Hakuoki OVA Collection – A Memory Of Snow Flowers (Cert 12)
1 Disc (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 154 minutes approx.
Hakuoki is the franchise that just keeps on giving. Not content with giving us three series based on historically based events of the Shogunate’s police force, the Shinsengumi, the series continues with the six OVAs featured in this release.
Set during the time line of the first series the basic premise is a mini story arc in which an undercover mission executed by the sole female of the Shinsengumi, Chizuru Yukimura. When her friend Sen-hime shares the news that some rogue samurai have been hanging around the local geisha house bragging about attacking Shinsengumi headquarters, Chizuru is encouraged to disguise herself as a geisha to try and discern any further information. Concerned for her wellbeing, the other squad members take it upon themselves to play protector to Chizuru, hence each episode telling the story from the different perspectives of the squad members, covering the time period before, during and after the mission.
TB sufferer Souji Okita is first up, having been the one who suggested Chizuru undertake this mission, with the episode leaping forward to after the events have concluded due to Okita being grounded as his illness worsens. This is a nothing episode and a dull way to kick off this mini saga. The serious Saitou Hajime is next up, offering himself as Chizuru’s bodyguard for the duration of the mission. A recurring theme in these episodes is how the sight of Chizuru all dolled up in make-up and geisha attire makes her suddenly desirable to her male colleagues. The normally stoic Hajime is no different and finds himself close to making a declaration of love to his female friend.
A more serious and interesting episode, which apparently has no bearing on the main story, sees Chizuru and Sanosuke Harada face off against the local authorities acting as border control for people crossing into town, abusing their position against the weaker folk. Heisuke Todo, the Shinsengumi member closest to Chizuru’s age, is the next to fall for her painted charms, leaving her alone at the geisha house to insist that she be pulled from the mission. Meanwhile a foe of the group Kazama Chikage shows up and tries to have his way with Chizuru. Commander Toshizo Hijikata’s participation deals mostly with the fall out of the mission as he walks the still disguised Chizuru home from the geisha house, only to have the public think – much to his eternal shame – that he is running away with a geisha!
But what of the mission itself? If this was such a big threat to the Shinsengumi why was it not featured in great detail? Fear not, this is where the sixth episode comes into play. A full five minutes longer than the others it expands upon the brief snippets we saw in the previous episodes with some depth and concludes the story with additional material. The central perspective this time comes from the apparent antagonist Kazama Chikage, who might not be such bad bloke after all as she saves Chizuru from some bother when her comrades let her down, although his motives may not be so chivalrous after all.
If the title seems misleading it should be explained that the days following mission occurred when there was snowfall over town, and this change in weather brings about a change in the personalities of the male cast. The titular flower, one can assume, is Chizuru herself, seeing as her hitherto obscured beauty rocks the sensibilities of her male colleagues and presumably their libidos too! There is something a little shallow and sexist I suppose about the fact that Chizuru doesn’t even register on their radars until she gets a make over, as though she is only a woman in their eyes when glammed up, and simply their female housekeeper at all other times.
The other side of this is how Chizuru’s transformation amplifies the role protector found in all of the men, although this is one they all assumed when she was first accepted into the group. Again, it is remarkable that a bit of lipstick, rouge, a flash kimono and new hairdo should awaken these instincts or perhaps this idea is to expose this weakness even the toughest of men have towards the fairer sex? To their credit, they don’t all go gaga and take leave of their senses, but the testosterone does flow with more passion when it is necessary for swords to be drawn or punches to be thrown.
And unfortunately Chizuru herself is largely reduced to being a passive victim, and name checking her saviours when they arrive, which I am sure won’t please many female viewers; then again she was never really defined as a fighting girl, more a determined one who still needs a burly protector by her side. At least she keeps her clothes on!
True to the format of the previous releases in this series, the focus is on the characters and action is a secondary concern. A few clashes of blades here and there and some fun punch ups break up the prolix passages but nothing here diverts from the blueprint already established. Since the objective of this mini arc was to allow us to get to know the male leads better, as well as the shady Chikage, this has been achieved but it does so at the expense of what could have been a chance to deviate from the norm and offer action fans a story driven extravaganza which we all know is hidden beneath the anodyne façade of the wistful art and garrulous scripts.
If you’re a fan of the series as it is then welcome this release with open arms. The rest of us will see this as a missed opportunity to experiment and inject some much needed samurai based excitement into the franchise, instead viewing this as an extended reminder that Hakuoki is essentially a historical reverse harem show.
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ***
Man In Black