.hack//SIGN Vol. #4: Omnipotence (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, August 13, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, September 16, 2003



What They Say
After the battle at the upside-down castle, everyone but Tsukasa is returned to a regular field in 'The World'. Did Tsukasa die? What happened to him? Captured by a previously friendly unseen force, Tsukasa reappears with parts of his memories, thoughts, and feelings "missing". Is this really Tsukasa or just a copy of the character's data?



The other players have their own problems as well - Subaru discovers that the Silver Knight have been hiding messages from her with the latest request by the System Administrator threatening to end with disastrous results!

The Review!
After the surprising ending to the previous volume, revelations and more changes abound in the follow-up.

Audio:
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.

Video:
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.

Packaging:
Though still bland, at least there's some vibrancy to the background here with the green shading. It works well with the images of Crim in the foreground and Subaru holding her hands close in the background. 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 some text on the Key of Twilight, mostly small bits that we already know. The back cover provides more detailed credits including main bilingual cast credits given to each character/actor, something we're glad to see continuing.

Menu:
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.

Extras:
The extras are pretty minimal for this volume with just over a dozen or so pieces of artwork of various characters and some very amusing Grunty shots as well as a "2.0" trailer of sorts for the first DVD release in Japan, which does a nice job of using the music and images to really sell the show.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The final episode in the previous volume brought a lot of new things to light with the journey to ruined upside down city and the introduction of the Broken Man and his seemingly nonsensical ramblings. Of course, there was also the sequence where things went really bad for not only Bear and Mimiru but for Tsukasa as well.

This really picks up where that finished off, having Mimiru and Bear revert to their last save point and showing them trying to digest everything. But with Tsukasa having something different about him and his interactions with the system, they're completely unsure if he's able to simply return to the World proper after what happened to all of them. His journey is definitely wildly different and causes something of a change in his personality.

There's a fair amount of introspection going on with the main players here, and we get to see some jockeying for position in the quest for the Key as BT tries to establish the boundaries with both Crim and Sora. BT's trying to get things moving with Crim a bit more on the outside world, but he's adamantly against it, knowing just how much real world entanglements can change the dynamic of a game. BT's looking for something more though, and we get some interesting glimpses of it through seeing her in the real world.

We also get some excellent time with Mimiru as she's dealing with all the changes going on with her friends and with herself. But the real draw for the bulk of this disc comes in Subaru, which isn't too surprising for me since she's got the blue/green hair that keeps me interested in anime women.

Through her and her dealings with the others as well as the Crimson Knights, we get to see how all of the various factions are working together and against each other. With her involvement and apparent interest in Tsukasa beyond something that's causing trouble within the game, Silver Knight sees this as something wrong with her and something that he must correct. As with any game that has players determining their own organizations, someone in it ends up thinking that their view of the guild is the way it must be, even (or especially) if the current leader doesn't live up to their ideals.

Silver Knight starts his move to make the Crimson Knights more than just helpful people who watch out for other players but more along the lines of actual police of sorts, enforcers of order. This causes immediate conflict with Subaru, which then allows for a very nicely done series of flashbacks mixed in with the present where we see the first meeting of Crim and Subaru and the forming of the Crimson Knights. This back story is very nicely played out, providing some excellent action sequences in the past and some great drama in the present as she deals with the insurgents in her organization that she formed.

With more and more depth to the show and the World being provided, I'm getting more and more intrigued as every episode goes by. Though it's definitely slow moving much like it was at the beginning, it's hook is strong and it's kept me very interested. Add in the great visuals and incredible score and it's easy to see why this continues to be one of my favorites this year.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Isolated Dolby Digital 5.1 Score Audio Track,Character Gallery

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: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: .hack//SIGN