Usually, the phrase “deliberate pacing” is used as a compliment. It’s a way of saying, “this series is slow, but it’s slow on purpose to create a certain atmosphere.” To name a show that I’d compliment as deliberately paced, Texhnolyze is the first that comes to mind. I do think that .hack//SIGN is deliberately paced, but I don’t think that this is a good thing.
.hack//SIGN tries to be atomospheric and mysterious, but it fails because the show is ugly. I’m not just talking about the low-quality character art and animation—Serial Experiment Lain is pretty low-quality in those regards, but it’s still interesting to look at because of its thick, well-realized style. .hack//SIGN is boring to look at, always.
It seems like .hack//SIGN tries to take on each element of its plot one at a time. Episode three was entirely about the Key of the Twilight—episode four is about Bear’s investigation into Tsukasa outside of the game and the possibility of his being a girl. It also touches on the possibility that Tsukasa’s dead mom is talking to him in the game—an element that really should’ve been introduced in episode three, considering that we saw Tsukasa in the dreamy world plenty of times in that episode, but only now do we learn of the voice he’s been speaking to each time he goes there. Episode three had plenty of room.
And there’s the real issue—these episodes have plenty of room to get through the plot more quickly. That isn’t something I’d ordinarily demand of a series, either. If .hack//SIGN was rife with interesting dialog or visuals or characters or something, then it wouldn’t be so bad, but as it stands, only the amazing soundtrack makes the long stretches of failed atmosphere sufferable. I know how Mashimo Kouichi likes the music to set the tone, but what’s happening is my paying attention to the music while the rest of the show is background noise.
At the very least, there was a scene in this episode that I liked. It’s at the beginning, when Bear is talking to Subaru and being a wise-ass. (I’ve realized that Bear is just a natural douche, almost like he can’t help it.) Subaru puts up a perfect troll defense, letting Bear know that she’s fully aware of what logic and information are presenting to her. This is why I enjoy Subaru (besides her hot character design)—she always seems to be on top of things and realizes the situation. It’s a shame I’ve only gotten to see her in serious or distressing situations so far.
A bit of digression: I’ve been playing a lot of video games since I started watching this show. As indicated by my post on episode two, I got back into Ragnarok Online (though my shitty internet connection is doing its best to keep me away from it), and thanks to the arrival of Touhou 13 Ten Desires, I went on a huge doujin game binge. I have to thank .hack for this surge in my interest in games, as it’s been a lot of fun.
The more I go thinking about the mechanics of the World, I can justify most of it by considering it to be like Phantasy Star Online. Initially, I planned to criticize Bear and Mimiru’s dungeon fight in this episode as not obeying game rules, but in PSO, you pretty much just go out and attack shit like that. I’m still not excusing the whole walking-in-on-instances-without-permission thing, though.