.hack//SIGN Vol. #5 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B-
  • Age Rating: 3 & Up
  • Region: 2 - Europe
  • Released By: Beez
  • MSRP: £19.99 Running time: 100
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: .hack//SIGN

.hack//SIGN Vol. #5

By Dani Moure     November 17, 2004
Release Date: November 15, 2002


.hack//SIGN Vol. #5
© Beez


What They Say
In the year 2010 the most popular computer game is 'The World', an online multi-user roleplaying game created by CC Corporation. However something seems to have gone awry and the Wave Master, Tsukasa is permanently logged into the game...

The group seems to have disbanded! BT doesn't log on much and neither does Subaru. But soon, the quest for the Key of the Twilight begins anew with Tsukasa taking Subaru to see the 'sleeping girl', only to discover her missing! Elsewhere, Bear realizes that the man in the upside-down castle was none other than Harald Hoerwick, creator of 'The World' and that he may hold the key to this mystery!

The final battle is near and each of the party members must decide whether they will fight or not...


The Review!
More mysteries of The World unravel in the latest volume of .hack.

Audio:
I spot-checked this disc in Japanese with subtitles, as I've heard the entire Japanese version in the past. I really enjoy the performances from the Japanese actors, and noticed no dropouts or distortions in the parts I listened to.

Continuing my foray into the dub, I opted for the English track for my review watching. I really enjoyed most of the performances, though I have to say while pretty much all the female characters nailed it, a few characters still seemed a little off. For me, it was mainly Bear and Tsukasa who sounded a little out of it on occasion, but that may just be because I'm so familiar with the Japanese track for the TV series. I noticed no dropouts or distortions during regular playback. The stereo track on both languages is pretty good, and the music comes off particularly well.

Video:
Presented in anamorphic widescreen, this is a pretty lush transfer. Colours are nice and vibrant throughout, and I noticed no artifacting even during the high motion scenes in the opening sequence. There's also no noticeable aliasing, which is always a big plus in newer shows. It really does look very good and on par with the US release. The openings and endings are left in their original Japanese kanji forms, but unfortunately the English language credit roll that is featured on the US release after the final episode on the disc is nowhere to be found here. I always find it disappointing when there's no credit translation on a disc.

The English subtitles are white, in a clearly readable font, and thankfully contain very few spelling errors and conjoined words.

Packaging:
The cover design is again different to the US release, but I like it a lot. The main artwork features Crim in the forefront with Subaru in the background, a fitting theme for these episodes. The show's logo and disc number appear at the top of the cover. The bottom of the cover has the various logos and the website address. The theme for this volume is red, so the whole cover takes on that feel, and looks really nice with a patterned background. The back cover contains a brief synopsis of the show itself, as well as a clear episode listing and synopsis for each episode. Extras are clearly listed, and there's a nice information box towards the bottom of the back cover listing the languages, video format and so on. Overall this is a really nice and well-designed cover.

Menu:
The main menu has a brief animation before launching into the main selection, which features Bearstanding to the side and an animated cube that revolves with various video clips from the show on each side. The ending theme plays over the main menu. The sub-menus are all static, but selections are clear and access times fast, and each features a different piece of music from the soundtrack. Overall the menus are quite nice and fit the show's theme well.

Extras:
The extras on this volume are mostly recycled from the last. First are two "Capsule Station" extras which show some pictures of capsule stations from which you can buy some miniature figures of each of the characters, and the extra shows an image of each. It's intriguing but pretty much a commercial. Next up is a trailer for the .hack//OUTBREAK, the third PlayStation 2 game, which really will only be of interest to those that have a PS2 and have any remote interest in buying the game. We also get two more nice to have trailers from the Japanese DVD release, though they don't serve much purpose. Finally, always a nice extra, we get karaoke versions of the openings and endings (which presents the clean opening and ending with karaoke subtitles). It's not the most substantial selection of extras, but it's decent enough, if unvaried.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Depending on how you've viewed .hack//SIGN thus far, this fifth volume is unlikely to do much to change your opinion. While I personally enjoy the way the mysteries surrounding The World and the character Tsukasa unravel, and in tandem with that the group of characters interested in him, I can understand why the series wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. This disc is more of the same in that respect; it's still a lot of talking heads, lots of great music in the background, and a slow moving plot. There's the occasional onslaught of action, and while it's always pretty good, it's by no means the focus of the show but more of a necessity to move the plot forward and make things happen.

In short, if the thought of lots of dialogue, with characters standing around and discussing everything for a long time doesn't appeal to you, you should really skip this show, because it won't be for you (though I'd still recommend picking up the TV series soundtracks from the US, as Yuki Kajiura's music is excellent). For people like me though, who have enjoyed what's taken place so far, more of the same is pretty much what you'd want and expect.

The volume begins where the last ended, with Silver Knight and the other Crimson Knights anxious to apprehend Sora for being a player killer. A rift between Silver Knight and Subaru has clearly formed, as he doesn't approve of her, in the position she is in, being interested in Tsukasa and his friends, going so far as to pretend she is unavailable for meetings. When he contacts the system administrators behind her back, she feels she has only one option, and that's to disband the Crimson Knights. Left feeling alone and unsure of what path to take, Subaru travels The World to try to discover what path she should take. She remembers various events in her past, including the formation of the Crimson Knights on the spot by Crim, and how they almost fell apart were it not for Crim's actions. When she's attacked by another player character, she remembers an encounter with Crim that gives her strength. Badly beaten, she finds Tsukasa, and spends some time with him.

Tsukasa takes Subaru to the place where the sleeping girl rests, but she is now gone, which later leads to trouble from the one that has been protecting him. Meanwhile alliances are being formed, as BT decides to work with Sora, using information from Bear and his party, to get to the Key of the Twilight first. They also enlist the help of Silver Knight, but none of them can really trust each other. Tsukasa is now missing and only Subara can help, as Bear discovers the identity of the one they saw in the mysterious castle, and seeks out someone to help find him.

With the story moving at the pace it does, you have to enjoy the characters and the atmosphere the series creates to really get something from the series. I actually enjoy the story quite a lot, as it plays out like a big mystery slowly being revealed. It probably helps that I've bought into the franchise considerably, owning the PS2 games, the sequel anime series and the manga. I found the whole attempt at a cross-media franchise quite fascinating, and really invested my time in it. That isn't necessary to enjoy SIGN though, since it serves as a prequel to everything else and does end itself anyway. But even if I hadn't really got into the franchise, I can appreciate how the writers slowly unpeel layers of the story through character dialogue and certain key events, and while it's not for everyone by any means, it is something I enjoy watching. I can't really stress enough though that, even though the pace picks up in the story as this volume draws on, it is still a slow-moving series by most accounts and isn't a series for the impatient.

And even though they aren't the best bunch ever, I do find myself drawn to the characters. Sometimes they do behave a bit strange and make some odd decisions, but for the most part I find each of them pretty interesting. Tsukasa being the one that everything revolves around, is not your typical central character yet I find myself ever wanting to find out how the situation with him will play out. I really like the way Subaru has gone, too, making some decisions outside what she is used to and really taking a stand for her beliefs. Her developing relationship with Tsukasa is something that keeps me interested in watching. Mimiru and Bear get a little less screen time in these four episodes as the other characters take a more central stage, though they continue to plough on with trying to find Key of the Twilight and help Tsukasa. I also quite like BT, being an untrustworthy backstabber and Sora being far more blatant about his intention. The only character I'm not the biggest fan of is Silver Knight, as I can't help but find his incessant moaning at Subaru and pretty much everyone else a bit of an annoyance.

The presentation continues to be solid, as with the previous volume, and is the best work from Beez so far. Openings and endings are left untouched, as on the US release, and all episode titles and things are left untouched. Once into the actual show, it's basically a copy of the US release. The only difference is the lack of English translated credits (which rolled at the end of the last episode on the US release), which is very disappointing.

In Summary:
With the relationships twisting and turning, new alliances forming, and plenty of events moving the storyline forward, there's a lot to like in this volume of .hack. When the action comes it's intense, but it doesn't come that often, so if you want an action show, you're better off with another series. But if the sound of a mystery slowly unfolding sounds appealing, then definitely try out .hack//SIGN. It's interesting, atmospheric and enjoyable, with an intriguing cast of characters. It's a great springboard into the franchise as a whole, but it also stands alone as an enticing story that I definitely recommend giving a try.

Features
Japanese Language,English Language,French Language,English Subtitles,French Subtitles,Dutch Subtitles,.hack//OUTBREAK Trailer,,Capsule Station 1 & 2,Opening & Ending Karaoke,2 Japanese DVD release trailers

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.

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