In 1860's Edo, Japan, 16-year-old Chizuru Yukimura lives a simple life as the daughter of a doctor. When her father's work takes him away from home and into the capital of Kyoto, Chizuru is left alone with only the letters from her father as a means to stay in contact with him. After the letters stop coming though, Chizuru becomes gravely concerned. Disguising herself as a man for safety, she travels to Kyoto to find him, only to find herself being attacked by a group of samurai and a strange, almost inhuman man. Chizuru is saved by a mysterious member of a group known as the Shinsengumi, but because of what she witnessed, she's taken back to their base of operations to be interrogated and possibly silenced…forever.
Hakuouki features the striking young men of the Shinsengumi and their secret clan of warriors, who decide to spare Chizuru upon finding out who her father is, revealing that they too are looking for him, but for different reasons. Now Chizuru must not only continue the search for her father among her new friends, but discover secrets bigger than she ever imagined, all the while forming bonds with the handsome young men that will forever change the course of their lives.
*Spoiler warning* Do not read story section unless you've finished the series.
"Hakuouki" is based on a PS2 romance adventure otome game (games targeted toward girls).
The story starts with Yukimura Chizuru, daughter of a doctor in Edo (Tokyo's old name), arriving Kyoto in search of her father. She is saved by two Shinsengumi members from zombie-like demon, and gets taken into custody. Eventually she gains their trust and helps them out while looking for clues of her father.
Shinsengumi is an organization that actually existed in the late-Edo-period that acted as a 'special police' that served to suppress any anti-government movement in Kyoto. The actual organization only
existed for less than a decade, but their legacies have been depicted in various novels, movies, and TV doramas that they have become something of a symbol of justice in the Edo-era. The latest Shinsengumi hit has been the NHK Taiga dorama "Shinsengumi!" starring SMAP's Katori Shingo in 2004. NHK, the government-owned TV station's Taiga dorama series are known for practically guaranteed 15%+ viewership ratings and A-list actors.
This anime's events and characters are inspired by the actual Shinsengumi, but the story is completely fictional.
The title "Hakuouki" is a made-up word comprised of kanji "Light-colored Sakura" and "Ogre". It describes the fictional vampire-like white-haired (light color) undead (Sakura) demons (ogres) in this series. Sakura (Cherry blossoms) symbolizes death or short-lived beauty for the short span in which the pink flowers blossom in spring. (Sakura also symbolizes farewells and new meetings since they bloom during graduation and new school year, which is April in Japan, but that is probably not the case in this series)
Animation in general lacked detail, and characters' faces were really deformed in some scenes while they were extremely well-drawn in close up and action scenes.
One thing they really succeeded in this show was use of lighting to create mood. From hazy moonlight to orange glow in the daytime to bloody red sunset, the light always seemed to shine from one direction, and matched the atmosphere they were trying to create.
One fatal flaw in the animation... was character design in the sense that they were all too idolized. Sure, all the main characters wore Shinsengumi uniforms with swords around their waist, but all I saw was a bunch of host and a school girl in cosplay. It all comes down to fan service, and they all seemed out of place amid peasants and lowly Shinsengumi members who looked legitimately from the Edo-era.
They even went as far as trying to have Chizuru pass for a boy. I know back in the day, it was unthinkable for a girl to be dressed like a boy, but please, you must be joking.
Main characters looked like hosts, at least they sounded like hosts too. Despite the fact that they were totally out of place, they stayed consistent by speaking modern Japanese the whole way and and all the characters sounded like they should.
Music in slice-of-life scenes had a serene, calming flow that worked very nicely in the background, which intensified in plot twists or confrontations, enhancing drama in every occasion. Powerful drum beats are added in action scenes, which not only fit the era well, but also made them all that more exciting.
Theme songs were ridiculously good for this series. OP song was epic with extremely catchy tune, elegant lyric, and great vocal. Amazing piece of contemporary Jpop-Enka hybrid that really blew me away. ED was pretty good, the somber song worked nicely for this series since many episodes ended with a tragedy. Sound and Marketing department sure have a lot of work ahead of them if they're to match or surpass the theme song quality and compatibility in season 2.
Before we even get to the story... there was a major problem with power balance in this anime. I can accept Oni villains being insanely strong because they're not human, but how are some of the Shinsengumi members able to fight almost evenly against them? What's even more puzzling is that those fighters struggle against lowly samurai when outnumbered. From their performance against the Oni, they should be able to easily defeat 10 minions by themselves.
This leads to the main problem with the story: Irrational character motives and too much sudden story developments between events.
- Oni can so easily penetrate Shinsengumi's defense, as proven by Kazama and Nagumo. Why didn't they just come in and kidnap Chizuru anytime they wanted? There was nothing there to stop them from second or third tries after the first attempt failed. (Why did it even take that long to make the first attempt?)
- I didn't exactly see how Chizuru fell in love with Hijikata. Seemed just like Hijikata was being excessively strict few times, and got persuaded by other members to bend the rules. It was a WTF moment for me when Chizuru started blushing when her twin sister asked her if she's staying for love.
- Overly gullible characters. Gets tricked so easily by villains and has no self-discipline when given the choice with the elixir. These guys are definitely not leader materials, and it's a wonder Shinsengumi can last so long with such incompetent commanders.
- You're trying to kill Chizuru for seeing a classified subject, and the next second, you're trusting her to send messages in a life-or-death situation.
- Chizuru, do not walk toward vampires when you're bleeding! Use common sense.
- Chizuru, run when you see danger! You're helpless, and you staying around is not going to help the injured or dead.
- Chizuru, PLEASE TRY TO ACTIVATE SELF-DEFENSE INSTINCT OF YOUR BRAIN! Help will not always arrive out of blue.
- Hijikata drinking elixir in the last episode came out nowhere. Where did he even get it? And his motive makes no sense, I mean... you're not human anymore, just because someone (who you knew didn't kill your best friend) provoked you.
Making a non-cheesy fictional story based on historical events is difficult. Add vampires, Oni, rushed storyline, and this feat becomes practically impossible.
The least they could've done was provide more backgrounds to each incident rather than "XXX advanced their troops to Kyoto", battle scene, "And this will eventually come to be known as Battle of YYY" before jumping to another historical event.
I think they should've just used the Edo-era setting with original events rather than try to camouflage an actual event.
The DBZ-style talking during battles, or talking for so long that backup arrive certainly didn't make the story any more believable.
Another unrealistic jidaigeki, I would have to say this is girl's version of "Sengoku Basara". Instead of mindless battles, you have mindless melodrama, which starts to get pretty predictable even without knowledge of Japanese history. In the end, it was a bidanshi cosplay fest, as expected of a shoujo anime. The story jumps from one historical battle to another, it's easy to tell this is just another "Rurouni Kenshin"-inspired piece that hopped on bandwagon of the latest Shinsengumi craze initiated by the 2004 NHK Taiga dorama.
However, I have to say that the characters are charming as intended, and the Oni villains are cool enough to have me watch this season to the end, and if I have a lot of time to kill, I'll be able to tolerate another season just to see how bad it gets.
Japan's history is written mostly in blood rather than ink, which represents the source of interest for many people, with me proudly among them.
The story evolves around the Shinsengumi, the late Tokugawa Shogunate secret police.
They are followed in their struggle against the changing times where the old samurai ways of fighting and living are replaced by the incursion of western culture.
In Hakuouki the concept of time is well determinate, meaning that events don't unfold day after day and neither do battles so from that point of view its a plus.
Being a historical inspired tale ensures a certain continuity of the episodes while presenting key elements
of that historical period.
I was literally enthralled by the fighting scenes because they aren't just flashed at great speed and because they add up to the fluidity of the series.
Also they are not displayed in the form of a white cut on a black background all while being dynamic and thrilling.
Artwork is a great combination of lighting and details that not only provides a great enviroment but also presents some of they best made individual characters I have seen in all my time since I started enjoying anime industry.
Characters have their own ideals struggles or rivalries but at times they merge into a single personality, for example when they all gather under one roof. They act according to their traits and each of them is faced with interior problems.
Since the army factor is very relevant to the series, the series display certain scenes that follow the morale of the support cast.
In the end if you enjoy a good action drama and historical tale then Hakuouki is definitely a good choice for you. It is very enjoyable while providing a good image of the events that unfolded during the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate
Hakuouki is an anime made by Studio DEEN, who have, in recent years, gained infamy for putting their names to a variety of very poor shows in recent years, as well as making a horribly butchered adaptation of Umineko. So, does Hakuouki enter the ranks of awful DEEN series, or does it redeem the studio? Well, put simply, it is terrible. It is a perfect example of why DEEN are a bad studio. There isn't a single good thing about it.
But before I get into the details about why Hakuouki is horrible, let's just sum up what Hakuouki is about for those not familiar with
the series. The series is introduced with a young "boy" trying to escape from a strange vampire-like demon. At the last minute, "he" is saved by a group of samurai, who then take "him" hostage. As it turns out, the "boy" has seen more than he should have done, and is now being held captive by a large group of suspiciously attractive men. As it also turns out, the boy is named Chizuru and is not a boy, and is a girl disguising as one. If this sounds cliché to you then that's probably because it is.
As it turns out, Chizuru is looking for her father, a doctor who went missing in Kyoto. Later on, it turns out that her father is involved with the medicine that turns men into the aforementioned vampires that are never once called vampires in spite of being nocturnal creatures once human but now superhuman who lust after human blood.
Now, the biggest problem with Hakuouki is, rather simply, that it is boring. Throughout the entire 12 episodes, the show held my interest for maybe 5 seconds at most. Despite being a show about swordsmen and demons, there is very little action. While a similar statement can be made of Saraiya Goyou, a similarly themed show that aired at the same time, the fact is that while the latter keeps the viewer's interest with a quirky style, fascinating dialogue, and originality, Hakuouki does nothing of the sort. Hakuouki is rather bland, having no real selling point other than the cast of bishonens. Stylistically, the themes that run through Hakuouki have been done before many times, and better. And the worst complaint that can be said of it is the dialogue. Hakuouki is an adaptation of a visual novel, but it doesn't seem to understand the "adaptation" part of that. Everything in this show is just talking. The action is almost never focused on, and is completely weightless when it is. The plot has no intrigue or suspense. It is just talking. This could have been forgiveable, but even worse is that the dialogue isn't even good. It's just boring and lifeless, and it begs the question of why this was taken from a VN at all when it simply acts exactly like one.
Now, I said before that the selling point of the show is the bishonens, but there's a problem with that too. As a heterosexual male, I know that I am not the target audience, but there are still some clear problems even taking that into account. For a start, there isn't a single character in this show with a likeable or memorable character trait. Every single one of them is completely one-dimensional. None of them are developed on, very few of them go through any kind of personal struggle, and at the end of it almost every character is simply forgettable. To make things worse, the character design in Hakuouki is extremely weak. It is often completely impossible to tell one character apart from another, with them all being uniformed, alongside many of them sharing various features with other characters, and combined with my previous complaint it can often make the show confusing out of a lack of basic knowledge for which character is which.
The only character who is actually worth mentioning here is Chizuru, the shoddily disguised centre of our reverse-harem. But don't mistake my meaning, she is by no means a good character. For the most part, she is only memorable simply for being the only girl. But due to her being in focus, unlike 90% of the cast, she becomes memorable, and her faults become noticeable. For one, she does not help the plot at all for most of the series, except towards the end, in which her only role is to become a living MacGuffin that the enemy forces want. When thrown into combat, she is completely useless, and seems to have no self-defence instinct whatsoever, leading other characters to become injured in her stead while she just stands there.
The ending is one of the few moments where the show is actually interesting, but it may also be the worst for the complete contradictions we are shown. Now, I don't want to spoil anybody, but it's going to be hard to discuss the ending without doing so, so if you are particularly spoiler-sensitive and want to watch this series for whatever reason, I would advise you to skip the rest of this paragraph. Basically, one of the samurai is killed in front of Chizuru, and a member of the enemy force is nearby at the time, though he was not the one responsible. Another member of the samurai sees this, blames the demon, and drinks the potion that turns people into the not-vampire creatures so he will have the strength to kill him. Now, there are several problems with this. For a start, a very curious question is raised... where did he get the potion? The potion is not supposed to be easily accessible, for obvious reasons. He had no reason to plan for an event like this, so he would not have prepared it. There is no foreshadowing or reason that suggests he was already considering the change. It simply doesn't make sense. But on top of that, after the battle, he reveals that he knew that the man wasn't responsible for his death. Which now means that the drinker just sentenced himself to a life as an undead monster to get revenge on a man he knew wasn't even responsible.
Sadly, Hakuouki repeatedly proves itself to be a terrible show without a single redeeming feature, but just to put the cherry on top, DEEN are giving it a sequel in the fall. Yes, you heard that right... somehow, this mess of an anime has gathered enough of a fanbase to warrant a sequel. So sadly, we haven't even seen the end of this series.
I'm sure I've made this clear by now, but my verdict on this anime is simply a no. It does not deserve to be watched by anybody, and if there is any justice in the world it will have been completely forgotten by the end of the year... at least if DEEN don't end up making a third series.
Final Words: I'd have more fun watching paint dry.
-Before you read this review, take note of this:
I haven't played the Hakuouki games or read the manga. This is from the perspective of someone who only watched the anime.
I really enjoyed the story. The historic content was interesting. The added elements of Rasetsu and the conflicts with the Oni were also captivating. There was nothing with the story that bothered me, and I didn't feel bored, not even once. I usually don't watch Shoujo anime because I hate sappy romance and girly stuff, but this anime was an exception. There were no scenes with girls crying that they love this and that. Chizuru
was more like a member of the Shinsengumi. There was even action and sword-fighting, and that was entertaining.
It was amazing. The characters looked perfect. The scenery was great. The fight scenes were animated well also. Nothing to complain about here.
Ending and opening sequences had nice songs that fit the anime. Sounds during the anime blended in well also.
I really like each Shinsengumi member. They all had different, but intriguing personalities. I would like to be around them, they were cool. The only character that bothered me was Chizuru. She tried to help out the Shinsengumi, but I still think she was a scaredy-cat. She couldn't protect herself.
What else can I say? It was one of my favorite animes. I even want to play the video game and read the manga now.
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