.hack//Legend of the Twilight Vol. #1 (of 3) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, April 23, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, May 25, 2004



What They Say
It has been four years since the incident that has come to be known as the Twilight. Many of those who witnessed it no longer come to "The World." It is a different place. A safer place. Shugo and his twin sister Rena are two of the newest players to join "The World." And they've won a very special prize in a contest - they get to use the character likenesses of the legendary Kite and Black Rose.

Such a prize is very rare indeed, and it makes them the center of a lot of attention. The pair will encounter friends and allies, but it soon becomes very clear that they are not ordinary players. Unusual things keep happening around them, but they're too busy having fun to really worry. It's probably nothing. Probably.

The Review!
Taking place after the events of the first TV series and presented in a bit more of a cute and light tone, .hack//Legend of the Twilight manages to take what I enjoyed with the first series and fill it in with other elements that I wanted to see as well.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. Both it and the English track are done in a fairly simple stereo mix though the combat sequences do provide some good bits of directionality across the forward soundstage. The music also makes good use of the stereo channels and feels really full and vibrant here. During regular playback we had no issues with dropouts or distortions with either language track.

Video:
Originally airing in 2003, the twelve episode series for this particular incarnation is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is wonderfully enhanced for widescreen playback. Much like the //SIGN series, the show is filled with rich colors and backgrounds but also ups the ante a bit with a lot more characters moving around and a bit more CG used to mix into the animation such as water effects. Colors are gorgeous and wonderfully solid, particularly the orange for Shugo's outfit in that it doesn't show any breakup during his many scenes that I could see. There's some aliasing going on in a few scenes, particularly when it starts on a close-up of someone you can see it in their hair as they pull back until it disappears, but cross coloration itself is very minimal to almost non-existent. This is a very pleasing transfer overall.

Packaging:
Right from the start you can tell there's something different about this show with this cover as it has the trio of lead characters we meet during these episodes as they're seemingly running/tumbling down in mid air. They're definitely of the more cute variety and while not quite "chibi", darn close enough to allow for the word to be used. They're just so small and adorable. The back cover has a series of small shots from the show running down the right side while the left side features a good summary of the opening premise and lists the discs features and extras. While the spine does have the volume number, the back cover also provides the episode numbers and titles and the usual array of staffing information. The discs format and runtime information is pretty easy to find though I wish Bandai would adopt the more universal grid format for it. The insert provides a slightly cleaner version of the front cover and opens up to a colorful two-panel spread that has Shugo on one side and Rena on the other. The back of the insert provides the usual detailed staffing credits as well as bilingual cast credits.

Menu:
The main menu is an active little piece that has the floating "portals" that the characters use moving round and round while you can see the show playing out through them, all set to a bouncy little instrumental piece that really does set the feel of the series. One of the sections has all the selections in it, allowing for direct episode jumps or playing all of them. Access times are nice and fast and the layout is decent, fitting into the theme of the show nicely but without the quite "awe" that the first series tried to provide with.

Extras:
The opening volume has a couple of extras to it but nothing too amazing. The opening and ending sequences are presented in their textless form and anamorphic as well. There's a small art gallery and a trailer for the video game that features these characters. There are also two sections of liner notes with each section covering a specific Japanese folk tale that's used in the episodes on this volume.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The sprawling multimedia franchise that is .hack//stuff continues on with this latest series, a twelve episode piece, released back in 2003. As with other shows and games in the .hack universe, everything is connected in some way, albeit somewhat loose at times. This particular series takes place some time after the events of the Twilight, which was a combination of factors started from within the first anime series and then used as the backdrop to the first several games if I'm reading things properly. This series also leads into or is related to the fourth game as characters from here are in there as well, though I'm not 100% positive on that. I have so little interest in the PS2 RPG gaming world in general so I'll leave it at that. My end belief with projects like this is that while there are going to be connections, people who watch just the anime should be able to get a satisfying experience without having to play the games.

So far, Legend of the Twilight manages to entertain highly. The series gets underway with the introduction of the two main lead characters, the high school brother and sister pair of Shugo and Rena. Their home life has changed fairly dramatically recently as their parents divorced and Rena went with her mother while Shugo stayed with his father. While Rena's mother is a bit more attentive to her daughter, Shugo's often left to his own devices for extended periods as his father is constantly working. The two kids miss each other a lot and hate the separation but don't seem to be angry towards their parents about it. Rena's come up with a solution for them to spend time together though and it involves meeting up in The World, the virtual gaming simulation that's gotten a bit more advanced since the last time we saw it.

Shugo isn't keen on games to begin with, but when he and Rena apparently win a contest that allows them to gain limited edition custom character skins, he's excited to try things out as well as spend time with his sister. So they both enter The World, a place familiar to some. While it's barely been any time between the end of the //SIGN series and the start of this one, it's a great feeling to be back among the familiar designs and layouts. The World continues to look much the same as we've seen in the past episodes but unlike that adventure, which focused on a small but disparate group of adventurers, this adventure brings in elements that were missing before. The World is now pretty well populated and there are a lot of people going around and interacting with each other here. There's some real life to the world and a sense of vibrancy that gives it more energy than the more laid back //SIGN world we saw.

So while Rena is all set to spend some quality time with Shugo, he's very much interested in exploring the game now and they end up going off to explore one of the newbie hunting grounds. Unfortunately for Shugo, he's the type that doesn't read the directions first and just lunges ahead, which results in his being killed pretty quickly. Unlike when most characters die, Shugo finds himself being diverted slightly and ends up meeting a young girl that's almost all gray and silver. She slides a large golden bracelet onto his arm and tells him that he's key to saving the world and then sends him back into the game. Shugo has no clue as to what it's all about but ends up back in a situation where he has to help save his sister from a very high level monster that's appeared where it shouldn't be.

Events like this have been occurring in different areas recently minus the bracelet part so the system administrators are starting to investigate these happenings a bit more thoroughly. This brings into play a rather fun action character named Balmung. He's transcended from being a player to being on the corporate side of things and setting up events and other elements in the game while still playing around on occasion. He's got quite a heroic reputation so it's no surprise when Rena starts practically drooling on him from the minute he ends up saving her from near death.

Just like in the city, Balmung is thrown off by the skins these two characters are using since they're the images of characters from the past that have been retired, people he's fought with in the past during the larger stories that shaped the backdrop of The World. When his inquiries into the contest that garnered them their designs he finds that there wasn't any real official contest but the higher ups have no issue with what's going on, so the darker plot elements start to seep out fairly early into the series. Balmung ends up keeping a close eye on them as they expand into other events and their paths cross fairly frequently. Rena certainly doesn't mind this at all and the storyline moves forward into some of the normal events of The World and brings the duo into contact with other players that help start to form this new party that you know will lead to big things.

In general, I try to avoid comparing one series to another but in this instance it's almost expected since it's an indirect sequel. Twilight plays things very differently than Sign did in a number of ways. The first is that the characters here are very interactive with everyone else in the game. While they do spend time out on events and hunting, there's equal time spent just hanging around the city and being around numerous groups of people, whereas in Sign you'd often see the main characters walking around the city and almost nobody else present. The other difference is that there's the introduction of Balmung as an actual employee of the corporation inside the game, so you have someone who is actually representing them unlike Subaru who was sort of a special player that was given some extra benefits and duties. This changes the perspective a bit on things and allows for new things to be done. One of the fun parts was watching him organize the Tanabata events and being very precise in where he wanted the trees to go.

The action factor is also several notches higher. With this being more of an action driven storyline and an active young male as the lead character, there are more combat scenes throughout and a bit more energy to the party in general. When Tsukasa was the lead of the Sign series, you were going for a more introspective and thoughtful sort of approach and reluctance to get into fights or hunting grounds. This one really plays in the opposite direction. There's also a heightened nookie factor. Shugo's definitely your average high school kid in this respect as he's continually glad when more women join the party or he inadvertently walks into some other characters large breasts. His interest in the game goes up along with other parts of him due to this. Of course, Rena's not dead herself since she's interested in Balmung but she's also got some proprietary feelings towards her brother, especially in relation to the game, so some of her moments can be misinterpreted as being jealous in a sexual attention way.

This particular series also gained the nickname of ChibiHack since the character designs aren't, for the most part, quite as mature looking as the Sign series. Rena is the main reason for this I think since she's playing a skin that was in Sign and prominent at that, but she's much more rounded in the face and soft in the designs than the original. Add in some height differences as well and you just want to go on about how cute and adorable she is whereas the original character you'd say she was lean, athletic and sexy. The other thing that helps give it this name is the Grunty's that populate this version of The World. They are just unbelievably cute and adorable, from the big French styled one to the small sickly one that takes up some time to get healed. The mascot idea is played up quite well here, and while it was definitely a part of Sign at places, it's really used effectively and more often here, but not to the point of overkill by any stretch.

In Summary:
Twilight as a series stands very well on its own but also complements the Sign series beautifully. It provides some of the same but goes in its own direction and offers up more new things to see in a pleasantly familiar setting. The cast is comical and fun to watch but still capable of the serious moments needed for adventuring and hunting. Visually it's just as impressive, if not more so, than Sign with its heightened visuals and wider range of characters and settings to play with. After reading the manga for this, I wasn't sure how well I'd like it since that medium felt much to scattershot and overactive for me to get into, but the anime took the best parts of the manga and built solidly upon them. I can't wait to see more of this series and I already dislike that it's as short as it is. Very recommended.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening,Textless Ending,Art Gallery,Game Trailer,Liner Notes

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B+
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: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: .hack//Legend of the Twilight