Airing back in 2002, .hack//SIGN
is a 26-episode anime
with 3 bonus episodes centering around a teenaged boy
named Tsukasa who wakes up Inside a Computer System
, an MMORPG
called The World, with little memory of Real Life
. Around the same time, a number of strange anomalies begin to occur in the game, causing a number of other characters to investigate the events surrounding Tsukasa and his strange connection to the game.
The show is notable for taking place inside an MMO yet featuring very little action. Most episodes consist of tense conversations between the various characters about the state of things, and the show is largely dialog-driven
. It does not suffer from this. Also note that the entire thing is just a setup for the .hack games, so large chunks of the plot aren't resolved in this series.
for information about the franchise as a whole.
There are character sheets
This anime contains examples of the following tropes:
- A Friend in Need: Bear, Mimiru, Silver Knight, and Subaru are apt to act like this throughout the series. By the end of the series, Tsukasa, Macha, BT, Crim, and maybe even Sora are thinking this way. Helba "couldn't guarantee what would happen" when the players returned to Net Slum — their real selves could have been in danger.
- Abusive Parents: Tsukasa's father shown in flashbacks is shown to be quite a Jerk Ass. Despising Tsukasa for being a girl, slapping Tsukasa after being caught shoplifting, yelling and screaming while raving drunk and yanking a little kitten away that she was caring for. Added all to the fact he talks with the doctor about pulling his comatose daughter off life support. And later tried to physically pull Tsukasa's body off life support himself; and had to be pulled away by doctors and presumably police.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Morganna certainly turned out... badly.
- All There in the Manual: So what are their real names, anyway? Wait, what's that Skeith thing? Whatever happened to Sora? Oh no, did Tsukasa ever actually log out? Also, if you watch/read/play other parts of the .hack franchise without understanding the content in SIGN, you'll be equally confused...
- Between My Legs: Mimiru's introduction.
- Cherubic Choir: During Aura's awakening.
- City of Canals: Mac Anu.
- Clothing Damage: The main cast's clothing disintegrates in the opening animation, Subaru's dress is destroyed when she's assaulted by another PK, and when The World punishes Tsukasa, his clothing is completely ripped apart.
- Contemplate Our Navels: Quite a lot. Including some rather amusing thoughts on Save Points by Bear.
- Creepy Monotone: Morganna.
- Cyberspace: The setting, almost entirely, is an MMORPG.
- Dance Party Ending: The OVA Unison concludes the R:1 saga with characters from both the anime and the PS2 tetrology having a dance party at Net Slum.
- Dark Reprise: There are two versions of the song, Aura. One showing the majesty of the world, and the other showing the horror.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Tsukasa.
- Deliberately Monochrome: All shots of Real Life are in static-filled greyscale, with Hidden Eyes. Except for the final real life shot which doubles as the final scene in the show. It shows Tsukasa's Player leaving the hospital after waking up (and thus finally being logged out due to the server crashing) and running into Subaru's Player as she leaves and manages to recognize without ever meeting in real life before. There's no spoken dialogue, but we do see the words they say on the screen. "Welcome back." "I'm home."
- Despair Gambit: A key part of Morganna's plan.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The scene where Morganna tortures Tsukasa is incredibly, disturbingly evocative of rape; Tsukasa is pinned to a bed, apologizing profusely. After that, all of his clothes are ripped off from the overwhelming power of the torture, and he is deposited back on the bed, naked, with a completely despairing, empty look on his face. All the while, he begs Morganna to 'stop this, please'. The camera angles during the first part just make the comparison all the more chillingly real.
- Empathic Environment: The place where Aura sleeps and Tsukasa retreats. Sometimes it legitimately reflects Tsukasa's mood, but sometimes it's manipulated by Morganna to look more or less inviting.
- The End... Or Is It?: The series ends with a pretty clear indication that Morganna is still alive and well in The World. Justified, since the story really isn't over, and the anime was intended to be followed by the video games.
- Eureka Moment
- Eyes Always Shut: A-20. It shows that even though all the characters are drawn the same way, hers is much more cartoony-looking than most others.
- Facial Markings: Used to distinguish Player Characters from NPCs.
- Gainax Ending
- Genre Savvy: Justified since they're people playing an MMORPG.
- Götterdämmerung: In the backstory of The World, a war between the humans and the gods ended with the death of the gods and massive destruction.
- Guardian Entity: Tsukasa has a cruel and trigger happy guardian. However in the end it ends up sacrificing itself to protect Tsukasa.
- Hair Colors: For the same reason as the Facial Markings.
- Hermetic Magic
- Heroic BSOD: Tsukasa after being data drained by Morganna.
- Hidden Eyes: Nearly everyone's depiction in the real world has overshadowed eyes. Only the few honest or "free" personalities have eyes.
- Inaction Sequence: There are substantial stretches of dialogue in this series which can come across as filler. But because of the nature of the story, players are just trying to explain what is happening outside the scope of the game.
- Instant A.I., Just Add Water: Or research on emotions, in this case.
- Instant Runes
- Internal Reveal: At the end of the first episode there is a 10 second reveal shot of An Shoji collapsed in front of her computer.
- The Ken Burns Effect: The series is full of it.
- Meadow Run: Tsukasa and Subaru do this only it's in the city and it freezes and dissolves before they do reach each other.
- Mind Rape: Tsukasa and Sora really get their minds slammed by Morganna. Tsukasa's was particularly gruesome in "Tempest", forced to lie down, floated into the sky, and her power stomps on his mind and rips his clothes. He spends the next episodes catatonic, but manages to claw his way back to sanity. Sora's was so bad (in episode "Return") that after he was finally freed his mind completely blanked out the experience. So much that he didn't realize when he played the game again as Haseo. AIDA in .hack//GU also gives its special whammy to its victims.
- Only Six Faces: Not really with the main characters, but because this is a video game, many extras and background characters show up now and then with the same character customizations as the protagonists. Apparently Subaru is so popular that other players create characters in the game to look just like her.
- The Power of Friendship.
- Parental Substitute: Bear becomes one for Tsukasa.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Because of the nature of the show, there are a lot of these. Two notable examples are when Subaru and the Silver Knight exchange a couple, ultimately resulting in Subaru disbanding the group and Tsukasa, Mimiru, and Subaru to each other in the last episode. It's really Morganna, but they get payback.
- Replacement Goldfish: Bear again; makes up for his failed relationship with his son by meeting and helping other young people. He eventually adopts Tsukasa's player and puts her through college.
- Role-Playing Game Verse: Literally.
- Schrödinger's Butterfly: The series ends with Helba forcibly deleting Net Slum in a desperate effort to stop Skeith, causing everyone to be ejected from the game as the server crashes. This results in Tsukasa finally waking from her coma and having a heartwarming meeting with Subaru in the real world... but when their hands touch, a distinctly cyberspace-y hexagon grid appears, and it then cuts to a scene of what appears to be the ruins of Net Slum, with a mysterious monologue from Morganna. It doesn't help either that the "real world" segment of Tsukasa leaving the hospital and meeting Subaru has a somewhat surreal tone to it, what with the whole silent movie style and all. Ultimately, it's not really clear until later installments in the .hack series (or the second SIGN OVA) whether or not Tsukasa actually ever managed to log out.
- School Girl Lesbians: Tsukasa and Subaru.
- MMORPGs are Serious Business: The basic point of the franchise but .hack//SIGN is infamous for taking it to ridiculous extremes.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Everything is basically solved simply by Tsukasa telling Morganna that he's not going to listen to her anymore.
- Speech-Centric Work: Became rather infamous for its large number of episodes in which nothing happens aside from characters meeting and talking to each other. May be justified in that this is an online community.
- Story-Breaker Power: The Key Of The Twilight, within the confines of The World. It allows the user to contradict the rules of the system and basically do whatever the hell they feel like doing.
- There Are No Girls on the Internet: Averted.
- Too Clever by Half: Sora. One of the World's most powerful characters and skilled players, with maxed-out level and attributes, and he's fully aware of how good he is while being insufferably immature about it all. Then in the last episode of SIGN we learn he's Just a Kid — a fourth-grader, to be more exact.
- Trapped in Another World: Tsukasa again.
- Twenty Minutes into the Future
- Widget Series: There are enough qualities of The World to make it qualify, such as an Honest Axe quest featuring a water fairy with a deranged accent instead of Mercury, and an emo Grunty that runs away to be an Eeyore somewhere if you force it to grow up.
- Woman in White: Aura, Helba.
- "World of Cardboard" Speech: Tsukasa at the end of the series.
- Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Tsukasa's father doesn't like her for being a girl.
- You Are Not Alone: Tsukasa's friends, especially Subaru, send this message strongly.
- You Gotta Have Blue Hair: There are player characters like Sora running around with green hair. It's revealed that Subaru's player has blue hair in real life. Although, this might just be a stylization of the dark black hair some Japanese have that can almost have a blue sheen to it.
- Your Mind Makes It Real: Characters who get attacked by Data Drain also reportedly suffer severe comas in the real world.