.hack//SIGN Vol. #3: Gestalt Special Edition (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, August 11, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, July 08, 2003

What They Say
A different glimpse into the world of .hack - .hack//SIGN is currently broadcast on Cartoon Network with its initial release, Login becoming one of the best selling anime releases of the year. Animerica proclaims that .hack is, “The ultimate synthesis of anime, manga, and video games”.

Mimiru, Bear, and Tsukasa participate in a sponsored event and seem to have a good time at it. However, in the real world, a doctor and a parent discuss the fate of a child in a coma. But who is it? With some help from the mysterious and powerful hacker named Helba, Crim and B.T. manage to discover the secret portal called the Twilight Eye. They are transported to a hidden realm where the search for the secret Key of the Twilight that may hold the fate of Tsukasa

within it, but will these answers be worth the ultimate price?

The Review!
The series starts picking up the pace as more revelations and yet more questions are asked as the players move into the “older versions” of the game.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this very dialogue heavy shown in its original language of Japanese. Provided in a solid pro-logic mix, which would have been even more impressive in 5.1, the audio on this release really shines. Throughout the show we had no issues with distortions or dropouts, but rather simply enjoyed the spacious feel provided by the music and the sound effects mix that utilized the rear speakers nicely. The first couple of episodes may seem somewhat off as the music tends to overwhelm the actual dialogue, but I found that to be an interesting device to sort of ratchet up the speed of things.

Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and encoded in anamorphic widescreen, I can’t imagine watching a broadcast version of this and feeling like it was the same show. The richness of the transfer that shows up here completely shames the broadcast version. Colors are lush and vivid and the transfer is problem free. No cross coloration, no aliasing, no macroblocking or pixellation anywhere. This is the kind of transfer that you end up losing yourself in with how fantastic it looks.

The covers continue to be fairly bland, though at least with this volume there’s the fairly eye-pleasing artwork of BT. Sora’s there as well, but his is one of the weakest looking designs of the show to date. The front cover does score points though with listing the volume number as well as positioning it on the spine. The back cover provides a number of small character headshots around the edges while the rest of the cover goes into details about the show with a few paragraphs of story summary and a good listing of the discs features and extras. The insert provides another shot of the front cover while it opens to provide a small section detailing some of the character classes that players can build up from. The back cover provides more detailed credits including main bilingual cast credits given to each character/actor, something we’re glad to see continuing.

For this limited edition release, the packaging is pretty much the same as the second volume was. The keepcase comes with a cardboard sleeve around it that essentially replicates the front and back cover and contains a piece of cardboard to buffer inside as well as the CD soundtrack. Containing the Liminality Original Soundtrack as well as the bonus mini-cd, the booklet and back cover is completely translated into English. Surprisingly, we’re still enjoying just about every aspect of the music in this series, something that’s really rare when it comes to the this many soundtracks as we typically burn out at some point on it.

If there are menus you don’t mind sitting in, these are going to be them. The opening menu is a nice animated piece that has the portal floating in a circle set against a great backdrop as the music from the show plays along. There are very brief transitional animations to the submenus where you get even more of the great music playing, but to more static screens. Access times are nice and fast and the layout works nicely.

There’s some interesting extras again included here. The first is the continuation of the overall timeline which brings in elements from the games and elsewhere that details the changes in both the world and The World. There’s a brief character gallery artwork section that has about fourteen images and there’s also a really nice Japanese trailer for the series.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The slow pacing of the series continues, but we get more and more small revelations here that start leading us towards the bigger picture. That can definitely bother a lot of people, but after watching so many hyperactive series lately, this one is something that I simply revel in.

We actually get to see some more of the game itself this time around right off the bat as Tsukasa finally joins Bear and Mimiru on a sponsored quest. It’s a pretty simple one that’s done up more as an intelligence/trivia test as opposed to a combat adventure. What this particular event does show, as the characters go through in answering riddles, is that the game isn’t set to be very specific to just The World. The questions are definitely from the real world, something that I know a lot of game designers would cringe at since it breaks the realism of being in the game itself. The episode plays out pretty nicely and helps tighten things up a bit more with the cast.

Another aspect that starts getting closer to the surface here is the real world medical issue that seems to be tied to the main storyline, though it’s being pleasantly vague about who it’s really affecting, though it’s natural to guess Tsukasa. There’s a lot of back and forth between the father and the doctor about the patients condition and it’s all very nicely done with shadows, text instead of voices and very vibrant colors to bring a really surreal sense to it in various areas. Mixed in with information that Bear continues to dig up regarding Tsukasa (and mistakenly shares with BT I think) brings more to light but continues to keep it all quite mysterious.

There’s quite a bit of dialogue about actually going to hunt for the Key of Twilight, which eventually does result in several groups actually going off to search for it, including Tsukasa after he gets the right kind of incentive. There’s an entire episode devoted to searching through the ‘ruins’ of the previous versions before the upgrades and it’s nicely different from the existing version of the World, but you can see a number of design similarities. Add in that there’s a much different feel, as if there’s something more dangerous about the area and that the usual method of surviving from an in-game death may not apply, and the various groups become much more aware of their surroundings.

There’s just so much going on here but at the same time little movement for a lot of it that it gets deceptive. The layers to the show are very much right up my alley in how they’re peeling things away and taking their time to do so. Outside of some simple unrealities about online games, especially one that claims something like ten million players but hardly anyone actually around, this continues to be a surprisingly enjoyable series.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,hack Timeline,Character Gallery,Slipcase,Original CD Soundtrack - .hack//LIMINALTY,mini CD Single - .hack//LIMINALITY

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.

Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A+
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 39.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: .hack//SIGN