The third installment in the .hack series had a lot it needed to live up to and make amends for. The first is typically held as a well-loved anime, the second is chibi-infused garbage. So, as the next big installment in the franchise takes a look at a new world, one different from both of the other series. But does restarting the whole game actually make for a good series?
Let’s take a look at .hack//Roots.
A review copy was provided by FUNimation Entertainment.
The plot follows new player Haseo who is entering The World R:2, the second incarnation of The World. As soon as he arrives, however, he gets killed by two other players, only to be revived by an advanced player Ovan. In return, Ovan asks Haseo to join his guild in an attempt to find The Key of Twilight, the magical mcguffin that everyone’s obsessed with and yet no one ever believes exists. He’s joined by cheerful and kind Shino, over-the-top newbie Tabby, and harsh Sakisaka. I will say the ending of the anime isn’t satisfying — there are a lot of questions to be answered, so if you’re looking for something self contained in one show, you might want to try a different series.
As protagonists go, Haseo is an upgrade from Legend of the Twilight’s Shugo, who if you remember was an annoying adolescent who had a weird fixation with his sister. A high schooler who lives alone, he appears to be self-sufficent albeit stubborn young man. He comes to deeply care for Shino, the matriarch of the guild who care deeply about Ovan and his posey, but is also weirdly self-defeating and unnaturally loyal to him. Ovan himself is a badass, albeit one who can be pretty dumb. Tabby and Sakisaka are honestly too stereotypical for me — the former is way too hyper to have any good qualities set in and the latter is that cynical and jaded veteran who’s just downright boring.
That’s not to say that the story doesn’t do its best to make these characters fleshed out and interesting, it just didn’t succeed with Sakisaka and Tabby. However, there are a number of side characters are that quiet interesting, like Phyllo the sage cat, and Naobi and Ender who are two shady characters obsessed with Haseo and Ovan and their abilities. The story also manages to work in a lot of interesting side plots and narrative twists like the virus AIDA in the wake of Aura’s absence and the return of data drain, Haseo becoming a PKK (a player-killer killer), and the true identity of Tri-Edge, the mysterious antagonist.
The biggest issue with this show is that it has a slow start. Unlike Sign, it had no idea how to introduce new viewers into The World nor explain to its old fans what exactly is happening right away without the same boring re-introduction to old concepts. That sets the pace for the show to have a lot of down time and slow moving subplots which just don’t hold one’s attention effectively.
The art is strong, with good design work once more in terms of characters, their outfits, and backgrounds and landscapes. There are a few cheats here and there wherein you can see the animation budget shortcuts. The music is forgettable in terms of the opening and ending them, but the background soundtrack is the kind fans have come to expect from this franchise. The voice acting, overall, is strong on both Japanese and English tracks, with the exception of Tabby who is shrill and annoying whether you’re listen to Megumi Toyoguchi’s or Maryke Hendrikse’s performance (which, to be fair, is the point but it gets to headache-inducing levels quickly). I do think the English version of Haseo, played by Andrew Francis, feels more like a teenager than Takahiro Sakurai, and Sakisaka’s portrayal is a bit more endearing when it comes from Ryotaro Okiayu rather than Alistair Abell, though these actors are all talented and perform their parts well.
The overall tone of this show is melancholic, wherein people come in and out of the game, as well as fall into comas (again) and ponder the meaning of reality and life (again). However, this doesn’t stop the show from being entertaining — it gives the narrative the seriousness it needs to actually make sense of why people stay involved with this crazy, coma-inducing, messed-up game. It also makes it feel like more than just a goal-oriented anime getting from point A to B. However, the ending that leaves the story off right in the middle of the biggest mysteries, really takes a lot of the punch out of the show’s climax.
All in all, .hack//Roots is a strong show that tries to follow up on what made .hack//Sign great and missing the mark by mere inches. Its little flaws add up in the end (in fact, especially the end) but that doesn’t stop it from being a thoroughly enjoyable show that fans can appreciate for its art, mythos, and storyline. I’m hoping the movie answers a lot of the lingering questions, and that it manages to continue with the quality shown here.
– Good plot.
– Good sub and dub.
– Strong characters.
– Good animation/design.
– Tabby is very annoying.
– A few animation short cuts.
– Opening and ending are forgettable/bland.