With a small story spread throughout, we get six OVAs telling six character tales.
What They Say:
Beauty, grace, intelligence, wit – a geisha should posses all of these and more. The coming war grows more imminent with each passing moment and Kyoto is filled with turbulence as the various factions vie for power. When rumors reach the Shinsengumi that a group of rogue warriors intend to attack their headquarters, they must investigate the situation or risk perishing before they’ve even begun to fight.
The only safe meeting place seems to be the Sumi Inn inside the red light district of Shimabara. It is up to Chizuru to disguise herself as a geisha and infiltrate the inn. But life as a geisha can be filled with hazards of many kinds, especially for one as beautiful as Chizuru.
Contains OVA episodes 1-6.
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 released in 2011 and 2012, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The six episodes for this set is spread across two discs evenly with four on the first and two on the second. 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 the general tone of it all as there’s a lot of almost pastel color palette to it. The focus on the character artwork is not a surprise and it’s nicely detailed and looks well here as it shows off the designs in just the right way. 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 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)
With the first two seasons of the series having moved along fairly well as it introduced the basic situations and managed the characters pretty well with what it wanted to do, we end up with a six episode OVA series before the next season that hit in late 2012. Going with a short form OVA series in the midst of a couple of seasons can definitely keep interest alive in a good way and Hakuoki does an interesting way ot approaching it here that works much better than I would have thought. While I liked aspects of the main series, something about it just didn’t really grab me in a huge way, though I appreciated its technical approach and the polished method for it.
Here, we get a six episode story that loops around on itself regularly throughout it while still dealing with a core storyline. That core storyline brings us to the December and winter period of 1866 where there are some rumblings going on in Shimabara and rumors of some rogue samurai from there being in the city. The capital is going through a rough time in general because of the state of the emperor at this point in time and tensions are high with plenty of very intense security checks going into place as well. Though there are positives to being in the capital for the most part, it’s in that in between time where the negatives almost outweigh the positives, especially if you’re the type that does try to travel in and out of there regularly since the heightened nature of so many of the samurai there.
Where this concept goes is that since the samurai are staying in a particular inn, the Shinsengumi has an option to find out more if they use Chizuru to their advantage. With Sen offering to help, she gets a chance to finally help out with everyone by going “undercover” as a geisha girl so she can discover the truth of what’s going on. It’s amusing to see the way some of the guys aren’t all that thrilled with the idea while others see it as the proper way to go in order to secure their position better. Chizuru, for her part, is pretty much ready to do it since she wants to be a helpful part of the team since she’s getting so much help and support from them. The dynamic between Chizuru and the rest has been one of the main pillars of the series in general, and that factors in heavily here.
While the story is told from several different angles and periods of time as it unfolds, each episode basically allows most of the main men to have some time with her. With Chizuru getting dolled up and spending time in the inn, we see how Heisuke is so upset about it and watches her closely while another plays the role of a ninja and does his best to defend her from some unruly patrons. There’s also the interesting if measured relationship that’s slowly explored with Souji and the way he and Chizuru spend time together. Though there’s some decent material for most of the guys as it progresses, it was watching how she and Hijikata ended up dealing with each other since he helps her out at one point and he gets called out for helping a geisha girl, which only ups his reputation in a way that he never really expected.
While Hakuoki isn’t one of my favorite shows out there, it’s one that definitely has its moments and I enjoyed the first two seasons pretty well. This OVA series does feel like it plays better for me overall though because, once you get into the groove of it, you get smaller character stories and showcases of the dynamic between Chizuru and most of the main men. Including a final episode that feels like it goes a bit bigger by giving us time with Kazama and Chizuru. Though I knew all the characters from the first two seasons, it’s with these kinds of episodes that I fell like I really know them better in terms of their personalities and quirks. They keep everyone connected to the others throughout the main story and there is that deja vu aspect at times, but overall this is a really nice little side story told in a creative way with some fun moments throughout.
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: April 23rd, 2013
Running Time: 150 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.