The Hakuōki video game series by Idea Factory, first appeared on the PlayStation 2 and has expanded to several platforms with new releases since then. In this anime based on the storyline and characters from the series, Hakuōki Demon of the Fleeting Blossom (or just Hakuōki for short) looks like a harem anime to the innocent eye, with hot bishis on the cover, so, you would expect to see them chase an annoying female protagonist. Actually, the anime series is hardly that, i expected so much harem and fan service in this series which surprisingly I did not get.
The story revolves around the annoying female lead (as I foretold) Yukimura Chizuru who has gone to Kyoto in search for her father. This is all very innocent and feels like a slice of life but she is chased by a group of Ronin samurai. She manages to escape the samurai but then encounters something much worse – the ‘furies’ (not furries), a strong superhuman race with defining features of white hair and red eyes. Luckily before Chizuru comes to any harm, the Shinsengumi come to her rescue, or so she thinks.
Once Chizuru is in their custody it’s either die by their hand or be a prisoner to their dastardly needs (if only). A greater purpose for her encounter with the Shinsengumi soon begins to unfold as the story develops. Both parties have the same mission in that they’re both looking for Chizuru’s father. To this end, Chizuru inadvertently joins the Shinsengumi (more a prisoner than comrade).
During the course of the series, she forms bonds between her and some of Shinsengumi, but to be honest there are more battles with the furies and other armies than there is romance in this series. The battles come frequently on a large scale and the Shinsengumi prove themselves to be more than just good looks and charm. In fact I feel Chizuru is redundant apart from being the cook and nagging.
The plot I think is highly engaging, I wasn’t gripped by the first episode and the shiny animation was a bit off putting, but once the character started to introduce themselves I really got into the series. Politics, strategy and action are the main themes of the anime, with occasional outbursts of slapstick comedy. It’s really well balanced for something so serious.
The furies are a topic of taboo to begin with and slowly learning about them changed the whole series for me. Who would have known there would be supernatural themes to take over in this historical setting? Throughout the series the Shinsengumi face many furies and you begin to learn some are ‘real demons’ and the man made ones have a ‘sell by date’, so to speak. Later on, you also begin to learn more behind the mystery surrounding Chizuru’s father and his intentions. Being a series based on history and conflict, you’ll find that some characters actually die, sometimes in nasty, artistic and realistic ways. Aside from the battles putting the series in historical context, it was eye opening to see disease as a way of slow death. Characters you may have favoured at the start also begin to change their ways and ideals throughout the series as a consequence of power, money, leadership and pride.
The OVA, A Memory of Snow Flowers Collection was a joy to watch, you get to learn more about characters who were shown for their battle skills never so much for personality – one of which is Toshizo Hijikata, second in command for the Shinsengumi. He is commended for his fighting prowess and ability to control conversations, however we never really find out about him as a person. Surprisingly he is the one who does most of the work in keeping the Shinsengumi together with his calm demeanor. In the OVA it shows scenes of him harboring feelings for Chizuru and not really caring for the situation at hand. He is a character who lives in the moment but rarely gets acknowledged, definitely not by ditsy Chizuru, you get to see his shy and blunt side. As soon as the moment is gone, he holds back his feelings for Chizuru.