joiedecombat: (Hakuouki)
[personal profile] joiedecombat
Some more thoughts and further analysis of Hakuoki, mostly regarding the individual routes of the game and the interesting effect that resulted from the order in which I, mostly by chance, played through them.

I don't have much to say about Heisuke's route, which is the weakest of the five. The "mouthy kid" isn't an archetype I'm interested in to begin with, and though he's reasonably endearing for the type of character he is, his route kind of just disconnects from and glosses right over all the history and Shinsengumi stuff pretty quickly and goes with the vampire love story instead, so it is less interesting, less emotionally gripping and, you know, kind of ridiculous. I really couldn't take it at all seriously, particularly not when it's full of things like Heisuke and Chizuru calling one another not-very-bright, Heisuke and Kazama slinging snark at one another continuously (and Chizuru actually using the word "snark" to refer to it at one point), and Chizuru observing that she's not used to Hijikata giving her a direct order about anything that doesn't involve tea.

My problems with his route are compounded a lot by the fact that I kind of hate what it does with Sen and Kimigiku. Sen needed her own route in which the Shinsengumi's macho samurai bullshit is overruled by Chizuru admitting that, yeah, she's really kind of in the way and would be better off leaving with Sen, and the two of them could have oni princess adventures with Kimigiku in the whole world of demon politics that the game periodically hints at without exploring. But that would remove the plot from the Shinsengumi entirely and we can't have that in a game about the Shinsengumi, I guess. Regardless, it's obnoxious that the only route in which Sen continues to play a part is the one in which she's turned into a damsel in distress and Kimigiku doesn't even get to kick anyone's ass for it.

Fortunately Heisuke's route is not in any way indicative of how the other routes play out. I prefer to leave it out of my big-picture view of the game as a whole; Heisuke's role in Hijikata's route works a lot better for me.

Harada's route sticks to the Shinsengumi and historical events a little longer. Like Heisuke he's not really invested in the idea of the Shinsengumi and its goals the way most of the other captains are, although unlike Heisuke he's got a much clearer idea of his own goals and values. For him, being a warrior is an issue of basic principles: you stand up for what you think is right, you protect people weaker than you, and you don't back down from that just because it might get you killed. He doesn't have grand aspirations or big, lofty ideals like Kondou and Hijikata and Saito; his sense of justice is a straightforward thing and his goals are simple, even downright humble.

So when things start getting complicated and he sees the writing on the wall, he's able to walk away. What I find interesting about Sanosuke's route is that he's the only one of the guys to voluntarily choose Chizuru and his love for her over other things that are also important to him, rather than clinging to her after everything else that he valued is either destroyed or becomes meaningless.

(I also ended up enjoying Shiranui in Sanosuke's route, because there's a definite sense by the end of it that unlike Kazama he's not talking down to humans out of a genuine sense of superiority so much as out of frustration; stupid humans, it's no good getting to like them because they just up and die on you. Assholes. It's like he's tsundere for the whole species; it's at once both cute and a bit poignant.)

Okita's route is where things start getting really messy, because Souji's a pretty messed-up guy. He's not really invested in the concept of the Shinsengumi either, but he is invested in is Kondou himself. For him, being a warrior is about making himself into a sword for Kondou to wield. He wants to be a tool that Kondou can use to attain his dreams, and what those dreams are is, I think, completely irrelevant to Souji. He doesn't feel the need to embrace any of them for himself, so long as he can help Kondou reach them.

Once Kondou is out of the picture, he latches onto Chizuru instead, with the same level of obsessive devotion that means whether he'll have to kill for her sake or die for her sake is completely unimportant to him (not dying would obviously be preferable, but hey, it's an imperfect world). The tuberculosis and the fact that as a fury he considers himself the walking dead anyway are the icing on the messed-up cake, contributing to his view of himself as expendable. It's probably not a coincidence that he's the only character with a bad end that has its own gallery image.

(The anime version fits into this was well: in the absence of Chizuru to latch onto, he latches onto the fact that Kondou chose to protect Hijikata and entrust his dream to him, and uses himself as a tool to carry that out instead. Why are you so messed-up, Okita?)

Probably not coincidentally, these two routes that are most concerned with the love story (Heisuke's route doesn't count) are also the ones whose storylines revolve around dealing with Chizuru's family issues.

Then comes Saito, who is invested very much in the Shinsengumi and in just what it means to be a swordsman and a samurai, and whether or not it still means anything with the times changing as they are, and where that leaves him. All of his emotional scenes focus on these subjects.

Edit: On replaying I find I have a better sense of what's going on in Saito's route. It's not helped by what appears to be some wonky translation, but what it all comes down to is the disconnect that Saito sees between what a samurai is supposed to be - specifically: a warrior - and what the culture around him actually values and respects. It's something that he struggles with even before Japan really starts Westernizing, and behind his quiet, stoic exterior he's full to the brim with deep philosophical thoughts and questions about his role in the world and what he's supposed to do if he can't reconcile the discrepancy between what he firmly believes is correct and what the rest of the world outside the Shinsengumi seems to think.

This is a character type that I have a well-established fondness for. The main appeal of his character and his route is trying to figure out the frequently completely opaque thought processes behind his behavior.

(Including all of his incredibly polite confrontations with Amagiri. I don't find Amagiri as interesting in and of himself as I do Shiranui, but I do enjoy the way he and Saito play off of one another.)

The result is occasionally ridiculously adorable. Especially where it involves his quiet, dogged devotion to Hijikata, although that is put far more on display in the CD dramas and side material than in the game proper.

And then, finally, Hijikata's route, in which the story really ceases to be about Chizuru or romance at all and instead is entirely about the tragedy of the Shinsengumi with some romantic subplot added in. Hijikata is a presence in all of the routes, and going from Sanosuke's to Okita's to Saito's gradually reveals more and more of his character, and it was fascinating to go from seeing him in the other routes as The Leader, stressed but basically on top of things as much as he can manage to be, to reaching his own route and watching him finally absolutely just lose his shit.

Moreso than in any other route, including Saito's, there is never even the suggestion of a question that Hijikata could put Chizuru or anything else above the Shinsengumi. The whole route is a study in taking a man who has a grand dream that he's invested his whole being into and built his whole life around, fought for and made painful sacrifices and even more painful compromises for... and not just dashing it but tearing it apart piece by piece, making it not only impossible for him to achieve but completely pointless, something that would no longer have any meaning to the rest of the world even if he'd succeeded in achieving it, because the world has changed around him and left him behind.

It's not even that Hijikata has any real illusions about things like honor. Kondou is the idealist and the one clinging to old ways of life that are becoming obsolete. It's just that Hijikata staked everything on the idea that if he gave it everything he had, worked hard enough, fought long enough, he could uplift Kondou to greatness and glory and they could be recognized as true samurai even though they were born peasants. And then every last bit of everything he'd achieved and everything he'd hoped to achieve is stripped away bit by bit until all he has left is the memory of what the dream meant to him and the knowledge that a few other people - most of them now dead - believed in it too.

(How I can tell I'm a hopeless nerd: I'm still occasionally struck by the dissonance of hearing Shinichiro Miki's voice coming out of the mouth of what is so obviously a Koyasu role.)

One of those people is Chizuru and that's why the love story, such as it is in this route, works as well as it does; it doesn't take over the story at any point, it's just there when it's called for. As Hijikata says himself, he lived for Kondou and the Shinsengumi, and with them gone, if he's going to live and not just lie down and die, he has to find something else to live for.

(I find it kind of amusing that the progression of routes from most to least concerned with the love story also turns out to be a progression of least to most sexualization of the blood-drinking scenes, from "hardly at all" in Heisuke's route to "wow, really?" in Hijikata's. I suppose they felt the need to squeeze in some additional fanservice to make up for the reduced prominence of actual romantic scenes, or something.)

Edit to add: Almost as good as playing the game myself? Reading a blind Let's Play by a straight adult man and watching his reactions as he succumbs to an overwhelming case of the feels:

Oh my God.

My breath catches in my throat, and I feel a rush of blood through my body, warmth starting in the pit of my stomach and spreading through my chest and up to my face. It’s the kind of adrenaline you get in a moment of shock, where the body floods the system to be ready for anything, fight or flight. I am stunned. There are no words for this — I never expected this to happen. I never thought something like this would happen. ... not to anyone I knew. Even when everything was at its worst, even when we were under fire from artillery shells as we desperately attempted to evacuate Kyoto, I never thought anyone would die.

...

But [Chizuru] was prepared.

All that up there? All those feelings, those physical reactions, that adrenaline?

That was me in real life.

Oh my God.

THIS GAME.

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joiedecombat

August 2012

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