Yet things get complicated when Tsukasa's mind is trapped within the game itself. He must go on a quest and enlist the help of others playing the game before he can figure out why he's still there and how he could get home.
The first .hack storyline was created by screenwriter Kazunori Ito (Ghost in the Shell). The focus on the storyline is centered upon the characters, concept, and world. There is little in the way of action on .hack//Sign as the series aims are not to be edge-of-you-seat with non-stop adventure. Instead, the storyline is explored at a generously leisurely pace with most of the attention given to dialogue exchanges between characters and on philosophical and metaphorical concepts explored via the virtual reality gaming world established.
The animation was produced by Bee Train and Bandai Visual. The animators have done a great job with regards to establishing the VR world of the series. It's an imaginative landscape and it befits the concepts. The character designs by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (Evangelion) seem to work perfectly with the rest of the animation style and the approach taken by the team of animators. Though the series often utilizes static animation for many frames (which doesn't always work), the simplistic animation is something that still manages to be effective as the series is a lot more focused on exploring the character element.
Music is by Yuki Kajiura (Noir) and is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful at times. As with the work done for Noir, Kajura continues to contribute some of the best work accomplished for the overall series production. The series manages to infuse a space-age jazziness with an ethereal otherworldly sound that really manages to impress and amaze. I love the music for this series. Scenes that would otherwise be less majestic become much more so with the score music that accompanies the series.
The series is directed by Koichi Mashimo (Tsubasa Chronicle, Noir) and has a strong stylistic approach. The series has a good science-fiction backdrop and feels creatively engaging. The style of the director allows for an element of intrigue and a solid exploration of the world to unfold for audiences. Though the pacing is admittedly quite slow (and some audiences might find that off-putting), the style is similarly enjoyable as there are enough interesting ideas and visual cues to keep the show entertaining. The slow-burn style allows for the series to focus on themes of isolation while exploring this intriguing sci-fi landscape. Director Mashimo brings the story by Ito to a simplistic but reasonable conclusion.
.hack//Sign arrives on DVD from Funimation with a decent but imperfect presentation. The color reproduction seems accurate and pleasing. The CG animation style sometimes employed seems effectively rendered. The art looks reasonably nice. However, there is a certain degree of soft imagery with the scenes often being less sharp than ideal. There are also some aliasing issues occasionally. I also noticed some compression artifacts which were displeasing. The series is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 widescreen with anamorphic enhancement implemented for viewing with 16:9 TV's.
.hack//Sign has an impressive audio presentation on this Funimation DVD release with crisp, clean, and well reproduced score music and dialogue. Though the audio is kept to stereo it's impressive nonetheless and has a good sound design. Fans will be pleased with this quality presentation. Both the Japanese language version (presented with English subtitles) and the English dubbed version impress with quality performances and the technical quality is good.
This set includes 2 OVA episodes produced after the series ended (which are in effect simply a continuation of the series -- the final OVA feeling like an epilogue of sorts), a promo video, a collection of Japanese commercials, trailers, clean op/ed themes, and a character art reel with illustrations from the show.
.hack//Sign isn't a perfect series but it's an enjoyable, thought-provoking (at times), and fun science-fiction universe. The idea of the story and it's concept is inventive and the focus is primarily on the characters which makes it intriguing. The animation is simple but effective, music is breathtaking, and the direction is solid. Sci-fi anime fans will enjoy checking it out: .hack//Sign is essentially a classic of the genre. It's nice that the series is no longer OOP and viewers can once again enjoy the show on DVD via this release from Funimation. Fans who didn't already own .hack//Sign should certainly consider adding this to their anime collection.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.