Hakouki Series One Collection – Demon Of The Fleeting Blossom (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 286 minutes approx.
During the Shogunate period of late 19th century Japan, Chizuru Yukimura arrives in Kyoto from Edo, disguised as a boy, searching her missing father, volunteer doctor Kodo Yukimura. While hiding from some angry ronin chasing her, Chizuru witnesses them being slain by a demon samurai called a Rasetsu, which in turn is slain by members of the Shinsengumi, the Shogunate’s police force. Taking her back to their headquarters for questioning, they reveal to Chizuru that they too are searching for her father in relation to an undisclosed illicit medicine he is said to be involved in the creation of. They agree to allow Chizuru to stay on with them, acting as her protectors, while they look together for her father.
This is a rather unique concept – the historical reverse harem! A cute girl outnumbered by burly male protectors is not a new idea (Fruits Basket comes to mind) but one set during the last days of feudal Japan is. Originally beginning life as a video game Studio DEEN was tasked with bringing the saga of Chizuru Yukimura and her bevy of beefy bodyguards to life in animation form, which also veered off into a manga adaptation. Video games aren’t always the most fruitful of sources for a successful anime series, most of which rely on fan service and flimsy storytelling to make their presence felt, setting Hakuoki a tall challenge to reverse this trend.
Admittedly the first episode is rather dull once the opening display of graphic violence involving the demon ronin is swiftly shunted aside for some protracted character introduction/story exposition. Despite Chizuru obviously being female it takes almost the entire episode for this revelation to shock her new found Shinsengumi friends! And they’re tasked with protecting the Shogun? Chizuru has another shocking revelation that even she was unaware of which doesn’t surface until later in the show’s run which presents more questions than it does answers. Bit for now, she is welcomed to the fold, accompanying the guys on their duties in the hope of finding her father, but still in the guise of a boy. This becomes important down the line when they meet a hostess named Kaoru who is the spitting image of Chizuru – and she too has a shocking secret that will have a startling effect on the group’s missions.
Initially the show follows the gradual build up of having our protagonists face a weekly challenge before an overarching story takes hold. Involving the main rivals of the Shinsengumi, the Bakumatsu group are sworn enemies of the state and their assassination attempts of the Shogun and his officials keep the Shinsegumi busy. However they have an interest in the medicine that Dr. Yukimura has developed for it is said to be an elixir with great healing properties that also gives the recipient additional strength, although it comes with a dangerous side effects. In other words, Chizuru’s father invented steroids! It’s actually more serious than that as the side effect is the creation of the Rasetsu and in the eyes of the Bakumatsu that means an army of effective and blood thirsty killing machines.
With Chizuru serving as series narrator, the various battles and story developments are built around real life incidents in Japanese history to air of authenticity to the historical remit of the show to offset the supernatural facets of the story. It’s an unusual blend but one that is not new to anime but in this instance is a fairly successful fusion of ideas. It lends it self to some gory violence, which, while infrequent, is on par with horror fare than your average samurai show. The Rasetsu are human based in their manifestation making them considerably more believable as demon samurai, keeping the fantasy based developments firmly within the realm of credibility.
The central concern to for many fans however will be the harem set up with the lone girl surrounded by a group of men. Some of you may be disappointed to learn that yes, Chizuru is quickly adopted as the resident housekeeper, cook and maid although the men do their share too. And while the vow to protect Chizuru, she is not above getting stuck in to on the fight front despite her obvious limitations. As you might expect, each of the men have their own personalities that fit the familiar tropes behoved to such a set up – Toshizo Hijikata, the serious commander; Souji Okita, the peerless swordsman who suffers from TB; Keisuke Yamanami, the scholarly one; Isami Kondo, the emotional one; Shinpachi Nagakura, the alcoholic womaniser; and Heisuke Todo, the fun spirited one who is the same age as Chizuru.
With so many characters to focus on and just twelve episodes, room for development is sorely limited thus it is easy for the audience to forget who is who, especially since the designs are fairly similar and uniform for the period. On the antagonist front, faces come and go with only a few returning to play a significant role although to elaborate would be to spoil so we’ll leave it there. Suffice to say, the series doesn’t end here so interest in the second series will be at a high following the climax of this release.
On the visual front DEEN deliver a good looking show with vibrant colours and strongly defined artwork. The action sequences may be rare but they are smoothly animated and at a manageable pace so we don’t lose any of the movements to motion blur.
Hakuoki is a hard show to get handle on as it has tremendous potential on the story front, even without total originality in its favour, but the execution is often slow and directionless with too much verbosity and exposition where action would suffice. The distinct change of pace in the second half brings with it a marked improvement, but only if the first half hasn’t deterred you from staying the distance. Hopefully the second series picks up the baton from here and runs with it!
Disc 2 only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ***
Man In Black