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.hack//Roots Complete Collection Anime DVD Review

10 min read

hack roots coverThe search for the Key of Twilight will change everything.

What They Say:
In the newest version of the massive online RPG know as “The World,” Haseo and his guild mates search for a legendary item called the Key of the Twilight – but they’re not the only ones looking for it. When a rival guild faces off against Haseo and his teammates, the conflict has deep repercussions both inside and outside the game, and threatens to leave the players forever changed.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release comes with the original Japanese language track as well as the previously created English language dub, both of which are encoded at 192kbps. The series is one that has its moments of action to be sure, but they’re brief and punctuated events. The majority of the series is dialogue based, though the quiet incidental music moments gives it a run for its money. That’s not exactly a bad thing as the music here certainly is a strong part of the shows appeal and it comes across well through the forward soundstage. It has a good, warm feeling to it overall and it’s matched by the dialogue side of it. There’s not a lot of real emphasis to be had here as it’s a kind of flat series of performances overall, mandated by the story, but it comes across clean and clear with both tracks. The mix is one that does create a certain atmosphere and it hits the right notes, but outside of the music itself there’s not much memorable here.

Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The twenty-six episodes are spread across four discs with seven each on the first three and five on the final one, which also has all the extras. Animated by Bee Train, the show at the time certainly established a look and color tone that drew fans in and the detail to the backgrounds and settings is still very much there. The transfer here captures the look of the show pretty well, though the flaws are a bit more apparent now. Colors are generally solid, though there are gradients to be had at times with some of the backgrounds. The show works the grainy digital feeling fairly well, but again there’s a visible element to it in many scenes, though not anywhere near to the point of distraction. The smoothness of the animation works well and without any cross coloration to be had here, it’s a solid little package overall, though one that does leave you wishing for a high definition version just to see if it could possibly pop more.

The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized clear DVD case that holds the four discs on hinges. We also get an o-card for it that replicates the artwork on the case itself which gives it a little more pop. The front of it keeps the logo to the top of the design in a minimal kind of way that works, while the rest is given over to the character artwork, which is a bit mixed and a bit murky with what it’s doing. With the Tri-Edge along the top in a dark and shadow way, that blends to Shion in the middle hovering and glowing, while Haseo is along the bottom with the cleanest and clearest piece of character artwork. The back cover carries these colors around in a bit better of a way where we get a selection of shots from the show along the left. The right side brings us the logo again and a clean look at the extras as well as a solid and straightforward breakdown of the premise. The rest is given over to the minimal technical grid and the production credits. With the case mirroring the card, we also get artwork on the reverse side where the left has a great look at Shio with the disc breakdown of episodes and titles while the right side brings together a good pairing of Tabby and Sakisaka. The artwork here is much better than the main cover itself.

The menu design for this release is very simple and straightforward as we get the same static screen across all four volumes with just the volume number changing. The main layout has a decent image of Haseo in a semi-action pose about him as he reaches out towards the viewer. There’s a brightness to his design that’s spot on, especially set against the darker background and the lightness of the logo itself. The navigation is through the center with the standard selections along with the logo, which is quick to load and easy to access with no problems to be had at all. I would have preferred to have different artwork with each disc, but it’s a decent enough design to use across all of them.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After the debut of .hack//SIGN and then the .hack//Legend of Twilight series, the Bee Train program continues with this third season. Clocking in at twenty-six episodes, this season continues the overall progress of The World while tying into the changes to the games themselves over the years. Having revisited the original series recently, it was interesting going into this one as I have less clear memories of it than //SIGN. With the same production team largely involved, there’s definitely plenty of continuity to it that you can enjoy, especially in design terms, as well as the overall world building that’s been going on. But as we’ve seen, each series is essentially a new world layered on top of what came before, though vestiges of the past games are very much still there causing problems.

In this incarnation of The World, the focus is primarily on a bit of a fringe guild known as the Twilight Brigade. Run by the mysterious Ovan, their goal is to find the Key of Twilight, a mythical item that may not exist within the game. There’s a lot of uncertainty about the mission in general, but for the small group that exists that Ovan has, they’re mostly dedicated to it. That includes a relative newbie known as Tabby, the field man that’s skilled named Sakisaka with a potted plant on his head, and Shion, the second in command that does all the actual work. The guild lost a few members of time as well, which means we get our strays that pop up from time to time, mostly adding a little color to the storyline but not a lot until things get further along. It helps to paint the way that the guild is a difficult one for people to be a part of, largely when it comes to Ovan and his aloof way.

What proves to be the catalyst for change here, change being a glacially slow moving thing in the .hack universe, is the arrival of Haseo in The World. A relative newbie that joined at friends urging, he gets saved from a player killer by Ovan, which pulls him into Ovan’s orbit. Player killing is a big thing in this world and that becomes part of what slowly does drive Haseo to learn the game more, though it takes quite a few episodes before he decides that he really wants to play, since he’s kind of just hanging around being uncertain about the whole thing. Ovan sees something in Haseo though and wants him as a part of the guild, though he works it so that Shion does the heavy lifting in actually bringing him on board. This ends up being very drawn out over the course of the series, since Haseo comes across as very much on the outside of the guild yet part of it by the general “closeness” with the core group.

What complicates the search for the Key of Twilight as it goes on are two things. The first is that there are several Lost Grounds throughout the game that’s hard to access. They’re unique places from previous game incarnations that the administration can’t delete, but offer the potential for the pieces to be found to go after the Key. This provides for some great looking unique places, but ones without a lot of characters since it’s not easy to access. The other piece that comes into play here to complicate things is that there’s another guild out there, the big and power TaN, that has its issues with Ovan, which is why they’re keeping a close eye on them. There’s some manipulations that go on here within the guild towards Ovan and his guild, but also within the guild itself as some are kept out of the loop but still used. Since the Key of Twilight is nothing more than legend, they’re hedging their bets with it, but also ensuring that if it is discovered, they can completely take advantage of it and be a few steps ahead. There’s some decent teases here along the way, but like a lot of aspects of this show it’s played in a very superficial and light touch kind of way.

As the show goes on and the group dynamic changes, the show really ends up falling apart. Once Ovan is gone and Shion dies, Haseo goes on his leveling up path and Tabby spends her time doing nothing while trying to find somewhere to belong, especially since Sakisaka has left. While this could have potential to work, it doesn’t capitalize on it well enough. Haseo’s path has him being all grunty and stabby for the most part, though he ends up going through a transformation along the way that in the end feels like it doesn’t mean anything. Since he’s leveling up to take out Tri-Edge and to try and bring Shion back, it has the right focus, but it’s spread out so far and has so little payoff that it feels pointless. Making it worse is that new characters start to come to the surface to fill in the blanks, though they’re seemingly second slot characters in some cases. Which is bad enough since the main slot characters weren’t well defined, and these are even less defined.

With this being the third season of the franchise, I still find myself dealing with the same problems, but with different levels of them. This is an expansive world with so much to do, but it still feels pretty empty in terms of actual players or non-player characters. It’s improved over the first season significantly, but it’s still empty. Even worse in a way though is that so much of the show is just a lot of wandering about or standing around talking. Or just standing around with mild panning of the camera. There’s not a lot of actual playing of the game going on here. That makes a certain sense for our primary cast, but they’re not doing much beyond that. There’s no real sense of the game itself here with what they want to do, but rather just building up the background for the actual game itself that came out alongside this. The end result is that over twenty-six episodes, I find myself at the end of it hard pressed to feel like it truly accomplished anything.

One of the things that I think really hampers this for me is that there’s no real investment in the characters. The game characters don’t accomplish much of anything, don’t actually do quests or engage with the world at large, and the guild aspect itself is beyond weak. But it also doesn’t capitalize on the other aspect it can work with to make us empathize with the characters by introducing us more to the people behind the characters. There’s some mild talk from time to time about the real world, but by not exploring that, we lose a way to really invest in them and what they do, the reason behind it all. It was done better in //SIGN and its sequel season to some degree, but here there’s no real connection to the cast in either their real lives or the game lives.

In Summary:
The third season of the franchise is one that improves on the first two, but still has a lot of the core problems that the other seasons had as well. With its twenty-six episode run, it’s just too long and unfocused with what it wants to do. Characters disappear halfway through and barely return, if at all, and the larger story is one that feels like it never comes together. I like certain aspects of it with the designs, the mood of it all, and certainly the music, but the story itself is fairly unmemorable. Having played a lot of games like these, before the graphic side of it came into play, there’s so much that can be done with shows like these, but .hack continues to find ways to fall flat in bringing it to life.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles,Textless Opening and Closing, Promo Videos, TV Spots, DVD Release Announcements

Content Grade: C
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: May 19th, 2015
MSRP: $39.99
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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