Follow TV Tropes


Anime / .hack//SIGN

Go To
Aura is in the background. From left to right: Sora, Bear, Subaru, Tsukasa, Mimiru, Crim, B.T.

.hack//SIGN is an anime that makes up one of four storylines for the .hack franchise. The story centers 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 anime first aired in 2002 for 26 episodes (with three OVAs released from 2002 to 2003), and 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, while the show's character arcs are all resolved by the end, it's also partially made to set up the .hack games; thus, parts 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 is shown in flashbacks to be quite a Jerkass, despising Tsukasa for being a girl, slapping Tsukasa after being caught shoplifting, yelling and screaming in the kid's face while raving drunk, and cruelly yanking away a little kitten that Tsukasa was caring for. The crowner to all of this is when he talks with the doctor about pulling his comatose child off life support and later, tried to physically pull Tsukasa's body off life support himself, only to be pulled away by doctors and presumably police.
    • Tsukasa was trying to shoplift a brassiere and a TOOTHBRUSH, hinting that she's denied such basic things.
  • 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 Morganna 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 lived with an abusive father who hated her for being a girl, which is suggested to be why she adopted a male identity in The World.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: All the 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/real self leaving the hospital after waking up (and thus finally being logged out due to the server crashing) and running into Subaru's real self as she leaves and manage to recognize each other despite never having met 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.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Compared to later works in the series, there area few oddities in The World the anime shows. For starters, archers are sometimes shown among shots of random other players. No class in The World uses bows. None of the ability names the franchise as a whole starts using in the first set of games are mentioned, as there is no Calling Your Attacks here. Wavemasters also have odd abilities they never show again, like the ability to replicate a Fairy Orb with a spell, likewise they are rarely if ever shown using offensive magic at all.
    • At least some of the RPG elements lacking in the show can be partly justified by the series focus on Contemplate Our Navels; SIGN is rather more psychologically and drama-oriented, compared to the straighter action-orientation of later installments, and shows perhaps only three or four actual fights over the series. Only the appearance of the bowmen goes unexplained.
  • 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: When Tsukasa remembers who he/she truly is and wants to log out. Morganna lets out a Big "NO!" at that.
  • Eyes Always Shut: A-20. It shows that even though all the characters are drawn the same way, hers are much more cartoonish looking than most others.
  • Facial Markings: Used to distinguish Player Characters from NPCs.
  • Gainax Ending: Very little of the ending will make any sense unless one follows the rest of the franchise. In this case, SIGN's ending happens just before the beginning of the video game .hack//Infection.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Tsukasa. Lampshaded by Mimiru and Bear when they discuss Tsukasa's identity, saying that the name is gender-neutral so they can't be sure he's even a boy in real life. She isn't (though for most of the series, she's unaware of this), but her real name is "An", which is feminine.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Hitodama Light: A blue flame symbolically appears in the background when Bear explains to Mimiru that their enemy is not an entity that can be simply attacked but is both nowhere and everywhere.
  • Instant A.I.: Just Add Water!: Or research on emotions, in this case.
  • Internal Reveal: At the end of the first episode, there is a ten second reveal shot of Tsukasa's real self, 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.
  • Mortality Phobia: Morganna is a Rogue A.I. who became aware of her programming to self terminate once The World's true god Aura was born. She goes to great lengths to make sure that she never is, and it takes the combined efforts of Tsukasa, Subaru, and all the others to stop her.
  • No Ending: In the end, nothing about Morgana gets resolved and the only real conclusion is that Tsukasa's player finally escapes to the real world, where Subaru is waiting for her. Except as they run towards each other, everything freezes with the world around them disolving. We are left to wonder if Tsukasa really escaped as the final scene is Morgana restating what she told Tsukasa at the very beginning over a shot of a desolate virtual landscape. Admittingly, since it's a prequel to .hack, it all basically sets up the game, but we don't learn Tsukasa's true fate until the OVA that wraps up both the anime and the game's storylines where we learn Tsukasa did indeed escape.
  • Not Disabled in VR: In the epilogue, it is revealed that Subaru's player is an introverted paraplegic girl in Real Life, who plays The World for the freedom to travel anywhere and to make friends she doesn't have offline.
  • 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.
    • Interestingly, with the game included, this trope does apply to the protagonists! Tsukasa shares his appearance with Elk, Bear with Orca, and Mimiru with Black Rose. In the OVA, the latter two even have an argument about who picked the look first.
    • Not immediately noticeable, but Mimiru's long-arm mentor Mimika has in the special OVA "Intermezzo" looks almost exactly like Gardenia from the main IMOQ games down to the starting weapon Gardenia has.
  • Pacified Adaptation: The original .hack R1 Games were pretty much a standard Eastern RPG fare with combat-dominated gameplay, but this series is largely as talkie show, with only a handful combat scenes scattered across 26 episodes, while the remaining runtime consists of dialogue, navel gazing, and awesome music.
  • Parental Substitute: Bear becomes one for Tsukasa. In the epilogue episode, it's revealed that he adopted her and is currently putting her through college.
  • Quirky Work: 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.
  • "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.
  • 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.
  • 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 is stuck in The World and is unable to log out. Figuring out why is one of the driving mysteries of the series.
  • Unbuilt Trope: .hack//Sign could practically be considered a deconstruction of Isekai stories such as Sword Art Online, except it came out years before they received anime adaptations and became the megahits they are now.
    • You have Tsukasa, the socially awkward loser who gets trapped inside an MMO, except he's such a jerk to everyone he meets that few people can stand to be around him for more than 5 minutes, and those who do eventually become his friends make it their mission to make him stop being such an ass.
    • And when Tsukasa isn't being a jerk to everyone around him, he's spending pretty much the rest of the series having a series of breakdowns and panic attacks.
    • He sees being trapped in the MMO world as a great thing initially, but unlike other Isekai, the appeal isn't for him to become a badass he could never be in real life, but as a place to escape to and be alone without any social expectation.
    • Unlike many isekai characters who are nerds or NEE Ts who use the game to escape their dull existence, Tsukasa is a girl who is regularly physically and mentally abused by her father for being a girl when he wanted a boy. She plays the game to find an escape from her abused life, and is initially excited to be stuck in the game because she doesn't have to deal with anyone who could hurt her like that (though she doesn't initially remember her life outside The World, or even that she is actually a girl).
    • He gets a game breaking ability early on, a guardian that one hit kills anything it attacks. However, such an ability causes him a fair amount of grief as nobody respects him for having it, indeed much of the player base hates him and it becomes a public mission for a while to hunt him down for being such a blatant cheater.
    • His character doesn't even become a badass statistically. His class is a support class and remains as such for the entire story. Whenever he actually does any fighting, its in a purely support role, healing and buffing his teammates as they do the actual fighting.
    • And finally, the final solution to getting Tsukasa out of the game isn't some grand final battle or completed questline. It's accomplished by a hacker crashing the server.
    • It's even a deconstruction of Isekai thematically: While most Isekai revels in escapism, .hack//SIGN's themes nearly all revolve around mental illness, and overcoming it through rejecting escapism. .hack in general focuses on deconstructing the idea of the games being escapism from one's own issues in real life, though the franchise doesn't return to the escapism-deconstruncting levels of SIGN until G.U. and its Dysfunction Junction. Fittingly, the story centers around one of ''SIGN's'' misfits: the returning Sora, now Haseo.
    • As an added punch, even the idea of a G.I.R.L. (Guy In Real Life) is deconstructed; Tsukasa is a girl offline, but plays using a masculine avatar. Most others she meets assume she's a guy due to her avatar, and Tsukasa herself is subject to so much Mind Rape over the series it's hard to fault her when she forgets her real gender and refers to herself as a guy up until the final third.
  • 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.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Characters who get attacked by Data Drain also reportedly suffer severe comas in the real world.