Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
DVD - Complete Series
Seven years after the events of .hack//Sign, The World is on its second iteration. A new update can't change the fact that the game is still plagued by mysterious AI and other anomalies, however, and it is into this strange MMORPG that two newbie players known as Tabby and Haseo arrive. Polar opposites in terms of their temperaments, both find themselves joining the small guild known as The Twilight Brigade, which seeks the mysterious Key of the Twilight, an item which may or may not exist. But when the two guild leaders, Ovan and Shino, disappear, Shino sent into a coma by the vicious AI (or player killer) Tri-Edge, Haseo turns obsessive. Is saving her possible? Or saving him? And is The World really just a game?
In this third series in the overarching .hack franchise, which is comprised of anime, manga, light novels, and games, you have to wonder if it's worth going back into Cyber-Connect's MMORPG “The World.” At least in part this is because, based on the events of the show, it appears to be the most boring role-playing game ever: most of the main characters seem to spend more time standing around talking and theorizing about the mythical features of the game than actually playing. Certainly we could say that this is just the “RP” part of the RPG, but let's face it, watching fantasy avatars stand and gab in a vaguely Venetian setting is not the stuff great viewing is made of. At least one of the main characters, ostensible protagonist Haseo, is obviously unimpressed by the game for at least half of the twenty-six episodes, making us question why he doesn't just stop playing and go read a book or something.
As you might have guessed from the above paragraph, .hack//Roots has some issues. The story has promise enough: Haseo and Tabby are two new players in the latest iteration of CC Corp's MMORPG “The World.” Tabby is playing for fun, and she's really into the multi-player aspect, enjoying meeting new people and working with others. Haseo, on the other hand, appears just to be playing because he has nothing better to do, and despite the fact that he gets pulled into a small guild called The Twilight Brigade, really doesn't seem all that keen to interact with anyone else. When, at roughly the halfway point, the woman who essentially bugged him until he joined the guild falls into a coma after being killed by a mysterious (and very creepy looking) character named Tri-Edge, Haseo becomes obsessed with saving her all by himself, spurning the help of Tabby and other players as he misses the point of playing an MMO. His route and Tabby's are parallel: by the end Haseo must learn to allow others in, while Tabby has to come to realize that not everyone wants help (or to help) and that she has to rely on herself rather than on others. It's an interesting trajectory for both characters, albeit a little moreso for Tabby, whose lesson is more unique in anime, but it suffers in its execution from glacial pacing, an excess of characters, and a very inconclusive ending. This last is because the series is actually a prequel to the .hack//GU games, and thus presumably meant to make you want to play the games to get the rest of the story. (The games are, as of this writing, out of print but still available.) While that may be a good marketing technique, it makes for an unsatisfying viewing experience.
.hack//Roots does have some interesting ties to the previous series in the franchise, with perhaps the most interesting being the Forest of Pain episodes, which seem to have a direct link to the lyrics of the song “A Stray Child” from the .hack//SIGN soundtrack. The idea of “cling[ing] to your lonesome folly” that the song speaks of is very evident in Haseo's single-minded attempt to best the Forest, and indeed his attitude for the entire second half of the show. Aura is also mentioned, and of course viewers of the previous series will be familiar with the concept of the Key of the Twilight, which the Twilight Brigade is initially seeking. None of this is strictly necessary to understand the plot of .hack//Roots, but it does add some interest to the proceedings. Also a nice touch is early on in the show when two player killers (Pkers) are using female avatars but after killing switch to their real, masculine voices. It makes for an interesting contrast as well as a comment about female avatars in games: they don't always have a woman behind them and you don't always know who is telling you the truth online. This is borne out by the character Phyllo as well, who appears to be hiding something himself.
Animation for this series is firmly mediocre, and as for the music, Ali Project provides most of the vocals, which doesn't work for all of the songs, particularly the ending theme, which is discordant. While neither dub track nor sub track feature any remarkable voices, the dub has the quality of a radio show or audiobook – you can almost just listen to it and not watch the show without missing much. Funimation's re-release of this title comes without any real extras – there's a sleeve for the DVD case, original commercials, clean opening and closing, and that's about it.
.hack//Roots is not the most interesting or exciting series set inside a role-playing game. None of the characters seem to really grasp that it's just a game (although arguably Haseo has a valid reason to forget later on), not much happens, and unusually for a series in this franchise, no one is even stuck in the game until episode ten, almost half-way through the episode count. The game itself also uses its own rules inconsistently, which can get irritating, particularly in terms of how private conversations are used.
When it was first released in 2006, this show had more of a leg to stand on in terms of its portrayal of characters living vicariously in a video game world. Today, with both Sword Art Online and Log Horizon, and to a lesser extent BTOOOM and No Game, No Life, it doesn't quite hold up.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C
Story : D+
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : B-
+ Interesting links to earlier franchise entries, Tabby's and Haseo's parallel journeys contrast well. Players creating new characters rings true, some good music.
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