.hack//SIGN (2002)
Directed by Koichi Mashimo

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * ½

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In the year 2010, in an on-line fantasy game called The World, players assume new personalities and have various adventures. Tsukasa, a mysterious and foul tempered boy unable to log out of The World, discovers he is being aided by strange powers. Meanwhile, a number of other players, after having encountered the boy, decide to uncover his secrets.

Koichi Mashimo's twenty-six part animated television series .hack//SIGN, while frequently tedious, is not so bad that it is unwatchable.

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Visually, .hack//SIGN can be attractive, but, more often than not, it is undistinguished and forgettable. Much of the animation used is reminiscent of that found in children's animated programs in the West and lacks qualities suggesting any real sensitivity on the part of the director. Some of the character designs and backgrounds are, however, genuinely appealing. The former are done in a style which follows the conventions current in anime and are consistently attractive, although, by and large, they lack the richness found in so many other animated programs from Japan. The backgrounds are never stunning, but they are often strange and interesting enough to grab the viewer's attention.

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The series' narrative is undoubtedly its greatest weakness. The story unfolds at such a lethargic pace that the viewer is likely to find his mind wandering away from it fairly frequently. A substantial part of every episode consists of the characters standing about in The World discussing what they ought to do about Tsukasa. The result can be extremely tedious. With very little happening narratively, almost no action sequences, and few attempts to evoke emotional reactions, .hack//SIGN is not an engaging program.

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While not a complete waste of time, thanks to its attractive character designs and occasionally bizarre backgrounds, watching .hack//SIGN can feel like wading through treacle.

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Review by Keith Allen

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