So after MUCH PROMPTING from some of my friends I watched the anime .hack//sign and it was exactly as relevant to my interests as they said it would be: explorations of the nature of self, people being permanently damaged by life but continuing on, computers and the internet, an ensemble cast where everyone's sympathetically drawn including the morally ambiguous and antagonistic characters, canon f/f, varied and complex female characters, a sympathetic disabled major character who neither dies nor gets cured, consistent character arcs that go to dark and distressing places but end in growth and happiness. It was a bit slow and confusing, and the depiction of disability is well meaning but flawed, but I'm still really glad I watched it. Definitely suits watching in one go, there's a lot of individual episodes where not much happens.
I made a meme image of how wrong my expectations were
: I'd somehow gotten the impression it was "plucky regular kid gets stuck in weird online game, goes on generic fantasy adventures trying to get free" story, but it was in fact "weird kid gets stuck in (mostly) regular online game, everyone else tries to persude him that being stuck in an game is WEIRD AND BAD but he tells them to get lost". The MMO (massively multiplayer online game, like World of Warcraft) setting is used to give everything an air of fantasy, but the only people who talk like fantasy characters are pretentious roleplayers, death is an inconvenience, and people have to log off to do homework etc. It's not a fantasy story using an MMO as a gimmick, it's actually about playing MMOs
, and the way online games and communities can be important to people. There is some very late 90s/early 2000s-ish WEIRD METAPHORICAL SCIFI STUFF, and some odd choices about what to show and what to imply, but unlike most weird 90s/early 2000s anime it all makes a moderate amount of sense in the end and even more after reading some wiki pages. And the characters! I love them all, even the annoying or antagonistic ones.( A note about the series episode structure, no spoilers )
Now the MAJOR SPOILERS I was told before I watched it which made me more enthusiastic. If you're already planning on watching the show then don't click!( SPOILERS )