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I don’t know why I’m surprised, but .hack//SIGN is already going down the shitter as of episode three. The art quality has taken a dive, the plot has screeched to a halt, and a whole lot of my time is being wasted.
It’s amazing how much worse the character art is in this episode compared to the first two. There were fuck-ups consistently throughout the episode in every way you can imagine—off-model faces, fail perspective, and downright ugly shots being re-used several times. I can’t even say it was poorly animated because it almost wasn’t animated. A good 95% of the episode consisted of characters standing still, lips flapping away.
Bad art and animation are definite negatives in my book, but there was a chance for the episode to be good if Mashimo Kouichi pulled out some of the great dialog that he occasionally writes. Sadly, while Sora had some fun lines (largely due to his great voice performance by Yanaka Hiroshi), the rest was as flat and boring as sun-baked shit.
While on the subject of Sora’s voice, here’s another confusing piece of believability-breaking: much later in the series, we learn that Sora is a fourth grade kid. His voice, however, is that of a grown-ass man (and indeed, Yanaka Hiroshi was in his forties when he played the role). I mentioned in my post on the first episode that the characters all happened to play with avatars that matched their voices, but in this case, the only way the character could’ve achieved that voice would be with some kind of god-level voice morpher. If such were the case, then it begs the question why everyone else is apparently using their real voices and matching their characters. (The fact that Tsukasa is actually female notwithstanding since he’s played by a female seiyuu anyway.)
Explaining stuff about the mechanics of The World would’ve been an excellent way to spend this episode. Instead, a fifth of it involves lengthy panning shots and exaggerated silences in the middle of long, redundant conversations. All of the episode’s new information could be summed up as, “there might be a thing called the Key of the Twilight, and Tsukasa might have it.” I’ll offer a pass on all the other foreshadowing and groundwork laying, but much of what was said simply rehashed already-known knowledge, complete with flashbacks to shit that happened in the last episode.
If it wasn’t lame enough already, this episode even had sprinklings of true suck as it brought in the fucking Bee Train-isms. The not-so-bad one is Tsukasa’s flashback to his childhood, when he annoyingly had his hair over his eyes and everything looked like an old European cartoon. The really bad one is Bear’s meeting with Tsukasa inside of a church, wherein Bear gets all condescending and righteous, completely failing at conversation, with dialog that only makes any sense through the intents of the plot.
It’s too early to say that .hack//SIGN is going “downhill,” because “downhill” is a trend that can be averted—I only know that this was a really lame episode bordering on outright bad, and that my hopes for the show that’d been raised after the second episode have already been dashed.