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.See .hack 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.
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...
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.
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."
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.
Heroic BSOD: Tsukasa after being data drained by Morgana.
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 dialog 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.