.hack//SIGN Vol. #1: Login Special Edition (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, March 04, 2003
In line with their other special releases, Bandai Entertainment pulls out all the stops with this special edition release of .hack//Sign. Bring on the Gruntys!
Since Cartoon Network is going to be ahead of the DVD release for the most part, I decided to listen to the English language track for my primary review. .hack//SIGN is presented using a pro-logic mix. The first item I noticed was that the English language track was quieter than the Japanese language track. I actually found this really nice, as the music track seems to be much more overpowering in the Japanese language track. I didn?t notice any voices coming out of the rear speakers, but there are moments when you get music and sound effects from the rear. The rears are used appropriately for grand moments in the show. No distortions or drop outs were present; this is simply a fantastic remix. An isolated score is also available in addition to the Japanese track.
With an anamorphic 1:85 encode, you?d expect this to look fantastic, even if you don?t have an anamorphic TV. Well, my system setup didn?t like it very much. On the bottom of the screen, I saw noticeable jumping. The bottom of the screen seemed to shake to me. This happened near the top of the screen also. The transfer is absolutely gorgeous though with no artifacts, cross coloration, alias, or macro blocking. The screen shakes are very annoying though.
The cover for the DVD has Tsukasa in the foreground and Mimiru in the background just standing. Not too exciting. A Platinum Series logo is on the top of the front cover, and volume information is present on the front cover and the spine. The back has episode numbers, and pictures of all the main characters except Crim.
Of course, this is the part you?re all been waiting for. The Limited Edition is packed in a cardboard box designed to look like a treasure chest. It?s made of cardboard, and as far as I can tell it?s kept together mostly by folds with very little glue. This box will not earn any rewards in the sturdy department and the sides of the box are flimsy. A small elastic band is on the front that you can use to keep the hexagonal box closed when attached to a point on the lid. I fear for the hinge of the box through the rest of the series.
The front menu is again, beautiful with a portal spinning as video is displayed in it. Even the shadow of the portal spins with it. The only item missing from the front menu might be a way to indicate what volume you?re on. The choices are simple: play, setup, extras, and episodes. Music plays during all the menus. My only annoyance with the menus came with the setup menu. If you select the Isolated Score option in the setup menu, the subtitles get turned off. There?s no reason why selecting that audio selection should affect the subtitles.
On the DVD, we?ve got a textless opening, textless ending, .hack//INFECTION video game trailer, and a rather small character gallery. There?s also an insert that explains some of the terms in the game.
This limited edition release is packed with goodies. There are three postcards, two featuring Tsukasa and the other one featuring the entire main cast. A sticker collection with Tsukasa, Mimiru, Bear, Subara, and Morganna comes in the same envelope as the postcards. A demo disk of .hack//INFECTION is also included. Of course, you need a PS2 for this part to be of any use. I didn?t completely play through the demo, but it?s pretty long. It hasn?t quite sold me on the game yet. With the limited edition of .hack//SIGN we also get the sound track. OST1 is included here with redone packaging for the US release with nineteen tracks listed. Lyrics for the songs are provided in a booklet inside the CD case. An XL black t-shirt with .hack//SIGN on the front (which was blurry) and a large picture of Mimiru and Tsukasa on the back was nicely rolled up inside the treasure box. Now this is what I call a limited edition.
Oh, I forgot to mention something didn?t I? GRUNTY! And yes, the plushie is cute. He?s about the size of my first. Unlike the earlier pictures, my Grunty is mainly blue, with purple snout, grey hooves, and has a little yellow tuff of hair on top of his head. Grunty has a little tail and a skull necklace also. His blank state leaves you mesmerized. No wonder he runs into walls.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
.hack//SIGN is a complete multimedia adventure it seems. Music, TV series, OVA series, four video games, manga, and there?s even a second TV series airing in Japan right now. After trying the demo, while the characters in the two look similar, they are different. I don?t think immersing yourself in everything is required to enjoy the series.
.hack//SIGN takes place in the World, a massively multiplayer online role playing game. My own experience with MMORPGs had me interested in them for a week before I found myself completely bored, so I didn?t have very high expectations going into this series. The World takes place in a fantasy setting; you can do all the standard things like adventuring, setting up shop, and chatting.
Something has gone wrong in the World though, and the Wavemaster Tsukasa seems to be at the center of it. After an encounter with a cat figure in the game, he seems to have partial memory loss and cannot log out of the game. No other player seems to have this problem. Even when Tsukasa discovers this, he eventually makes the most of it. Tsukasa?s player character doesn?t seem to like the real world so settles into the long run of just staying in the World.
Despite being a loner, other characters seem to get drawn to Tsukasa. A female warrior named Mimiru takes an interest in him, and tries to help him. Tsukasa?s anti-social behavior makes thing very difficult, but Mimiru doesn?t give up. Another warrior named Bear, an older character who helps newbies around the world, tries to help but Tsukasa shoves him aside also. Bear and Mimiru though join up to try to figure out exactly what is going on with Tsukasa.
In addition, there is a group of players that police the world for the system administrators who run the system. The call themselves the Crimson Knights and their leader, Subara, is the only player it seems who can directly communicate with the system administrators. They are looking for Tsukasa, since they believe he?s been in the presence of another character player who?s illegally hacked his character?s appearance into a cat.
The story is very drawn out, and builds very slowly. Tsukasa spends most of his time just bumbling about the system, until he encounters a strange girl. She seems to be part of the mystery keeping him here in the system. Bear, Mimiru, and the Crimson Knights eventually all join up in the search for Tsukasa as his activities begin to disrupt the normal running of the World. Two other players characters help join the expedition, and one is a player killer, Sora. His agenda though is his own.
Now if you?re looking for this to be hack and slash fest, you?ve come to the wrong place. This series is mostly about character interacting with each other, trying to solve a mystery. It?s an adventure of discovery. The music takes you through it, and the beautiful animation guides you. .hack//SIGN is beautiful and very much worth checking out. Who knew a show about a MMORPG would be more enjoyable than playing one yourself.
Now excuse me while my new Grunty gets to know my Haro plushie.
Toshiba 3109 to a Toshiba 36? Cinema Series via component, Pioneer VSX-810S receiver via optical, Cerwin Vega front speakers, Pinnacle center and rears
Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: A+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2