.hack//sign is an anime set in the world of a video game called, well, The World. The series opened up a lot of complex issues and is a real eye opener to what online gaming can do to the mind. The series itself revolves around the main characters and the characters themselves are crucial to the plot of the series. In fact, the plot, which is highly confusing, is an afterthought compared to the characters themselves. The story itself is highly thought out and engaging, to say the least. Before The World was created a virus called Pluto's Kiss was released by a young, nefarious hacker. This virus caused a massive internet black out causing massive conflict in the real world including, but not limited to, nuclear missiles nearly being launched. The virus infected every operating system except one: The Altimit OS. The World was created several years after Pluto's Kiss was created and follows the typical fanfare of online games; classes, usernames, text/voice chatting, user customizibility and a vast array of weaponry, armors and items. A few episodes are dedicated to dungeon raiding, which is the core of the game, however most of the series revolves around the mysterious Tsukasa, the protagonist of the series. Tsukasa is unable to log out of The World and it is up to Tsukasa's friends to figure out why.
The animation is rather dull, even for its time. The series relies on a lot of still shots to pass the time and the action scenes are rather dull. In all honesty, the animation sequence to the credits is probably the most fascinating animation you will see during the series. But that doesn't mean the animation is necessarily bad. The character designs are interesting and some of the fields are quite magnificent, especially the snow fields. And the grunties, the game's transportation method, are quite adorable to look at.
The music scores big points with me. I actually went out and bought the soundtracks to the series. A lot of care was put into the series OST. The lyrics to the sung songs are nothing less than beautiful and when listened to at night leave a strong emotional impact. In fact, the music itself is what makes the series so great and it really pushes the series forward. The emotion of the music fits perfectly with the heavy parts of the show. The voice acting in the dubbed version is superb.
The series itself revolves around the characters. There is a great degree of character development in the series and without such intriguing characters this show would fall flat. The characters' backstories are nothing less than brilliant. Tsukasa, for example, for some reason cannot log out of the world. He is a loner and a recluse. Suburu, Tsukasa's best friend in the game, is the leader of a group of players called the Crimson Knights. Think of them like an unnofical gaming clan, united to promote well-being in the game and to stomp out player killers like Sora. Sora is my favorite character in the series. His personality tends to reflect his age. Think of him as a wild card. Each character's story is highlighted in the series as we learn about them in the game and out in the real world. But the most interesting characters are the ones who aren't controlled by humans including Macha and Aura.
I have a special attachment to .hack//sign primarily because is was the first anime that I had ever watched. I remember as a kid at my grandmother's house staying up late to watch Cartoon Network just so I could watch this series. This series has a loyal fanbase and has opened up numerous sequels and spin offs in the forms of other animes, movies, video games, and books.