Archive for March, 2010
[Note: This is the first in a series I'm planning about anime that contains themes and concepts a little deeper than average. Shows that make you think, at least a little.]
Director: Koichi Mashimo
Scenario Writer: Kazunori Ito
Studio: Bee Train
What’s it about?
.hack//SIGN‘s lineage is part of its appeal, and part of its downfall. .hack itself is a sprawling story told across multiple media: video games, anime, manga, light novels, etc., all of them dealing with an online fantasy game called The World. Every work in .hack tells its own story, and the stories provide context for each other; a character who appears briefly in a later work may be the hero of a previous one. The game itself is basically World of Warcraft, set in a near future of functional virtual reality helmets, so the experience is very direct.
What makes .hack//SIGN Attentive Anime?
And that’s what sets .hack//SIGN apart from other
The central mystery is this: a shy teen character, Tsukasa, can’t log out of the game. It’s like he’s been downloaded into the game itself, which is of course theoretically impossible.
That in itself is one of the nice bits in the show: the creators clearly understand the technical limitations of massively
Tsukasa himself is a piece of work. He’s a stereotypical teen; sullen, frustrated, and withdrawn. As the other characters make clear, he can’t make progress until he decides to open up to the other characters. He’s fundamentally disconnected, and this is a show about the need for connection.
Note: I use the word “he” even though Tsukasa’s real gender is an ongoing point of debate among the characters. And, really, in an online world, you can’t know. (A fact underlined in a later .hack series, when a character is lured into a trap by two cute girls who are actually played by boys.)
Two players in particular are trying to help him: Mimiru, a teen girl with a quick temper but a soft spot for Tsukasa, and Bear, a
Implications/Thoughts about the depth of its premise
If .hack//SIGN has a main theme, it is identity.
- Tsukasa has spent so much time in the game that he doesn’t know who he is anymore.
- Mimiru doesn’t know why she should care about Tsukasa, but does nevertheless. She’s experiencing the maternal instinct for the first time, and it surprises her.
- B.T. doesn’t care about much of anything, and has to confront this when surrounded by people who do.
- Subaru, the head of the Crimson Knights, is paraplegic–but can walk and swing an axe in the World. The game gives her new freedoms.
- Crim, a
long-timeplayer of the World who often advises the other characters, is a corporate warrior who uses the game to relax during business trips. In the physical world, he’s a responsible businessman; in the World, he’s a distant, disconnected wanderer of the empty areas in the game.
About halfway into the show, Mimiru decides to meet with Tsukasa just to talk. Tsukasa’s been notoriously flaky, but she’s determined to do it anyway (again, her maternal instinct flaring). We spend most of an episode watching her, as she waits patiently by a small stone outcropping. Tsukasa eventually shows up–hours late–and is shocked to find her there. She
The resulting conversation is awkward and ultimately goes nowhere. Tsukasa eventually leaves. But it’s his first realization that someone cares, and will go out of their way to be with him. It’s his first turning point on the road to connection.
However, the moment that stands out most to me occurs when Tsukasa is “rebooted,” an agonizing experience that causes his identity to disperse and knit itself back together. This occurs inside a disconnected pocket of the World, where he is completely alone. He crawls over to a stuffed bear nearby, and absently picks at the eye of the bear. We cut away, and later return to find that the eye is gone but Tsukasa’s still picking. We cut away again, and when we return much of the bear’s face is gone.
He’s still picking.
The series excels at these little moments, telling us through expression and action a character’s inner thoughts.
I also remember the ending, because it comes as a shock — the plot isn’t resolved. In fact, the last shot shows the characters launching themselves at a new enemy.
This is the downfall of .hack//SIGN — it’s meant to set up the plot of the console games. Indeed, the final shot of the anime shows the characters launching themselves at a new enemy.
But the real story of .hack//SIGN lies in the characters. They all go through their pain and growth over the 26 episodes of the series, and by that final shot, they are where they need to be. As frustrated as I am by the ending from a story perspective, I’m completely content from a character perspective.
I mentioned in my videos about Hanamaru Kindergarten and
In this case, both examples relate to the sexualization of children and adolescents.
In Hanamaru Kindergarten‘s case, Anzu (the child) is indirectly sexualized. She is completely asexual. However, the first episode sets up a pattern of behavior in the child’s mother (falling in love with and having sex with her teacher while still in school), then a direct comparison between the mother and her daughter (the daughter is repeatedly described as just like her mother), then the beginning of the same pattern of behavior in the daughter (she professes her love for her teacher and says she wants to be “his bride”).
Anzu is completely innocent in this; I doubt that she has the remotest idea of what she’s implying. But the series implies that she’s heading down a road that will end in sex with her teacher.
That crosses the line.
What is the line? Well, now we’re getting into terminology and definitions for a folk saying, so we’re on soft ground. But I say a series crosses the line when it presents a generally accepted perversion as okay.
By ”perversion” I mean something that’
(Yes, there are isolated cultures which are okay with incest and eating the dead; those are exceptions.)
Which gets to my problem with shows like Hanamaru Kindergarten and
I can see the comments now: “Dude, chill out; it’s just anime.” Sorry, not a defense. It’s “just video games” or ”just food” or ”just life.” I care about this industry, because it’s taught me things and entertained me, and I don’t want it to die. Perversions like these, left unchallenged, build up a set of ugly content that can bring about protests, governmental crackdowns, and the banality of the industry. Standing by without protest is
And no, this is not censorship, either. I’m not calling on Gainax to cease production of Hanamaru Kindergarten. I’m saying that what they’ve done is not okay.
It is possible to cross the line, and it’s important to point out shows that do, so that the rest of the world doesn’t believe that we’re all okay with it.