In this latest incarnation of the show, four years have passed and the virtual world is supposedly much safer for those who use it. A little girl, Rena, and her brother, Shugo, win a contest so they get to don the character images of two retired contestants from years past. This leads a number of people to hover around them, either for the fame element or to further their own plans, and the young duo soon find out that their lack of skill in the world leaves them vulnerable to attack.
Their motivations for playing the game vary, Shugo just wants to spend time with his sister (they are separated from one another due to family matters) and she thinks they'll have a lot of fun exploring the popular game together. As the episodes progressed, it became evident that a new mystery has arisen, one that involves the two young players but it probably won't be for quite some time before anything meaningful is known about it. While Volume 1 was mainly devoted to setting up the premise, this second volume started the real story. Rena is "killed" in a battle but her consciousness doesn't return to her body, as it is supposed to do. Instead, it is somehow lost and this sets in motion the story where Shugo must find, and save, his sister with the help of his new friends. Complicating the matter is that the system administrators are apparently in denial about the problem, a problem that is more widespread than anyone cares to acknowledge. Shugo soon finds himself on the run from the authorities that have clamped down on any player modifications, such as his bracelet (and all the power it gives him), banning such people from the game. If the authorities capture Shugo, he knows finding his sister will prove impossible, so he takes to finding her by sheer will. The episodes this time were:
Episode Five: Mansion Of Terror
This version of the popular series seemed geared far more to children than the previous one did since the attitude, the characters behavior, and the entire setting was more simplistic. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what you're looking for. Personally, I enjoy the type of series where you have to engage your brain more so this was only worth a Rent It from me but those with kids looking for some light entertainment might enjoy this one a whole lot more. On the bright side, the series did start getting more interesting with this volume so I can honestly say it was getting better.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 ratio Anamorphic Widescreen and looked great. The colors were vibrant and as clear as I think I've seen on my television. While the anime style itself wasn't the most detailed, it had a lot going for it in terms of a "look" that fans seem to like. I didn't see any artifacts or other dvd transfer problems when I watched it.
Sound: The sound was presented with a choice of 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo English or Japanese with optional English subtitles. The vocals on each track were well done and the music was also exceptionally clear and appropriate. The separation and dynamic range of the audio channels was very well developed and this added to the pleasure of the show.
Extras: There was the usual textless opening and closing, art gallery sketches, trailers, minimal paper insert, and credits but nothing exciting to mention.
Final Thoughts: If you liked the show this one came from or the videogame itself, you might well enjoy it more than I did. My rating was primarily given for those with no exposure to the series since this is one that most anime lovers will either like or hate with little middle ground between them. I'll reserve my judgment as to where the show is headed or if it's just another attempt to cash in on the franchise but it had some potential. Perhaps we'll get to see that potential realized in later volumes. The show did get more interesting here and I think it may be worth a higher rating if it continues to improve but it was still designed more for the younger crowd or those who love the videogame.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime article!