I have to say I am a little ashamed to admit I really liked this series. Why? The series mainly focuses on good-looking samurai bishies. But I assure you that there is a lot more to this series than the aesthetics. Hakuouki Shinsengumi Kitan (surprisingly, the English title “Demon of the Fleeting Blossom: The Mysterious Tale of the Shinsengumi” is longer) (2010) is a 12-episode anime adaptation of a historical drama otome game of the same name. There is also a prequel and sequel series that I will be reviewing at a later date.
What’s it about?
Chizuru Yukimaru’s father has been missing for some time when she finally decides to go out looking for him. She quickly finds herself in danger when she is confronted by two demon-like, blood-thirsty creatures. Fortunately she is saved by Hajime Saitou and Souji Okita, two members of the infamous Shinsengumi. However, she’s seen their secret experimentations with the mysterious “Water of Life”, and the leaders of the Shinsengumi, including Toshizou Hijikata, Keisuke Sannan and Isami Kondou (amongst others, there’s so many male characters) decide that it’s best that she’s kept as a prisoner. She soon learns that her father was involved in the Shinsengumi’s experiments, and eventually comes to help the group look for him. Can they survive the social and political upheaval occurring in Japan, and keep their secret experiments under control and hidden?
The art in this anime is pretty amazing! That is, if you’re a main character. Overall, character designs are very pretty, if it not historically accurate. The background characters, who receive less attention, making them all look the same, display the correct outfits and hairstyles. There is surprisingly little fan-service, given that this anime is targeted to females. The males are varied enough, both in looks and personality, to keep them interesting. Overall, the background art is very pretty and beautifully done, and movement and action scenes are done well.
The music is very pretty in this anime. It may not be particularly memorable, but certainly ties in well with the scenes; sweet melodies in the touching scenes, energetic music in the fighting scenes, etc. I really liked the first opening theme, “Izayoi Namida” by Yoshioka Aika.
What I really liked about this anime is the fusion of historical events, supernatural occurrences, as well as action, emotion and comedy. The whole series is set in the context of Japan’s Bakumatsu Period (1853-1867), the historical period in which the Shinsengumi existed. During this time, Japan was in the middle of social and political upheaval due to several events, and this series does a good job of painting the turbulent atmosphere at the time, with loyalties to different Clans and violent outburst. I liked the fact that this anime didn’t back away from the fighting scenes; there was surprisingly a fair bit of blood and violence. This would be a fairly accurate depiction of the Bakumatsu Period, if it wasn’t for the fusion with the supernatural in the form of immortality/the Philosopher’s Stone and demons. Overall, the fusion between the fiction and non-fiction is handled pretty well, and makes for a compelling story. There is also plenty of action and comedy thrown in, and some more emotionally touching and sad scenes towards the end (the last scene had me in tears!).
Despite all of the action and political tension going on in the background of the plot, the focus on Chizuru’s story is actually a little slow. The time jumps between different episodes reinforce this. Although it doesn’t make the story disjointed or impact it in any real negative way, it does make you wonder just what are Chizuru and the Shinsengumi doing in the months that pass? Considering how urgently everyone tries to find Chizuru’s father, they sure as hell take their time doing it.
The second negative, which seemingly comes hand-in-hand with shoujo and otome game adaptations, involves character problems. None of the characters get fully developed, due to limited meaningful interaction on-screen. Don’t get me wrong, the male characters are dynamic and different enough to be likeable- you just don’t know a lot about them, and they’re not developed. Chizuru fills the role of being the sickly-sweet, hard-working, always-needs-saving female lead, leaving her annoyingly bland, but still as likeable as shoujo female leads go.
Anything else I should consider?
There is a 6 episode OVA called “Hakuouki Sekkaroku” (Demon of the Fleeting Blossom: A Memory of Snow Flowers) that occurs between episodes 8 and 9 of the first series. Whilst it’s not vital to the plot, it’s worth checking out if you like the series. It focuses more on Chizuru going on an undercover mission as a geiko, but also features sweet scenes between her and the various male characters. I think it’s a reference to the various endings of the game, in which Chizuru could have ended up with any of the male characters.
Art: 8.5/10: The backgrounds are beautiful and the character designs of the main characters are really nice, but minor characters have little attention paid to them.
Story: 7.5/10: The story is an interesting blend of history and myth, with plenty of action and sweet moments between characters. However, it tends to be slow.
Characters: 6.5/10: There is little-to-no character development and the main character is bland. However, most of the characters are likeable, and are different enough to be interesting.
Whilst I think the odd mixture in this anime, and the fact that it doesn’t back down from fighting and showing the turbulent atmosphere of the Bakumatsu Period is designed to appeal to a broader audience than females, I still think this anime is largely female-oriented. Don’t get me wrong- if you’re male and like the sound of it, there is hardly any fan-service and a compelling enough mixture to make this enjoyable, but I’m still not convinced it’s that appealing to males. Unfortunately, all viewers will have to have to put up with the slow pace and bland female main typical of the shoujo genre, as well as little character development. Overall, I give it a fairly-solid 7/10.