This week we have the final instalment of the Hakuouki series; Hakuouki Reimeiroku (Demon of the Fleeting Blossom: Dawn of the Shinsengumi) (2012). (I know there are two movies, but I haven’t checked them out yet… they look like a retelling of the series, albeit with even better animation; watch the trailer here.) Hakuouki Reimeiroku is actually a 12-episode prequel to the other two series. It’s not, as I hoped it would be, the story of the dojo that Isami Kondou led which eventually became the Shinsengumi, but rather focuses on the back-story of the group’s involvement with the “Water of Life”, and how they transitioned from the Roshigumi to the Shinsengumi.
What’s it about?
Kamo Serizawa is a ruthless man; he’s proud, violent, and difficult. However, due to his connections in Kyoto, particularly with the clan ruling Aizu, Isami Kondou has no choice but to form an uneasy allegiance with him, allowing the Roshigumi a chance to serve and protect the Shogun. Ryunosuke Ibuki is thrown into this tense environment when he is saved from the brink of death by Serizawa, but is forced to pay back the debt by working for him. Ryunosuke watches as Serizawa and the rest of the group, in particularly Toshizou Hijikata, clash again and again, as the story inevitably leads to the decision of who the Shinsengumi should be.
As with the other two series, art remains a strong point in the prequel. Although I am not a fan of Ryunosuke’s styling (blue hair, orange eyes??), you still get the top-notch backgrounds and art (for the main characters). The music is much like Hakuouki Hekketsuroku in that it is incorporated into scenes well, but isn’t particularly memorable.
This series does a pretty good job of dealing with the complicated origin of the Shinsengumi. You see the political tactics at use, particularly when Hijikata tries to restrain Serizawa and keep the Roshigumi honourable. The series also provides an insight into the social order of Japan and how influence worked during the Edo period in getting the group recognised and in a position with power. The prequel also works the ‘Water of Life’ angle in really well; not only does it make sense in the story-line, but it is pretty believable in the context of the historical period.
Hakuouki Reimeiroku’s strongest point is its characterisation. I know- character growth in a Hakuouki series! What is this madness?! But all jokes aside, the series represents the ‘growing up’ period for the group, from naive, optimistic dojo students, to the fierce and proud warriors we see in the other series. The main characters who are the focus of this change are Hijikata, Heisuke Toudou, and Souji Okita; all of them loose their initial idealism but gain realism in return. Whilst we see Heisuke’s loss of innocence and Hijikata becoming the “Demon Vice-Commander” for the sake of Kondou, Okita is a slightly different story; he is, by far, the most interesting character psychologically, and the prequel allows us to see how he gets that way. Not only do we get these treats with the main characters, but as the antagonist, Serizawa is also a solid character, and it is proven that he falls into a somewhat ambiguous grey moral area, which means I don’t know whether I like him or not!
Ryunosuke, the main character, isn’t particularly interesting. Don’t get me wrong, he’s nowhere near as bad as Chizuru, but as he is an original character (i.e. not based on a historical figure) he is merely a spectator for the conflict occurring between the other characters. He is irritatingly passive and rather bland, but at least he’s better than Chizuru.
Like the other Hakuouki series, the prequel suffers from slow pacing, and isn’t exactly the most exciting series. However, it was set up purely for explanation (as are all prequels), so it can somewhat be forgiven for this.
Anything else I should consider?
Although Hakuouki Reimeiroku is a prequel, it was released later than the other series. It is feasible to watch it before the other series; it might make some of the male characters (particularly Okita) more sympathetic, but it will spoil everything to do with the ‘Water of Life’, and you might be disappointed when you don’t find find closure about Ryunosuke’s fate in the later series. I liked watching the prequel last, because it felt like I was greeting old friends.
Art: 8.5/10: As usual, the main characters looking pretty good, backgrounds are very pretty, and all non-bishies look the same.
Story: 7/10: Although quite interesting, the plot is explanation-based, slow, and lacking excitement. It is still a pretty clever look into Edo Japan.
Characters: 7.5/10: Ignoring the main character (why are they so blah in the Hakuouki series?!), this series is far better at character growth than the other two combined, and has an interesting antagonist thrown in as well.
Hakuouki Reimeiroku is definitely worth the watch if you liked the other two series. It is a solid prequel that does some pretty good character growth, it flows well with the other series, and is quite watchable, providing more than the standard ‘this is information you might want to know’ version of prequels. Overall, I give it n 7/10 (meaning the Hakuouki series overall gets a pretty solid 7/10).