The war goes worse and worse for the Bakufu and for Hijikata in particular.
What They Say:
After tasting the humiliation of being forced to flee to Edo, the members of the Shinsengumi have become disillusioned. Not only are they disappointed by the Shogun’s behavior, but they are also facing personal problems. Kondou is still recovering from his gun wound. Okita is still bedridden due to both his illness and his bullet wounds. Heisuke must watch over Sanna, who seems to be slowly slipping into madness. And meanwhile, Hijikata is desperately fighting to keep the Shinsengumi together.
Still, no matter how dangerous the battle becomes, there is no stepping down, and the veins of the Shinsengumi are filled with the jade blood of the truly loyal. As the flames of war march up and down the length and breadth of the land, they must prepare to return to the battlefield once more or risk losing more than just their lives.
Contains episodes 1-10.
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 ten episodes for this set is spread across two discs evenly with five each. The show is animated by Studio Deen and it has a good look about it with some very good detail as it deals 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 blood red 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 the clean versions of the opening and closing sequence.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After the first twelve episodes of the series, Hakuoki certainly created a particular version of history with the use of the Shinsengumi and their story by bringing in the supernatural aspect. That’s not all that unusual to do, but they did it in an interesting way by making it more widespread and involved with the fighting that was going on by creating the Fury Corps and what they brought to the table. The use of Chizuru and her devil history, something she’s not all that aware of for awhile, adds nicely to it overall though it’s mostly there in the end to create different kinds of tension, with her brother, “father” and others.
With the second half of the first season with its ten episode run, events pretty much keep moving forward in a way consistent for the most part with history. Therein lies where things tend to be a bit less interesting unfortunately, since the minor changes because of the Fury Corps and those of the Shinsengumi that changed end up not really changing things dramatically. As the fighting goes on, there’s a lot of issues that happen along the way, particularly with the more noteworthy Shinsengumi members such as Kondou as the war doesn’t go as one might expect. It’s the hardest on him in a way as the tried and true methods of courage winning the day over superior numbers just doesn’t work when you have so many rank and file opponents laying down a barrage of bullets. The up close and personal aspect of warfare is lost in this way since you could work it even when arrows were a significant aspect.
The path the various members take is varied of course as they deal with these superior forces, sometimes winning a battle but generally being pushed all over the place due to the lack of numbers and ability to really hold the line when you get down to it. There’s the eventually push to heading to Ezo to hold that as a place to start a new kingdom/country as well, which brings many of the forces there. The naval side plays out a bit too, though that has its problems as well as a lot is lost along the way. I do like it when it shifts to Ezo and the way they tried to hold onto that piece of land in order to fulfill their dreams, but it’s also a given after how much history was followed properly that it would end badly here as well. The show has some nice ideas at times and decent execution, but it continually felt like it was going in the predictable direction.
While the Furies and their creation and issues with Kodo come into play alongside all of this, the show’s main focus really is on the characters of Hijikata and Chizuru. Hijikata’s becoming a Fury was a difficult piece before, especially with all the truth about it that’s been revealed with what it means to be one, His struggle with being a Fury impacts him deeply and he’s hugely resistant to doing what’s needed to regain strength at times and recover from some deeper wounds. Chizuru’s constantly offering herself to him in this regard, but the few times he does take her up on it there’s a real sense of shame about himself with what it does to her and to his own sense of self.
As it progresses, the two have a real back and forth relationship of sorts since he’s continually pushing her away, both to keep her out of danger from the war but also away from himself. She struggles with it herself since she wants to be of service to him because of how deep her feelings have become after all this time. But she has to be properly respectful in so many ways that it’s a classic kind of romance that brews ever so slowly over the years that they know each other. The progress of it is pretty well done here in this set as it covers a couple of years worth of material overall and seeing the way they orbit each other, refusing to admit their own feelings for each until things begin to reach a climax in the story. I do wish more time had been spent showing the good times between them, but the few fragments we get really are nicely done and leave you wanting more.
With this set bringing the first season to a close, Hakuoki offers up an interesting take on the Shinsengumi characters overall and how it can be reworked a little bit while not truly affecting it overall. That’s the main problem I had with it in the end, since there were so many times where it felt like it was just going through the motions in terms of the battles themselves. That ends up just carrying the characters through it as well since they weren’t able to really effect any serious change on the events even if they weren’t like they truly work due to the Fury abilities. The fights continue to be well executed and the sense of style and choreography is well done, but what helps to hold this half of the season together in an interesting way is watching the slow dance between Chizuru and Hijikata as they come to understand just how much they need each other while still being proper all the time. Hakuoki has a lot going for it, but after the past decade with so many Shinsengumi based stories, it doesn’t feel like it really takes any huge chances to do something different with impact.
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: December 25th, 2012
Running Time: 250 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.