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 eight on the first and two 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 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 and a god look at the cast, as busy as it may be overall. 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 from 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 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 that changes up between volumes 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.
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 and that has me still struggling with this show overall. 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 – especially now that you get to view it in high definition – 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 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: December 13th, 2016
Running Time: 250 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.