.hack//Roots 1-6

Beginning a new set of ‘backlogged’ articles; the .hack//Roots series begins as a straightforward rant, before turning into more of a parody. Part one was written just after episode six was released.

Sometime last year, when 2005 was just getting underway, I made a decision. Nothing particularly earth-shattering or momentous, just a simple determination- after months of intending to do so, I would finally investigate the .hack franchise. First came the slow-paced but compelling SIGN, then the repetitive yet enjoyable games, Liminality, Legend of the Twilight, even the first AI buster novel. In a few short months, I was transformed from .hack newbie into something of an addict- complete with my own plush grunty (a must for every household).

Still, the time inevitably came when I found I had exhausted practically every aspect of the franchise that was available in English, and at that point I found myself torn. Did I want a decent helping of what would most likely be more of the same, or should I just hope that the whole thing ended as it was before .hack got milked to death? Of course, it was not so much about what I wanted, but what Bandai wanted- more money from hapless consumers. And so, come 2006, .hack began gearing up for its second wave- new games, new anime, new manga, and a whole spread of extras with interesting names but few specifics.

The first of this new generation to reach us (at least for those skilled in the ways of ‘acquisition’) is .hack//Roots, a 26 episode anime series and, unsurprisingly, the target of this rant. Six episodes have aired so far, and despite my not inconsiderable appreciation for the franchise in general, I have to admit that it’s falling short of my expectations.

To put things in context, let’s go back to SIGN. Many people dislike it because the pacing is what you’d politely call ‘measured’ (i.e. slower than a crippled tortoise) but the atmospheric beauty and top quality soundtrack made up for those moments when you sat staring at your screen trying to figure out where the plot was going, or why all the characters had signed up for an MMORPG just to sit and chat all the time. Yes, it had its flaws, but it knew how to make up for them.

Roots, on the other hand, is another story; time has moved on from the old days, and “The World” has been upgraded to “The World:r2”, a newer, and quite frankly far more unattractive place. Gone are the days when one could feast one’s eyes on Balmung whilst resting assured that Piros was pretty much as bad as it got in the visuals department. In this new incarnation of The World, subscription fees seem dependent on the attractiveness of character designs, and the amount of fabric used to clothe them. Thus, for the average punter, the only choice is to choose a cheap, ugly and barely dressed character. And it’s not just generic background characters that suffer this affliction- our leads are just as poorly attired, ranging from “fat guy” to Ovan, the man with a cylindrical terracotta oven on his left arm.

To add insult to injury, Roots fares poorly in the soundtrack department too- the interestingly named Silly-go-Round and National Catharsis are by no means bad tracks, but when compared to FictionJunction and Ali Project’s previous efforts they fall far short of the mark, and are certainly no patch on SIGN’s Obsession and Yasashii Yoake. The background music is equally tame; after Avenger I was really looking forward to see how Ali Project would score the series, but apart from a couple of decent tracks the soundtrack owes far too much to the underwhelming music of Legend of the Twilight.

Yet surely, even if it lacked in style, Roots could at least make up for it in substance. Alas no- six episodes in, and apart from Haseo predictably joining the Twilight Brigade (we even got to see him to agonise between choosing the guild of main characters over the rival guild of incredibly ugly antagonists), little has happened other than various characters meeting up and chatting- even the mostly densely infested field has no greater than 1-2 monsters.

Now admittedly, this was much the case in SIGN, but even if we ignore the superior presentation of that series, it still had the edge when it came to the characters that were actually doing all the talking. Tsukasa’s plight, the manipulations of BT, even the capriciousness of Sora- these were things we could care about. In comparison, Roots has yet to offer any memorable characters- Haseo exists simply to journey from naïve newbie to moody PKK in readiness for the GU games, whilst the semblance of the plot seems to revolve around the fat guy (whose name I cannot even recall), perhaps through some kind of gravitational attraction. My main hope for the series at this time is that Ovan will learn how to cook chicken and rice in his arm.

With the general slating aside, it’s time to finally turn to the episode that sparked off this rant, and in particular, the closing minutes of that episode, better known as the “worst action scene ever”. I had previously thought Tokyo Underground had shown me the worst anime action scenes had to offer, but as last week’s episode proved, new levels of direness were still to be plumbed. It started badly enough; camera zooms in on our heroes as their hair flickers and the background rushes pasts, camera zooms in on Ender in much the same fashion, then just as the two sides are about to clash…we cut away to some dull rocks, catch a glimpse of orange sparks, hear someone cry out- and that’s all folks, cut to ED! Now, I’ve always been one to defend Bee Train’s animation techniques despite their predilection for panning across stills, but after this episode I can’t help feeling that none of my arguments will hold water anymore.

And so, as always, we reach the conclusion of a rant several times longer than I initially intended. Am I disappointed with Roots- well I think the rant speaks for itself. Will I keep on watching? Of course, it’s .hack- I just can’t help myself.

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