.hack//Roots Vol. #2 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, June 04, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, June 05, 2007



What They Say
The Twilight Brigade continues its search for the Virus Cores, mysterious items not included in the official game specs. They believe they need to collect them before they can find the coveted Key of the Twilight. Meanwhile, their rival Guild, TaN, pressures them even harder using their secret service led by a dangerous Player Killer Ender.

Haseo has an idea on how to use the Virus Cores in one of the Lost Grounds. As their leader Ovan decides to take action, even Gord and Bset, who left the guild in disappointment, join them again to fight against the enemy warriors.

The Review!
The hunt for the Virus Cores is on across the various Lost Grounds but it's not a hunt that is free from danger.

Audio:
While filled with great music, the actual mixes for this release are pretty simple and surprisingly flat. Providing for both the Japanese and English language sides, each of them are a done at a rather low 192 kbps for such a recent show. This isn't usually much of an issue for a dialogue show and .hack//Roots is essentially that, but the show has such little sense of space to it that it's almost all full sounding. Hardly anything is noticeable with directionality and the music sounds like it's missing a bit of its impact. Everything on both tracks and is clean and clear and free of problems though so listening to it won't be an issue. It's simply a mix that should have been better done.

Video:
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Not unlike previous incarnations, this series is filled with lots of lush looking backgrounds and vibrant looking character action. Though there isn't a lot of action, it all looks very pretty on the screen. These episodes come across in much the same way as there is a very good sense of color and depth to it and it's generally free of blocking or noise. There's very little to have issue with across these five episodes outside of some minor noise during various panning sequences where the backgrounds shift slightly. Foreground animation looks very smooth and clean and everything avoids cross coloration or aliasing.

Packaging:
Released in a black keepcase, the cover art is a decent piece that has Shino taking the primary position as she's in one of her folding-hands moments. In the hexes behind here are headshots of Ovan and Haseo that look good but don't do too much to really sell the show. The color design is solid and the layout works for what the show is and is easy to identify for those who just play the games. The designs and colors are slightly different than in the show itself but they look good here as they're appealing and streamlined yet familiar. The back cover plays with the hexes some more with various shots from the show provided inside them as well as a larger one for the summary. A couple of smaller ones are done for the episode numbers and titles as well as the discs features. The production information and basic technical information is provided along the bottom. Bandai continues to avoid using the technical grids though which makes finding certain bits of information not terribly conducive for a quick read. No insert is included nor is the cover reversible.

Menu:
The menu design is simple but effective as it uses the hex imagery with shades of blow to have layers of them either static or moving. The top level has both the shows logo and menu navigation as well as some character artwork for the show, all of which is set to a nice mellow piece of music. It's a bit flashy but not glaringly so while still being an effective piece of navigation that uses familiar imagery. Access times are nice and fast and the navigation is simple and effective. The disc did not read our players' language presets and defaulted to English with sign/song subtitles.

Extras:
Not unlike releases in previous series, the extras are very minimal here. The ending sequence has a clean version provided and there is also a short promotional video trailer for show.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With as many episodes as this series has to play with, it's little surprise that it's moving along at the standard snails pace. Five more episodes are on this volume and that brings us up to episode ten out of the series which provides a good idea of how the remainder will go. Even with the slow pacing it continues to be interesting to watch as an example of how gamers in different countries potentially act in worlds like this.

After the attacks on the Twilight Brigade in the first volume, it's left some of the newer members unsure about their participation in the quest. While Haseo and Tabby try to decide how they want to proceed and others like Bset and Gord are finding their own ways in the world while still thinking of the Brigade, the world itself continue to change. In quite a different approach from past series, changes are definitely afoot in the world as meteorites of sorts have been streaking down to The World. These impacts provide a neat visual as it turns the area into the traditional holographic grid. The stability of The World has been in question since the start of this series with the number of Lost Grounds out there and this only serves to highlight that.

Of course, if nobody goes on the quest then the show is over pretty quickly so it's little surprise that everyone comes back for more. Little nuggets of information are starting to roll in however and the discovery of the Virus Cores being spread across the Lost Grounds makes it easier to start looking for them. The quest side of it is fairly mellow and laid by like most of the show but there is a fair bit of movement as small attacks are made on the Brigade members as well as the TaN folks making their own plays. So many of the motivations still come across as unclear and this is wholly visible with Tawaraya. Though he has clear goals to achieve for Naobi, he doesn't have quite the incentive to perform them after meeting up with Sakisaka a couple of times. He's in strong contrast to Ender who is the epitome of a hit and run PK'er that keeps it cold and clean.

Progression across the five episodes does actually come to a rather solid exchange where the small revelations have built up nicely. The Twilight Brigade starts to act as a real group even with Ovan being far too mysterious. TaN for its part uses its influence and numbers as a massive guild to get what they want but it also starts to reveal that Naobi has far bigger plans in the works as he has little care for the guild in the long run. Though the .hack world doesn't really lend itself to big action moments with all the fanfare, the first real confrontation between the two guilds does come across well. Having everyone actively participate and attack lets them show off and work with each other but the usual flaws are also very apparent. When Haseo and Gord are battling for example, they come too quickly to an situation where they just start standing there talking with no tension at all as numbers TaN thugs fight nearby. While it may make story plotting easier it certainly doesn't reflect how actual online gaming would exist.

Over a third of the way into the series and I'm unsure of how it's going to progress. In some ways it has moved forward much more quickly than the //Sign series which is a real plus but at the same time the characters have less of a connection with me. The few hints of the outside world here are a far cry from some of the real life interactions and teases we get in //Sign as well. Not having the same kind of connection with who these people really are has made it more difficult to really get in synch with their online personas. There are characters I want to like more, particularly Shino and Tabby since we have such little to go on with them, but the few morsels we do get about who they are don't seem to add up to much after a full ten episodes.

In Summary:
Keeping in tune with what has come before, .hack//Roots has plenty of potential behind it but may be more difficult if you're involved in the games and other media releases. As a standalone anime series there are several hooks that work well but it hasn't achieved a level that makes it easily accessible. Japanese online role playing game style is simply so vastly different from what's done in North America that much of what is presented here feels wrong in a lot of ways. With little connection to the real people behind the online characters and a slow moving plot, it's an effort to keep interested in the show. The original series provided enough for me to enjoy it over the long run even with similar issues but this one is proving to be more difficult.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Ending,Original Japanese Promotional Trailer

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI set to 480p, 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: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 24.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: .hack//ROOTS