joiedecombat: (Hakuouki)
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For an anime adaptation of a romance game, Hakuouki really has very little romance in it. This is not really surprising since the visual novel it's based on, for all that it is a romance game, is much, much more about Japanese history and samurai politics and philosophy than it is about romance. There's romance in it - although my first pass through, I somehow managed to avoid all of it - but it's really not at all the point.

The point instead is mostly this: a handful of farmers' sons and other rejects and misfits collected around a dirt-poor dojo devote themselves to becoming warriors, forming themselves into a fighting force with the intention of earning recognition and attaining their culture's samurai ideal, and to hell with anyone who says they can't. They claw themselves up from the bottom, get within spitting distance of their goal...

...only for the times to change. The cultural goalposts get moved on them; the skills and the way of life they devoted everything to become obsolete, and the goal they sought to achieve is suddenly meaningless. The government they served loses its power and collapses, throwing them under the proverbial bus of a war that can't be won.

So, you know, what do you do?

There's also some demons, a bunch of pseudo-vampires, and a girl, but aside from these elements the main cast of Hakuouki is composed almost entirely of actual historical figures, and the events of the plot are real-life events like the Ikedaya Affair and the battles of the Boshin War, down to interesting background trivia like Harada Sanosuke's failed attempt at seppuku and how Hijikata Toshizo used to peddle a medicine made by his family before he turned himself into a guy who was (supposedly) known as "the Demon Vice-Commander."

Although he was probably not this pretty.

This is a shoujo anime, of course. I'm actually kind of inclined to compare it at least superficially to Saiunkoku Monogatari; it's got something of the same mixture of shoujo heroine surrounded by badass prettyboys and cutthroat politics, although in this case there's a lot less comedy and fluff and a good bit more blood and death. Unfortunately Chizuru isn't nearly as cool a heroine as Shuurei, in spite of being played by the same voice actress. Her role in the story is mostly that of primary viewpoint character and emotional support to Hijikata and the other Shinsengumi captains, and she could honestly be removed from the story entirely without making it particularly less interesting or otherwise hurting it much (aside from making it that much more likely that Hijikata might succeed in self-destructing before the ending).

The supernatural elements mixed into the story are more interesting. It's just too bad that there really aren't any female characters of any significance aside from Chizuru. I could also compare it to Sengoku Basara; both are about samurai politics and warfare, although where Basara is all crazy over-the-top antics fueled by FIGHTING SPIRIT, Hakuouki is explicitly about what happens when it's just not possible to win a battle on nothing but fighting spirit any more, and where you go from there.

It should also go without saying, considering the history it's based on, that this is a very sad story. Foregone conclusions are foregone. I mainlined all 22 episodes in about two days and it was something of a cathartic experience.

The VN is also worth looking into if you're into those. It gets more time and narration to devote to character development, historical trivia, and all the end-of-an-era stuff which is what I think is the main draw of this story. More romance as well, what with story paths for the different characters; the anime pretty much follows Hijikata's route, which either in spite of or because he's the primary lead is the route least concerned with romance over warfare and samurai philosophy.

Also the art is freaking gorgeous. Look at that coat omg. And while I haven't played all that many VNs to have a broad basis for comparison, the game's dev team seem to have put in every possible bonus function they could think of: not just a quicksave/quickload option and the ability to review text history, but the ability to actually rewind to any point in that history, which I think should be available in any game that has dialogue trees. Not just an unlockable image gallery, but the ability to play back the scene in which a given image appears. An encyclopedia of historical terms and trivia, and a "record of service" that allows you to pick up at the start of any chapter you've unlocked. Pretty cool stuff.

All of this Bakumatsu period stuff may inspire me to finally get around to watching Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto. We'll see!


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August 2012

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