.hack//Roots Vol. #4 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Saturday, October 13, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, October 02, 2007

What They Say
The Twilight Brigade had dissolved and, Shino has become a ‚€˜Lost One‚€™ as the result of being eliminated by Tri-Edge. Even so, Tabby has settled on lingering around in ‚€œThe World‚€� after she comes to the aid of two novices trying to learn the ropes of this online game.

Distressed by Shino‚€™s disappearance, Haseo becomes more determined to track down the lethal and insurmountable Tri-Edge, despite Phyllo‚€™s warning. Sequentially, he enters the event referred to as the ‚€œForest of Pain‚€� after hearing of the reward that awaits the survivor of this gargantuan challenge. Meanwhile, an ex-secret service member that was sent by Yata and Pi, monitors Haseo throughout this perilous competition.

The Review!
With the Brigade now fallen apart completely, Haseo digs in deep to level up against the Tri-Edge while Tabby waffles about.

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.

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.

The amusing pairing of Tabby and Sakisaka is given the primary focus with this volume as the two of them are standing close together while Tabby has quite the pleased look. More character artwork is mixed into the background with a pair of headshots within some hex designs that typifies the series. 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.

The menu design is simple but effective as it uses the hex imagery with shades of yellow to have layers of them either static or moving. The top level has 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.

Not unlike releases in previous series, the extras are very minimal here. This installment contains a pair of brief "DVD Release Announcement" from when it came out in Japan.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As the series progresses past the halfway mark, the shape of things begins to become a bit clearer. Or at least as clear as a franchise like this wants to be in its very leisurely paced style. The way the Brigade guild has fallen into nothing and the loss of its three main members has shaken the view of everything and left Haseo in a mindset of being the one to save Shino and understand what Ovan was really after.

With the loss of Ovan, Shino and Sakisaka now, the focus is kept far more on Haseo and Tabby than is probably good. Phyllo helps to break things up a bit but for the most part these two are somewhat lost and unsure of how to proceed. For Tabby, she has fallen right back into playing the game as normal and just enjoying life as best as she can. This causes her to take a pair of newbies under her claw when she finds them up against a rather tough creature for a beginner. Similar in the way that Sakisaka took care of her, she decides to help outfit them and move them along the right path. She's not the most ideal person for this though since she doesn't even read the users manual and has missed out on many basic points.

She does gain some luck when Phyllo pushes her together with a man named Kuhn who is well skilled and not entirely adverse to helping them out for a bit. The two new characters, a pair of brothers who are using the character names of Cashmere and Wool, have their own issues with everything and tend to feel like they've been swept up by events with the way Tabby and then Kuhn work them over and put them through their paces. As a single standalone episode it might have been decent but it spreads out a bit more than that overall when you look at it as a Tabby piece. Her role in the scheme of things continues to be the most unclear and she verbalizes it in a few ways throughout these episodes. At a time when she needs to be a leader, she instead opts to be a follower.

Haseo has a strong role in these episodes in a different way since he tries to be more proactive. The problem he has is that he doesn't know what to do to actually fix things. Losing Shino has been a rather severe blow to him and he's doing his best to cope while also realizing the true meaning of some things Ovan has said over the time he knew him. That reinforcement of how this game world actually works is used by others throughout his journey which is what's helping to point him in the right direction but so much of it is still very unclear to him.

Where most of the mystery about the show comes from right now is how the "back end" of the game is handling the situation. The Tri-Edge is roaming about the world and killing characters, turning them into Lost Ones that cannot be recovered. There are movements we see from some of the characters, such as the use of Saburou being dispatched to watch Tabby while they keep an eye on Haseo, but for the most part them seem to be playing a waiting game with it. The only change to the world that happens is the launch of a weeklong official event that utilizes as Lost Ground as its drawn. The Forest of Pain is said to have something really worthwhile in it should you manage to complete it but it's spitting out characters left and right and there's hints that there may not be anything worthwhile in there in the end. Naturally, Haseo sees it as a challenge that will help him to deal with the Tri-Edge after the way Phyllo not so subtly manipulates him.

In Summary:
Though there are some potentially good things to be found here as the storyline starts to gel, we're all the way to episode eighteen and it's still not linear enough to really figure out. Or rather, it is in a way but there isn't any sense of urgency to it by anyone and the bulk of the main cast has been dropped off while second stringers are drawn in to flesh it out. The original series was quite the draw for me but with each subsequent piece of the franchise they kill my enjoyment of it just a little bit more. .hack//Roots has a certain charm and beauty to it but the glacial pacing combined with a lackluster story just has me drifting off far more often than I'd care for.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,DVD Volume 1 Release Announcements (for Japan)

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI set to 1080i, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: C
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: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: .hack//ROOTS