Japanese Title: .hack//Sign
Related: .hack//Legend of the Twilight (sequel)
Similar: Log Horizon
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 26 episodes, 2 OVA
- Top tier ethereal soundtrack
- Unbelievably boring
- Repetitive and slow
- Poor action
- Shallow MMO world
A decade before MMO isekai became a big deal there was .hack//Sign. If you’re wondering why the genre didn’t take off back then, let me enlighten you.
Whereas the popular isekai premise of today is to trap everyone inside an MMO, Hack Sign only traps an individual, a teenager called Tsukasa who wakes up in a dungeon with no memories and soon discovers he can’t log out. Furthermore, he begins to taste and feel this virtual world on his skin. When other adventurers hear of his predicament, some look to help him while others fear him, particularly for the Guardian artefact that protects him, able to fell players in a single strike.
So, this premise sounds intriguing, especially if it’s the first of its kind for you, right? It has mystery, a vast world, monsters, player versus player combat, and a pitiable protagonist. What could go wrong?
Never have you seen an anime more boring than Hack Sign. For a story set in a game about exploration and fighting monsters, there is very little exploration and next to no action. And what action we do see is so poorly animated that you’re grateful there isn’t more of it.
The last time I watched Hack Sign was all the way back in early 2003 and I didn’t realise until this rewatch for review that I had never finished it. Even with my love for MMOs, I couldn’t continue. I didn’t consciously drop it. It just faded away. I’d wager that the only reason I even made it to a few episodes from the end was the soundtrack, which I place as one of anime’s greatest. In fact, I like this soundtrack so much that I managed to finish this rewatch by passively enjoying the music.
Alright, that’s enough praise. Time for the juice.
I mentioned the lack of action earlier, so you must be wondering what fills the time instead. If I said “Nothing,” I wouldn’t be far off the mark. Most scenes are of characters just sitting around talking about Tsukasa’s predicament. Legends speak of an item called the “Key of Twilight” that can break the rules of the game and perhaps free Tsukasa. In itself, this wouldn’t be bad – I’d like to see an MMO isekai focused on socialising over action. However, when coupled with the amount of repetition, the same characters going over the same talking points, your eyes will roll back as you pass out.
A group of players roleplay as an unofficial “police” force called the Crimson Knights, led by a small woman with wings called Subaru. I really don’t get this character. All the Knights revere her, treat her like royalty combined with the respect commanded by the greatest leaders, and I don’t know why. At no point does she demonstrate great cunning, strength, power, leadership, or wisdom. Forget the story; this is Hack Sign’s greatest mystery.
Much like the circular conversations of Tsukasa’s acquaintances, the Crimson Knights scenes are repetitive to a baffling degree. Count the number of times Subaru’s top knight says that they should get rid of Tsukasa and witness how often other players offend him for not showing her enough respect. We’re just going in circles here.
Oh god, I just remembered the flashbacks! As if each scene going nowhere wasn’t bad enough, they have to replay them in the next episode! These aren’t your usual flashbacks either, glimpsing a past scene to draw attention to some detail. No, these will replay entire scenes for your brain-leaking pleasure.
Characters are the one element that can salvage a story crawling in circles. KonoSuba doesn’t really go much of anywhere, yet those characters are so fun that you could watch them for a long while. Sadly, Hack Sign doesn’t have that luxury.
Take Tsukasa, protagonist, most important of the cast – he’s anti-social, always running away, and quite the dick to everyone. Unlikable to the very end. Even with the tragic backstory. The Crimson Knights are one-note and the only real villain is a sleazy assassin searching for the Key (his real identity reveal is rather funny and exactly who you would expect if you’ve played MMOs before).
You can see the author tried to go for depth with the cast. This one character called BT (named after the Bacon Lettuce Tomato sandwich, minus the lettuce because she hates it) is part of the group helping Tsukasa, yet we see that she has ulterior motives as she uses both good and bad people, never quite sure which side she will fall on. Due to the execution, however, it has no impact. You wouldn’t want to hang out with any of these characters in an MMO.
I appreciate that the script doesn’t bog down with massive exposition and mechanic dumps (unlike Log Horizon), but Hack Sign goes too far in the other direction. There is so little substance that we have nothing left. A bit more focus and direction would help engage the audience.
Unless you want an unusual anime with great music to watch while you slowly sink into the couch, .hack//Sign isn’t for you (or me). If I knew it was so dull, why did I bother again? I wanted to see if it is as boring as I remember.
Art – Low
The character and world designs remind me of the Suikoden games, which is nice, but the animation sucks and there is so little variety for an MMO world in 26 episodes. Even the dangerous Guardian is a weak design – golden testicles floating around a bracelet, really?
Sound – Medium
Look, Hack Sign has one of the best anime soundtracks ever. I have had a few of its songs on my playlist for over 16 years. The acting is quite good as well – go for the Japanese, as this is from the era when the Japanese was usually the better track all round. Bear, for example, sounds much better with a deeper voice. However! No soundtrack or acting talent can save this mind-numbing script.
Story – Low
A kid wakes up one day as the sole player trapped in an MMO, where a magical artefact becomes his deadly guardian. One would imagine that such a premise would be full of mystery, suspense, and adventure. One would also be wrong.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Avoid it. Unless you are so intensely curious to see what the deal is with anime’s most boring series, avoid .hack//Sign.
Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)