.hack//SIGN, Vol. 5: Uncovered (2002)
Review by Dindrane

Written by Kazunori Ito, Akemi Omode, Michiko Yokote, Koichi Mashimo, Mori Kirin, Mitsuhiko Sawamura, and Hiroaki Jinno
Directed by Koichi Mashimo
Character Design by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto


Dindrane's Anime Warnings:

Released by: Bandai
Region: 1
Rating: 13+
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Oh, gee... may as well try it

In many ways, .hack//SIGN is one of the most controversial titles in recent years; anime fans either love it or hate it. If you love it, you praise the show's concept, gorgeous artwork, and creative world-building. If you hate it, you say that no amount of eye candy can make up for bad writing and the show's failure to live up to its concept.

The basic idea of the series is that something has gone wrong in an online shared game world, known cleverly as "The World." Some players are falling into comas, and mysterious viruses are attacking other players. Besides all of this, there's the character Tsukasa, who doesn't know who he is, but shows unusually strong abilities. He could be a real person lost inside the virtual world, or he might be a computer creation like the NPCs strewn all over The World; he himself doesn't seem to know, or care.

Here in volume five, the series is gearing up for its ending in disc six, and the action is coming to a head. Bear, with Subaru and Mimiru, are going in search of the Seer, who should be able to help them find Harald, the creator of the game; they believe that continuing to play the game is the way to get to the bottom of things when the find the elusive Key of Twilight. They're also hoping to learn more about who Tsukasa really is, as is he himself. Meanwhile, Sora, BT, and the Silver Knight join forces to stop them and advance their own questionable aims.

All of the characters are coming to terms with the idea that their game personae are in some ways more "real" and a better reflection of who they are than their real world selves are. This theme of reality vs. The World and true self vs. masks has recurred throughout the series and begins to bear fruit here. Tsukasa, after seeing the ruins of Aura's world, is faced with the consequences of what he's done, as well as what he's been unable to prevent. Crim attempts to reach Tsukasa before the final battles drive them all apart again; Tsukasa might have unusual powers, but he's pretty broken for a hero.

The visual quality is outstanding. Not only is the animation simply gorgeous, the transfer is flawless. The sound is equally as good, especially with the Japanese cast who choose to lend an ethereal quality to even the fight scenes that underscores the unreality of The World.

The features list is, while not outstanding, somewhat unusual. We get a rare treat: an isolated score audio track. Would that other shows with solid orchestration did this. We also get a handy and attractive character and locations gallery and a copy of the Japanese trailer.

The best any review can hope to do for a work is to entice the reader to see for him- or herself, this is doubly true of .hack//SIGN. Even if you go into the viewing experience expecting to love it, you might come out hating it, and vice versa. Both have happened in my presence. Surely it is a good bet for anyone who has lost a spouse to an online game. If you generally like concept pieces that are difficult and even deeply flawed, then you might like this one. On the other hand, you might not. Or if you usually hate experimental films and loathe animation, then this might just become your favorite. Or not. I suggest that everyone give it a shot; at worst, you've experienced some lovely visual art, even if you feel it's devoid of real depth and all shine without substance. At best, you gain a new love. And isn't that always the risk with art?

(UK!) (CAN)

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