7 July 2007
The .hack series. If you're into anime or games, you've probably heard of it. It's a giant cross-media affair; a story about an online game that comprised of an anime series, four games and a manga - to begin with, anyway. There's been subsequent games, mangas and OVAs since. The first anime series was .hack//SIGN, and while intriguing, the show was lacking something. Probably a proactive protagonist and decent pacing. Still, the universe had potential, which is probably why it has survived up until the latest anime in the series, .hack//ROOTS.
The .hack universe has proven a consistently interesting one, despite the apparent lack of an intended conclusion in the overall storyline. It's set in 'The World', a massive multiplayer role-playing virtual reality game that contains independent elements outside of the developers' control. The animes have typically revolved around characters that have fallen into comas in the real world after encountering these elements, and .hack//ROOTS takes this approach also.
I held great hopes for .hack//ROOTS. I found .hack//SIGN to be slightly unfulfilling, despite still being enjoyable, but this series got off to a much stronger start with a much more active protagonist. This hope that things might be different was clung on to for most of the series, but when the last episode arrived, bitterly discarded.
The story, as already mentioned, is standard .hack fare. Haseo, a new player to the game, gets recruited by the Twilight Brigade to search for the legendary 'Key of Twilight', which may or may not exist. That's pretty much all I can say about the story, as revealing the few subsequent plot points would be potentially inciting the wrath of the spoiler demons. However, consider this fair warning - don't be expecting any sort of climax or closure. The anime just ends without any resolution whatsoever. Presumably you'll have to buy the games to get the full story. This increasing exclusivity of the .hack series - whereby you have to have seen/played/read ALL OF IT to get the full scope of what's happening - is becoming a severe handicap to its accessibility. Even then, I suspect things would be intentionally left unresolved so as to allow future milking of the franchise anyway. Really, if I wanted to watch shows designed to run forever, I'd be watching popular American television. (And before people jump on it, Naruto and Bleach do not count as both of those series are clearly heading towards some sort of super-resolution. Inuyasha and Tsubasa Chronicles, however, are fair game.)
The animation at least is very nice. The character designs for .hack are always very interesting, and the artwork in general is of an excellent standard. This is a good thing, because you are forced to stare at pretty visuals in which very little happens for a long, long time. That brings up the one other really big gripe about .hack/ROOTS - the editing and direction.
Lack of story resolution aside, the single greatest obstacle to enjoying .hack//ROOTs is the long periods of nothing. Perhaps it was an effort to save their animation budget, but there are ridiculous numbers of instances where there's a long montage of all of the various characters just staring thoughtfully in silence at the sky, or the ground, or the pretty waterfall. Perhaps the series should be renamed to .hack//STARING. Everything takes forever to do. Characters take episodes upon episodes to decide a course of action, and even when they do decide what to do they often won't get around to doing it for another couple of episodes after that. In addition to that, every conversation is punctuated by long-drawn out pauses, as though even the most mundane of comments requires careful mental deliberation before an equally mundane response can be composed. It's not even artful of profound use of silence after a while - it's just clearly padding out a very thin story across 26 episodes while re-using as many shots and backgrounds as possible.
So then once again, a .hack TV series is saved by its soundtrack. Actually, it really uses the soundtrack as a crutch, because god knows how much more boring all of those long drawn out shots of characters doing nothing other than staring into space would have been without such a good soundtrack. In fact, I expect that once you get your hands on the soundtrack, any desire to watch the series will likely evaporate. I would, however, recommend the games. There's a good set of characters and an intriguing story nestled within this series, and it really looks like the games are going to be the only way of ever truly delving into it. It's hard to shake that sensation that the anime is, in a way, merchandise for the games.
.hack//ROOTs should have been a mini-series instead of a full 26-episode affair - after all, once you cut out all of the characters doing nothing for ages and engaging in uncomfortably long dramatic pauses in what should be ordinary conversation, that's all that was probably there. In fact, it would probably make a great 12-episode series, because when things DO actually happen, they're very, very cool. It would just be nice to not have to sit through the endless dithering about before and after every one of those cool plot points, no matter how awesome the music or how pretty the visuals are during these segments.
That said, I keep getting drawn in by the .hack series for some reason. It just seems to have so much potential, and even though it is consistently disappointing, it continually draws you back in like a moth to a flame. Better luck next time, maybe.
Overall score: 468,320/1,000,000
That score would bump up if someone awesome on the internet was to go and edit out of all the useless pauses and staring in the series, thus condensing it down into something a little less boring to watch. Actually, if someone does do that, or somebody finds someone who already has, please send the details to the email@example.com with 'The Tomes' in the subject heading. kthnxbai.