What They Say:
Disguised as a man, Chizuru Yukimura has come to Kyoto searching for her missing father, a doctor who developed a magical elixir that increases the drinker’s speed, strength, and healing abilities. Instead of her father, however, she stumbles across a battle between the Shinsengumi and the Furies, evil vampire-like creatures of their own making.
It turns out the Shinsengumi are also searching for her father, and when they discover who she is, they decide to take her into their custody for safekeeping. But her sex is not the only secret Chizuru has, and as more and more Furies begin appearing in Kyoto and the situation becomes ever deadlier, the Shinsengumi may find that the Furies are the least of their problems!
Contains episodes 1-12.
The audio presentation for this series is solid as we get a bilingual production where both the Japanese and English language mixes are in stereo encoded at 224kbps. The show has a good blend of ambiance, action and dialogue to tell the tale. When the show deals with the quieter moments, taking in the scenes or just making you feel like there’s something important going on, it covers it well without overplaying its hand. The action isn’t constant but it does it right with some good strong moments that lets you feel the blades hitting each other. The show works the forward soundstage well while not being completely focused on the center channel. Dialogue moves when appropriate in terms of placement and a bit of depth and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2010, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The twelve episode show is strangely spread across three discs, four episodes to a disc, rather than the usual fifty/fifty split they get. The show is animated by Studio Deen and it has a good look about it with some very good detail as it daels with the 1860’s of Japan. It’s more the backgrounds than anything else, but the characters aren’t skimped on at all. The show has plenty of space since it’s spread out across three discs but there’s a fair bit of noise in some of the more solid areas of the characters. There’s not a big grain feel to it but it has a touch of that when it comes to the overall way the show is presented. Hakuoki may not be the most striking of shows but it covers things well with its visual presentation here and is pretty standard DVD fare.
The packaging for this release is a little bit of a mixed bag as it gives us some good looking visuals of the characters and the lightness coming from it with all the cherry blossoms, but it’s got the creeping murkiness about it from the darker sides and background overall the envelops the characters. It does fit thematically of course with what’s going on with the show, but with the unusual script for the logo, the small font for the subtitle and the general look of it, it’s something that could go either way for people and leaves me feeling a little meh about it at best. The back cover is a bit cleaner with the top half using the visual design of the Shinsengumi outfits as part of the background while drawing in the illustration side of the character designs for a couple of the men on either side. The summary covers things well and it makes it clear this is the complete first season. A few shots form the show are included but they’re pretty hard to check out because they’re dark and small. The production credits are clean and solid and the technical grid is accurate and useful. There’s no show related inserts included, though we get a piece talking about the PSP game, nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release fits in nicely with the theme of the show as it splits the menu mostl yin half. The left side features different pieces of character artwork which has some nice detail and a good look to it while being paired with the logo. The right side goes for the episode selection breakdown which is clean as it lists both episode number and title in large print. The language selection and extras are outside of those boxes but are quick to access and language selection is a breeze as you can easily tell what’s selected. Everything loads quickly and with a bit of upbeat vocal music playing along, it’s easy to navigate and fun to listen to.
The only extras included with this release are on the first disc where we get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequence.
Based on the video game series of the same name that started off on the PlayStation 2, Hakuoki has managed a few seasons since this first one began with the latest hitting during the summer of 2012. One of the pluses for it as it started out with this season and then went on to an OVA, shorter seasons and the latest season is that it’s maintained the same crew throughout it, giving it all a consistent flow and feel as it works off of that original source material. With the show having so much going on, I was a bit hesitant going into it since there’s that knowledge that there’s a lot of material to come and you have to wonder just how much this first season will actually cover.
The show takes us to 1863 Kyoto Japan, at least to start, as the twelve episodes moves us through late 1867 as well. The introduction comes with a young woman named Chizuru Yukimura who has come there in search of her father Kodo, a medicine man who left their home in order to help out as the country is going through so many changes. What her life brings her is two different but very well connected stories that spans all these years, which is rather interesting to see since it’s not all compressed into a small amount of time. Through some threatening circumstances, Chizuru encounters the Shinsengumi and finds herself caught up in their situation since they can’t be too sure about what she’s seen. Of course, since she’s dressed up as a boy, some of them are a little surprised to learn that she’s actually a she.
With this being a tumultuous time in the story of the Shinsengumi, we see it covered as Chizuru gets to know this group as they deal with the shifting tide of history, from the battle at Ikeda Inn to the Choshu making more incursions and the loss of allies with the Aizu and more. The threat of Kyoto being burned comes into play and other very familiar stories for those that have seen series revolving around this group. It’s kept grounded and we see most of it through Chizuru’s eyes as she becomes the only girl to reall ywork with them by taking care of the place and them. With them wanting to help her find her father because of his connection to the group, it works nicely and they become something of a family, though there are plenty of tensions at times.
While this would be a decent series in itself, the show has another angle that it brings into play at the start and mixes in carefully here and there until it becomes stronger. When Chizuru arrives in Kyoto, she encounters some dead white looking Shinsengumi and learns that there’s a medicine that they took which turned them into Failed Samurai’s of some sort, which her father is discovered to be involved with. That becomes one of the ties that binds her with the group, but there’s more as it goes along as there is an evolution to the medicine that some of the members get tempted by but also an intriguing background story for Chizuru that isn’t obvious at first where she’s part of something much larger that she was unaware of as well. It brings a supernatural aspect into the show in a smoother way since it’s not hitting us over the head hard at first but rather does it bit by bit. Even when it’s more of a focus because of the expansion on the forces, it still comes back to the characters themselves.
When the show does shift tot his larger campaign, introducing the devils that exist in the world and how they view the normal people, it does feel a little convoluted. I’ve always found this time period to be convoluted to begin with since ideologies change with the wind and everything is in a state of flux, never mind having seen so many variations on the reality that it all blurs now and it just gets more confusing. When you bring this third group in that has its own convoluted history, with family’s that have gone missing or extinct over the years and its own infighting and dynamics associated with it, it does change things up a bit and makes it more interesting since you wonder how the Shinsengumi will be affected by it and where their allegiances may lay, especially since some end up changing along the way before much of this even becomes knowledge within the group.
Hakuoki takes a familiar premise by dealing with the Shinsengumi and bringing a young woman into the mix on her own journey, yet having a connection between them. What’s unknown is just how big the connection really is and what her own back story truly is as she doesn’t know herself. Much of the show works the traditional Shinsengumi story with tweaks and changes along the way that work nicely without distorting key moments too much. But there are changes as it goes along because of the supernatural nature and that definitely has a lot of appeal as it’s revealed slowly and in pieces that build on top of each other. While it does become a greater focus as it goes on, the characters themselves aren’t lost as we et to spend a good bit of time with them beforehand and because it’s spread out over several years worth of events, allowing us to see Chizuru being an integral part of the group. The show definitely doesn’t end here, since there are more seasons out there, but it does serve to end the first chapter and change the direction nicely with where it’ll go from there. It’s left me curious to see what else is in store for this particular telling of the story.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: September 25th, 2012
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.