ANIME REVIEW: “Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom” – Animation Scoop

ANIME REVIEW: “Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom”

The broadcast series Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom (2010) is the first animated adaptation of the popular 2008 video game: Additional TV series, two features, an OAV and a manga followed.

The adventure begins in 1864, when Japan was facing an uncertain future: The failure of the Tokugawa shoguns to formulate a satisfactory response to the arrival of Admiral Perry a decade earlier revealed how ineffectual the government had become. The country was divided between the supporters of the Tokugawa and advocates of a shift to direct rule by the emperor. The resulting political debates, social unrest and civil wars would lead to the Meiji Restoration in 1868. To maintain order in Kyoto—and prop up their power–the Tokugawa organized the Shinsengumi, a corps of ronin, or masterless samurai, in 1864.

Unconvincingly disguised as a man, Chizeru Yukimura (Brittney Karbowksi) comes to Kyoto, looking for her missing father. On her first night in the capitol, she’s attacked by savage, zombie-like creatures, but is rescued by a Shinsengumi patrol. The samurai are also looking for Chizeru’s father, a doctor who’s been experimenting with a Western elixir called the Water of Life. Anyone who drinks it becomes a fantastically powerful Rasetsu (“Fury”), a sort of berserker driven by blood lust.

Once the samurai realize Chizeru is 1) a girl, and, 2) the daughter of the doctor they’re looking for, they decide to keep her at their headquarters to help with the search and to prevent her from telling anyone about the Water of Life. The colorful, quarrelsome warriors adopt Chizeru as a sort of kid sister. In return, she cooks, cleans, serves drinks, bandages wounds, whines and nurtures a crush on vice-commander Toshizo Hijikata (Andrew Love). Many of the characters in Hakuoki are based on real individuals: The historic Toshizo Hijikata (1835-1869) was known as “The Merciless Vice-Commander.” In the animated series, his sternness hides a sentimental heart.

Demon of the Fleeting Blossom can be seen as a romance with bloody fight scenes added to attract boys, or a warrior tale with a romance added to attract girls. Viewers may find it reminds them of a juggler trying to keep one too many balls in the air. Director Osamu Yamasaki can’t quite reconcile a period drama with a wistful romance, a zombie fantasy, a samurai action tale and an adaptation of a popular game.

Characters appear, then disappear, only to re-appear several episodes later. Sub-plots start and stop as the complications multiply. Before the filmmakers adequately develop the story of the mysterious Water of Life, Chizeru is revealed as the descendant a pure-blooded “devil” clan whose members command an array of supernatural powers. A group of demon warriors try to steal her from her Shinsengumi friends, while a devil-princess offers her protection.

Hakuoki recalls the 2003 series Peace Maker, in which 15-year-old Tetsunosuke “Tetsu” Ichimura joins the Shinsengumi. He meets many of the same characters and, like Chizeru, serves as their unofficial mascot. But Chizeru stays at Shinsengumi HQ at the commander’s order; Tetsu joins the corps because he wants to become a warrior capable of avenging his parents’ murder by an agent of the Imperialist Choshu clan.

Although he trains with ferocious intensity, Tetsu continually wrestles with a grim inner conflict: Should he become a murderous avenger or should he put aside his pain and become the “Peace Maker” his father hoped he would be. Although Chizeru is allowed to carry messages and accompany Shinsengumi patrols, she can’t become a full-fledged member of the group, and she devotes little effort to searching for her father.

The bloody battle scenes underscore the significance of Tetsu’s decision in Peace Maker; they lack that meaning in Hakuoki. When Tetsu chooses reconciliation and dedicates himself to helping to build a peaceful future for Japan, the audience feels a satisfaction Chizeru’s adventures can’t provide. But the ongoing popularity of the property suggests that Demon of the Fleeting Blossom resonates with large audiences on both sides of the Pacific.

Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom Season 1
Sentai: $69.98 2 discs, Blu-ray

Charles Solomon

Charles Solomon

Internationally known animation historian and critic, Charles Solomon has written over 15 books books including Enchanted Drawings: The History Of Animation, The Art of Disney's Frozen, and The Making of Peanuts Animation. Solomon's "The Art of Toy Story 3" will be published by Chronicle this spring.
Charles Solomon
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