Hakuouki is probably one of the top anime dramas around and Hekketsuroku, not counting the latest - currently airing - prequel, is by far the better one.
Hakuouki is tagged as "shoujo" because it is based on an otome game (a game designed for girls) but I can tell you for sure that the anime and it's plot are not really centered around the needy, rather colorless main female lead, but on emphasizing some historical facts about the military force of the time known as the Shinsengumi.
As many people are put out by the female character, who, during the first season, looks really out of place among the Shinsengumi, I would like to state this firmly: Chizuru is not the main focus of this show. The way I see it, CHizuru and her lacking personality is just a reminiscence of the original otome game which, as being addressed to a young female public, had to have this character to serve as an avatar for the player herself: Chizuru is colorless because she is a mere "virtual shell" for the player who is trying a bit of roleplay. Simply put, Chizuru is a secondary character, but a main instrument.
On my personal opinion, I suppose the staff could have come up with a better idea of a female character, provided it was actually needed for it to be, but they probably needed to stick to the original creator's idea.
In other words, I was completely unimpressed by Chizuru and totally won over by the rest of the show, especially by the history behind it and the way the show paid attention to some crucial details that build up the drama and tension of some people that actually existed (yes, knowing Hijikata was actually a real guy does make you cross your fingers everytime he is fighting).
Back to the actual history behind this anime. A lot of shows around here have samurais and they all tell about honor, death, protecting the ideals and stuff like this because this is what best sells. Hakuouki proves that true historical feeling can't be brought up just by having a guy with sword willing to die everytime his honor is at stake. The spirit of the samurai wasn't actually that shallow and real people, as well as human values, change with time. Hakuouki succeeds in depicting exactly this conflict, between the old and the new, the "death" of the samurais, coming along with the fireguns that slowly transformed them into what they are now: legends and stories of a bravery that was not measured by automatic tools.
Shinsengumi were this special military force assigned to defend the shogun empire. Although they were following the samurai code, they were't samurais and they were recruiting from among the normal people as long as they were willing to respect the code and die by it, were they to break it. The male characters in Hakuouki serve this purpose of showing how a lot of different and dispersed people came together following the belief they had in common, they were nor noble, nor more gifted than any other simple person. Regarding their clothing, I have read some opinions here and there about how flashy and inappropriate they were dressed in the show. Well, the real Shinsengumi uniform was exactly that: blue and yellow, flashy with the purpose of intimidating the enemy. Due to this one excentricity, their reputation was rather tainted, as they did not follow the common customs. Moreover, just as in the anime, they were using this knots and cords to keep a better control on their kimonos and large sleeves during the fights, so that they could have a better freedom during the fightings.
That being said, the producers didn't actually want to just make the guys look flashy: that was what Shinsengumi was about. Those "flying" laces around Hijikata are not there just to make him look like a "shoujo-ish" character, they are the that distinctive Shinsengumi cords I was talking about. The certain Souji Okita tying his sword to his hand (I bet everyone has this imagine stuck in their head by now) I believe is not mere coincidence either, but rather just another symbolic way of showing the practical thinking of the Shinsengumi. Nothing out of place or too theatrical.
What made the anime version of the Shinsengumis very dear to me was their change of uniform that occured in the beginnng of this season 2. Sure enough, the real version of those uniforms wasn't that good looking but even so, it resembles. While the real Shinsengumi uniform had its story and charm, by adapting to a modern european style they are in fact trying to cope with the new and replace the old, heavy and difficult traditional japanese armor. Again, their act is not seen with a good eye by the more conservative society. I found it somehow heartbreaking - the way they are trying to adapt to the new while still fighting for, basically, an old, lost cause.
Other details that I was able to spot include Hijikata's first pose in his new uniform, which is teh anime reproduction of an actual photo of the man wearing that uniform. Also, reading about Shinsengumis one could also find out that Harada's scar on his belly isn't some appearance trick, but has an actual real explanation behind it. Harada, just as the real one, mastered a spear and not a sword and thus he was, they say, ridiculed for being a mere peon and not even being able to commit a proper seppuku - of course, harada wished to prove the guy wrong.( On a side note, considering he didn't die, I assume he proved he wasn't actual able to perform a proper seppuku ....) Later on though, it is said he was showing his scar off with pride and also was inspired by it while chosing his family's crest.
The drama of the Shinsengumis parting and disbanding or dying is fascinating as it is also based on what actually happened to the real Shinsengumi. Basically, a group of people that strongly believed in their code, not making any distinction between their members as long as they were willing to train, was bound to end the way they did (in real life) along with the end of that era. The inner conflict of all the male characters is not only believable, but true to reality. I deeply admire that the anime did not try to change the facts even thought they had to have, here and there, sugar coated scenes so that Chizuru could also have her part once in a while.
The sueprnatural factor in the show is, ofc, not related to anything that has actually happened in real life, but I believe it was a perfect add for three reasons:
1. as for the Shinsengumi: normal people such as themselves, trying to be something "more" and save the things that they believe in, no matter the cost, is believable.
2. producers didn't use this to alter the facts in the end and that is good because I assume the temptation of making it a happy end was big, considering the characters' empowerment. Thus, them basically "failing"
again, even with supernatural help, just adds to the main drama.
3. being feared by the people is better suggested through the use of that certain elixir, than just by being part of the Shinsengumi, as in the case of the actual real people - either way, the effect is the same which is admirable.
I have to express my respect for the way some sad scenes were made.I heard people comparing this show to Clannad because... it made them cry even more. To be honest, I also cry easily but for some reason, this show just deeply impressed me, having an impact even deeper than the actually tearjerking stuff because it used a lot the power of suggestion rather than cheap old plain visible drama. I'm talking about, for example, not showing the moment of someone's death, you know, like the guy mumming his last breath, but showing some other details that let you figure out what actually happened. While in a way it is painful not to see it, because some people also cling to the hope that maybe "he didn't die", the way they animated this just gives a more noble feeling towards it. Simply put, it's elegant and triggers emotions.
Not much left to be said. I found the animation to be very... "shounen" like actually. A lot of action is present during fights and I found it very enjoyable, detailed and smooth, with cool effects. The guys look awesome, even if it wa sintended for the "shoujo" public (maybe - or probably?) I do believe the guys' faces. attitudes and behaviours are fit for what the original Shinsengumi were - some hell of a cool guys. There is quite a lot blood and gore present also.
The music is good, not everything is memorable, except for certain sad themes, but it fits the scenes and it doesn't make you feel like only the music is running the whole excitement. The very strong point of the sound is the use of drums during the tensioned scenes. It just builds up on that "samurais and assassins" athmosphere too damn well.
The history, the characters themselves, the sounds, it's impossible not to get hypnotized by the feeling of this show. In fact I am pretty sure I'll rewatch this soon after I finish watching the Reimeiroku also, hoping it will also be unforgettable.