What They Say:
The year is 1863 and as Japan’s long-festering wounds of political discord erupt into violent waves of street clashes and murder, the Tokugawa Shogunate sends a new force of masterless samurai called the Roshigumi to the aid of the Aizu forces in Kyoto. However, the new “police” are anything but a cohesive force and assassination has already split them into two opposing factions.
The stronger is led by the brutal Serizawa Kamo, and the lesser by the more honorable but less assertive Kondo Isami. It is into this pack of wolves that Ryunosuke Ibuki is dragged by the rabid Serizawa. Forced to be a virtual slave by blood debt, he hates the samurai and everything they stand for. But as he sees how the other half of the samurai live, he begins to believe that there may still be a chance, for both himself and Japan, if only Kondo will step up and take down the mad dog Serizawa!
Contains episodes 1-12.
The audio presentation for this release is quite good as we get the original Japanese track as well as the new English language track, both of which are in stereo encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec This season is similar to the others in the series in that there’s a good bit of dialogue throughout it with little action overall When it does hit the action, it works well and comes across strongly even in the stereo format since it’s intense and short, giving it the right kind of design as the blades clash and the blood flies. The dialogue side of it is pretty solid as we get a good number of characters overall with some varied conversations throughout and a lot of back and forth. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2012, the transfer for this twelve episode TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across two discs with nine on the first and three on the second. Animated by Studio Deen, the series looks just as strong as we’d seen in the previous seasons in terms of animation, but after watching the DVD editions for those, everything has a stronger and more appealing look here as the colors pop more and there’s better color definition that makes the varied look really great here. Colors are solid throughout and with some good detail to the costume design and the various backgrounds – inside and out – it has a good lived in feeling to it with a lot of little nuance to savor and enjoy. The release has no problems with cross coloration or aliasing and is very pleasing to the eye.
The packaging for this release is pretty straightforward and it works well enough, but lacks that little something to really make it work really well and be distinctive. The front cover has a pair from the group we’re familiar with while it has Serizawa looming in shadowed form in the background. There’s a lot of dark colors to everything here and it has a subdued look, which certainly indicates the danger and darkness to events, but it doesn’t really do all that much for me to really draw me into it in a big way. The back cover has a standard layout where the top has the breakdown of discs and episodes and what season it is as well as a good summary of the premise with a good bit of space to it. The center portion has the discs extras and a nice collage of images from the show while the remainder has the production credits and technical grid that covers everything clearly. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
THe menu design mirrors the front cover a fair bit here as it has a subdued look to it where the majority of it is given over to character artwork. The first volume gives us a good pairing with them along the left side while the lengthy logo and series name are to their right, all of which is against a purple hued background with some darkness to it. THe right side features the navigation itself which breaks it down by number and episode title as well as submenus for language and extras where appropriate. The show defaults to English language with sign/song subtitles even with the player presets setup.
The only extras for this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After two seasons of the series and then an OVA season as well, Hakuoki returns with a third season. But not just any kind of third season that could advance things along in some direction, we get one that goes with a prequel here. With the origins in the games and this particular one coming from the game that was originally released in 2010 and then other formats in both 2011 and 2012, there’s always new interest in the property so a new season can draw in the new and faithful easily enough. I had found myself enjoying what came before in anime form, though some of it left me a little cool at times with some of how it had drawn things out. Surprisingly, even with this season being drawn out overall, it felt a lot tighter and worked much better for me.
The show takes us back to the time when Kondou and his group were first arriving in Kyoto from Edo and looking to make their name in the world. Their timing worked well as along the way they came into contact with a similarly like-minded man named Serizawa whose ideals in justice matched their own. There’s some history between the two leaders involved here, and even though we’ve seen Kondou in many forms before, and differently in this series as well, seeing him deferential to Serizawa is certainly interesting to watch since he’s largely been presented as in command and calm. He’s not exactly sucking up to Serizawa here, who is both older and certainly comes across strongly and confidently, but he is deferring to him in order to keep him happy since he thinks the two groups are better off together than apart.
Operating as Roshigumi, we get to see how this group is dealing with the growing disturbances in the city of Kyoto with rogue samurai causing trouble. Serizawa and Kondou, along with Hjikata biding his time to make things right, are wanting to put things right in the city but know that in order to truly do that, they need the approval of the Shogunate, which itself is getting weaker at this time due to the political situations that are ongoing. In order to get that approval, they need to meet with the Shogunate itself and that’s what this season is largely about in the background where it’s working through the situations until they can get that meeting and full approval, which will change them into the Shinsengumi that we know from oh so many interpretations – especially the other two seasons and OVAs we’ve already seen.
A lot of the focus is on Serizawa since he’s been around longer and is more savvy in a way, but he’s also coping with a medical issue of his own that crops up from time to time and provides for an intriguing angle with things. Serizawa’s issues cause him to be a bit out of control at times and that’s garnered him a reputation in the city among some of the wrong people, particularly those in the Aizu domain who don’t want to be associated with him. That has them requesting of Kondou and Hijikata to remove him from the picture, which is its own set of complications since that’s not in Kondou’s way of doing things. But in order to achieve the dream that he wants to, which goes back to his own youth and promises to others, that will require him to find a way to deal with Serizawa.
Serizawa is rather fun to watch at times since he brings in something in the first episode that allows us as the viewers to connect through an outsider. His rescue, in a minimalist way, to breathe life back into a young man named Ryuonosuke Ibuki gives him someone that owes him his life that he draws in as a dog to do the deeds that he wants. Ibuki is the type who has no direction and little respect for authority, but he’s not the usual child that we get either. He’s brought to heel under Serizawa as a servant for the course of the series and that has him dealing with the rough way that Serizawa handles just about everything in his life while also being drawn to what the future Shinsengumi are doing here as they have strong personalities but are also considered a bit more compassionate, thoughtful and, well, interesting. Though there’s nothing new here in terms of the characters, through Ibuki, we get a good look at them in this time we usually don’t see as they’re striving to become important and working towards those goals.
One of the main aspects from the seasons that follow, chronologically at least, is that of the Furies. We get some of that here as well as one of Serizawa’s men is investigating the Water of Life that is being used to create these creatures and that works through as a decent subplot throughout it that pivots the direction of the show when it gets out of their control at one point. It’s not as prominent as the other seasons, but it’s welcome to still see it as a part of things here and how it manipulated events in small but important ways. Similarly, we also get the nod towards what’s to come with the show as Chizuru has her small moment here as well, which was nice to see as a way of connecting things and showing just how close some of it came before.
While I’ve enjoyed the previous seasons of Hakuoki and what they did, it wasn’t something that had me eagerly awaiting the next installment. In watching this one, with it being a prequel, you’re able to shake off the problems of those seasons and enjoy the way it works with showing us how the group came to Kyoto and the things they faced there. And, admittedly, not having Chizuru here definitely helped a lot as well. The focus on the group here with the jostling for what they want to do to become truly official in cleaning up the city works well, but I also like that it focuses a lot on Serizawa and what he brings to the table, especially as we get a lot more of his past and understand his motivations. Hakuoki’s prequel season is a surprise to get at this stage, but a very welcome one as I suspect it’ll be my favorite of what’s come out so far.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: b-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: October 1st, 2013
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P 3D HDTV, Sony PlayStation 3 via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.