Hakouki Series Two Collection – Record Of The Jade Blood (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 238 minutes approx.
If your memory isn’t too bright then you may want to go back to the end of series one before starting on this follow up as it dives right back into the action, without the helpful recap OVA our Japanese friends got.
You ready? Okay then. So, season two picks up with the Shogunate’s police force, the Shinsengumi having been defeated in their battle at Fushimi, losing many members in the process. The surviving squad under the command of acting leader Toshizo Hijikata retreat to Edo to recuperate where they are eventually rejoined by their commander Kondo who informs them they are changing their name to Kouyou Chinbutai, while expressing his own ambitions of becoming a daimyo. This creates a feeling of distrust among the ranks along with dissatisfaction’s with the Shogunate apparent signs of weakness shown towards the Imperialist uprising.
While this political turmoil continues to dictate the fortunes of the soldiers’ lives, the real reason the Shinsengumi are being overwhelmed is due to the opposition having embraced modernity especially with their weaponry. With the Edo period now officially over and the Meiji era now commencing, western armoury such as canons and guns are in use along with less cumbersome uniforms while the old guard remain loyal to their swords and weighty armour. Hijikata encourages his troop to adapt to this new philosophy, right down to changing their clothes and getting their hair cut, which causes a stir among certain quarters still beholden to tradition. However the Shinsengumi have a secret weapon – their ability to transform into powerful vampiric warriors with impressive strength and speed.
The first series of Hakuoki was a difficult one to enjoy due to its sluggish pace, lack of story focus and awkward character development. Series two, while an improvement, offers more of the same but with a lot more action. Yet curiously, a lot happens here but none of it really seems to sink in and stay with the viewer as the story is fed to us piecemeal. With less cast members to focus on, the opportunity for the remaining ones to be given the fully endear themselves to the audience is again missed, still hampered by the fact many are similar in appearance. The only constant is young Chizuru Yukimura, who remains the typical servant/nursemaid/damsel in distress female lead despite being the nominal main conduit for much of the main plot.
If you recall she was supposed to be searching for her absent father, a doctor who went missing while on a volunteer job. Well, he resurfaces at the end of the episode two then summarily disappears until episode eight! The big reveal behind his reappearance is one we all suspected from clues dropped in the first season, but at least he had his daughter in mind when he perpetrated this act. Staying with the family theme, the Chizuru doppelganger from series one, who it turned out was her twin brother Kaoru, also returns to reveal himself to his shocked sister and settle his debt with her, which naturally ends in a bloody fashion.
The most remarkable aspect of our hapless heroine is how she never changes – literally. The story, which is based on genuine Japanese history, is told over a number of years and thus far, almost a decade has passed yet Chizuru aged a bit. By now she should be a buxom woman yet she remains a slight child. It is not until the penultimate episode in this run that she finally ditches her yukata and sports western attire, long after everyone else has. This is just one anomaly that spoils the otherwise historical accuracy of this show – vampires aside of course.
A much needed setback in the development of the vampire army, the Rasetsu, arrives early in the going here when it is discovered that using this power limits the life force of the possessor. Once their limit has been reached they literally crumble to dust and fade away. With many of the Shinsengumi having drunk the potion to change them into Rasetsu, their reliance on this ability is increased as the battles become more dangerous. Meanwhile Hijikata suffers from bloodlust and the only person whose blood will satiate him is – you guessed it – Chizuru.
Putting aside the supernatural aspect, one has to applaud the commitment to the historical facts present in the storylines, interweaving them with the plight of the characters. The temptation for abusing this for the sake of the show must have been great for the writers, with no shortage of precedents set in this area as far as anime is concerned so it is refreshing, especially for us westerners who will be unfamiliar with many of the references, to be able to consult external sources and records to find these events and the timeline they are set in are completely genuine.
The flaws in the story and the pacing are again offset by the smooth animation and detailed artwork. As time marches on the various changes in the aesthetics of the buildings, attire and the fashions have been well observed and faithfully replicated here while the fight scenes remain a steady source of a adrenaline for the action junkies watching – this time with more blood! While the action quotient is noticeably higher in this release this is still very much a more dialogue/character driven show so patience is a virtue for those in it for the slicing and dicing.
Hakuoki season two will either please the fans returning from the first volume or will fail to win over those remain unconvinced that this is worthy of their time and investment. Arguably a more emotional and development heavy outing than its predecessor it still meanders along at its own pace which will be its downfall for many, but is still far from being a failure.
A third series is naturally lurking in the shadows which we can only hope provides us with a satisfactory conclusion to this decidedly middle-of-the-road saga.
Disc 2 only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ***
Man In Black