What They Say:
Chizuru Yukimura’s father has created a magical elixir that increases the user’s strength, speed and ability to heal. However, now he’s disappeared, and the quest to find him will lead Chizuru on a deadly journey to strife-torn Kyoto, where the forces of the Shinsengumi and the vampire-like Furies are engaged in a brutal shadow war.
It’s a perilous quest, and disguising herself as a man will hardly be sufficient protection against the many dangers ahead. Fortunately, Chizuru is no ordinary girl, and her fate is about to become inextricably intertwined with the destinies of Shinsengumi Vice commander Toshizo Hijikata and his elite force of swordsmen. Swords clash and nightmarish creatures rule the night when historical fact and supernatural fiction combine in the epic series Hakuoki!
The audio presentation for this release is quite good as we get the original Japanese track as well as the English language track, both of which are in stereo encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec This season 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 2010, 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 Blu-ray releases 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 Chizuru front and center by the logo while several of the main male characters are arrayed around her in the background with softer earthy colors. 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 some decent character artwork for each volume with them along the left side while the lengthy logo and series name are to their right. 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 usual extras are included with this release are on the first disc where we get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequence. This time around we also get an anime short that riffs on the silliness of the game side as well as an eight minute piece that’s something of an “extra chapter” that was just a kind of thing that you’d expect as a deleted scene that doesn’t work because it’s drawn out and rather uninteresting.
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 before digging back elsewhere with standard cour seasons and some theatrical compilations. It also helped that the same staff largely worked on all of 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 get 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. It’s certainly interesting on some levels to come back to the first season at this stage after seeing so much in the last few years, but more so after watching the movies and being reminded just how much is cut and edited out in order for those to work. The real impact is in the series and if this tickles your fancy then there’s a lot more out there to pick up as well..
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 11th, 2016
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.