Mike wonders aloud which anime would be a good fit for the prestigious Criterion Collection.
Reviewby Bamboo Dong, Mar 15th 2003
Limited Edition DVD 1: Login
When Tsukasa regained his consciousness, he realized that he was still playing an online game and the place that he was in was “The World,” the setting for the game. He immediately runs into trouble when he is stopped by Crimson Knights, the system administrators for the game, who accuse him of entering an illegally modified character. Things only go downhill from here when Tsukasa learns that he is unable to log out of the game—in fact, he's actually inside the game. Befriended by an enigmatic cat character and a familiar voice, he struggles to learn more about the world he's in, as well as the situation he's hopelessly trapped in. Also, there's a rumor that within the game exists a secret item. What is this item, and what does Tsukasa have to do with it?
Without a doubt, .hack is one of the most anticipated releases to come out this year, with its innovative multi-platform release. Bandai has placed a lot of stock in this series and if their release of the first volume of the .hack//SIGN DVD is any indication of their dedication to the series, then the future bodes very well for this release. Marketed simultaneously with the subsequent video game as well as OVAs, the packaging of the limited edition first disc is highly impressive and is certain to be an effective lure to those who are yet unfamiliar with the series. Containing the first five episodes of the series, the disc also includes the textless opening and ending themes, in addition to a character gallery featuring a few of the characters. There is also a trailer for the Playstation 2 .hack game and surprisingly the option to watch the series with just the isolated score audio track. The music in the series is enjoyable and expressive, making this an especially great feature. The episodes are interesting to watch and with the gaming references, as well as the basic premise of the show of someone stuck inside a game, it is able to appeal to both anime and gaming fans.
Better than the disc content, however, is the packaging that accompanies the DVD. As per recent tradition, the first volume also includes an art box that has enough space to hold the rest of the series. The box for .hack is definitely more creative than usual, sporting the hexagonal shape prevalent in the series title. Although the shape of the box makes it harder to place on viewers' shelves along with other rectangular boxes, it's still aesthetically pleasing and fits the DVDs better than would be expected. Included with the boxset are even more goodies, including a plush Grunty, a postcard set, and a sheet of stickers. As if that isn't enough, just for good measure, Bandai also threw in a .hack t-shirt as well as a demo disc for the PS2 game. To top off an already amazing package, the box also graciously includes the first CD soundtrack, which is a fantastic addition given the beauty of the music in the series. Bandai set out to do an impressive job with this release right at the start and they've set a high standard for themselves. If there is anything to nitpick about the packaging at all, it would be the DVD cover. For some reason, all the batches of the DVD covers are cut poorly so that the spine of the cover doesn't match the spine of the keep case. Although a minor nuisance for any viewers that might be a glutton for detail, this trivial aspect of the release is negligible in the face of the remarkable effort that Bandai put into making this release as flashy and as fan-friendly as possible. While the limited edition DVD is fantastic, the obvious appeal of the series is not merely the packaging, but the release of the anime itself, which Bandai also does a fantastic job on.
While the story starts off rather tamely, it becomes more detailed and complex by the fourth episode. Because of the simplistic plot that viewers are greeted with, as well as the online lingo that the characters are using, watching the beginning scenes are akin to watching someone play a game like EverQuest. Near the end of the volume though, more background information regarding Tsukasa is revealed, leading to a more intense story line that goes well beyond the original premise of a character stuck inside of a game. While Tsukasa is heavily developed through both the usage of flashbacks and also his reactions to the world around him though, many of the other characters remain largely static. One could argue that this was done in order to make Tsukasa seem like a real person inside of a two-dimensional gaming world, but without any detailed information on the players of the other characters, they seem fake and rather bland. It is through the portrayal of Tsukasa's past that gives the story line the added kick needed to make it truly unique and make viewers clamor eagerly for the next volume. Another interesting aspect about the show is the seemingly contradictory portrayal of whether .hack is supposed to be a view into an online game or a more engrossing series that follows the events surrounding Tsukasa. For instance, when the other characters are involved, the series gives off a game atmosphere where the characters interact superficially with one another and use gaming vernacular, as opposed to the scenes with just Tsukasa, which seem more realistic because of the personal connection the viewer experiences with him.
Another aspect of the series worth talking about is the already mentioned music of the series. With music by Yuki Kajiura, the vocals in the series are comprised of English chanting, giving off the breathy air of mystique that one normally associates with any anime series set in a mysterious fantasy world. While the vocals are somewhat mediocre, the real appeal comes in the instrumental tracks. Featuring music that ranges from light hearted piano solos to ensemble pieces, the tracks are reminiscent to those of Rurouni Kenshin's Kyoto arc. Unlike other series, the music played during the episodes doesn't always enhance the scenes, nor emphasize them. Rather, they just provide background music, making the series seem like one is watching a role playing game rather than an animated series. It is interesting to note that of all the tracks provided on the first CD volume that came with the box, only a few of the tracks are used this early on in the series. Regardless of that, the music is still beautiful, making both the isolated score audio track and the CD soundtrack fantastic extras to have.
Bandai also managed to do nice job on the language tracks, although both have their own small flaws. The Japanese actors perform their roles well and give the characters the perfect voicing inflections that one would expect for each person. The subtitles, however, don't translate the actor's lines as faithfully as they could. For example, the word “BBS” is translated as “board” and “PC” is translated simply as character. While the translations give an accurate definition of each term, it detracts from the gaming atmosphere that the series is supposed to show. Luckily, these trivialities occur only here and there. For the most part, any terms that may not be familiar to non-gamers are translated in the DVD insert, which gives a brief “dictionary” of such words. As for the English dub track, the actors do a good job of delivering their lines and giving life to their characters. There were some voices though , namely Mimiru, that sounded bland and poorly cast. Her ditzy voice oftentimes detracted from any serious lines written in the script, which is unfortunate. The script was translated faithfully with few changes, which is something that Bandai has always been good about. Overall, Bandai did a good job with the languages, putting in the amount of energy required to make a quality series fully accessible regardless of listening preference.
One of the nicest things about .hack//SIGN is its artwork. Sporting clean cut character designs and gorgeous backgrounds, the art adds to the gaming aura that the series already exudes. The backgrounds, especially, are fun to look out for given their variance and the creativity of each. Another wonderful part about the series is its animation, which is flawless. The characters move easily, and the panned shots are done smoothly and consistently. The incorporation of blatantly CG effects blends in with the 2D frames nicely, making the contrast hardly noticeable to viewers. One particularly nice characteristic of the animation is its use of lighting effects. Within the scenes are a variety of objects that glow and effervesce, which stand out beautifully.
Overall, the series marks another wonderful release by the folks at Bandai. While the series itself has its aspects of mediocrity, the story line is intense and deeply intriguing. With its main appeal lying in the way the complex story can drive viewer interest, there are also other things to enhance the quality of the show, like its gorgeous musical soundtrack and beautiful animation. Bandai has invested a lot of time into this release and it definitely shows. Not only is the content of the disc done well, but also the general packaging of the limited edition volume, which sets a new standard in anime distribution. For both anime and gaming fans alike, this is definitely a series that has to be watched at least once.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B
+ Incredible packaging extras
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