The .hack franchise is something of an anomaly. The anime was created as part of a much larger project and it's something that has drawn in quite the crowd. With games, comics, and various series all tying together to create a unique and engaging experience it's not surprising that a third .hack show has been produced.
.hack//Roots takes place in The World like the other series Signs and Legend of Twilight. It also follows the events of the game franchises such as G.U. and the original .hack trilogy. Well, actually, Roots is a prequel to G.U. and features a storyline that sets up the events of the new game franchise. To the uninitiated none of that may make sense but trust me when I tell you that the relationship between each project works wonders for appreciating this show.
The premise behind the .hack universe is quite simple really. With the rise in popularity of the MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) genre players across the globe have logged into a digital universe called The World. On the surface it seems to be standard RPG fare with missions to accept, monsters to kill, items to find, and friends to play with. However, there's something sinister working behind the scenes of The World and players around the world are suffering because of it. Players log in and out and though this is only a game it quickly becomes a world that seems real to the people who play in it.
In the third installment of Roots the Twilight Brigade was dealing with the disappearance of Ovan. He vanished under mysterious circumstances in the second volume and nobody knows what's going on. Shakisaka got fed up with the constant dallying about and decided to leave the Brigade and Tabby soon followed suit. The volume also spent a fair amount of time focusing on Haseo and Shino's budding relationship. Towards the end a little bit of mystery was thrown into the fold as Haseo went to the mysterious church and snapped.
The strange and often muted tone of Roots carries through into the fourth installment. The first episode focuses strongly on Tabby's involvement in everything and her presence in the World. She has been playing with the idea of quitting the game because things just don't seem to be going the way that she wanted them to. I mean, what's the point of playing a game if all of your buddies aren't around? There are some nice moments towards the end of the first episode with Phyllo as Tabby decides to stick around the World for a while.
As the second episode continues this volume we still see Tabby trying to work her way back into the game. Meanwhile Haseo has become obsessed with tracking down and defeating Tri-Edge, which if you have been following is the guy that looks like Kite who is traveling around between areas. Both of these storylines continue through to the fourth episode as Haseo continues to seek more power. He enters the Forest of Pain in search of something that will aid him in his quest but not much is known about the Forest other than the fact that it sucks to try to go through.
Unfortunately for Roots there isn't a lot of stuff that happens in this volume that makes sense. The show feels like it has kind of stalled out now that it's over the halfway point and there really isn't anything going on that feels compelling. I have begun not to care whether or not Tabby plays the game and Haseo's quest for power; while an interesting shift for his character, just isn't presented well.
If you were a fan of the other .hack series then Roots is probably an easy recommendation. Sadly the show feels very drawn out and you'll get the impression that there's a carrot dangling in front of you. That sensation of being strung along doesn't sit well this late in the game and I'm beginning to wonder if there will actually be a satisfactory payoff. Time will tell and hopefully the next installment will be better.
.hack//Roots is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The show looks very slick with its strong fantasy design and the art style is definitely that of a .hack series. As far as the transfer quality is concerned what's presented here is relatively free of flaws. There is no aliasing and only a few instances where grain and compression artifacts pop up. That's fairly impressive considering that five episodes are featured on this disc. Overall this is a nice looking series that is presented well on DVD.
With two 2.0 stereo tracks (English and Japanese) .hack//Roots doesn't sound quite as immersive as other series on the market. The lack of a 5.1 surround presentation leaves Roots rooted on the front channel with no diversity on the soundstage. Technically speaking this isn't very surprising and it's not the worst but this is a series that would have been well-served by some rear channel support. The dubbing quality is good on both accounts and whether you prefer English or Japanese you'll be pleased.
Like the other volumes of Roots you'll find some trailers and a short promotional video for the Japanese DVD release in the extras menu.
If you're a fan of the .hack universe then checking out Roots is most likely something you have already done. The series promises more of the same with plenty of ties to previous incarnations and other sections of the franchise. Unfortunately this fourth volume doesn't maintain the level of quality offered by the prior three and not a lot happens. These storylines lack the passion that was in the earlier ones and I found myself yawning with boredom on occasion. I'm going to go with a rental suggestion for this volume but if you have been following the series to date then you'll probably pick it up anyway.