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Australian Cover, image courtesy of Hanabee Australia

Australian Cover, image courtesy of Hanabee Australia

The biggest problem with Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom is that this otome game adaptation does not stand alone [1]. It isn’t the only problem, but it badly damaged an anime that I really wanted to like.

The Franchise

Demon of the Fleeting Blossom is the first anime instalment in the massive Hakuoki franchise. Survey [2] says that there are 8 computer games, two manga adaptations, and three more seasons of anime [3].

Demon of the Fleeting Blossom is also the adaptation of the first game Shinsengumi Kitan.

The problem here is that Demon of the Fleeting Blossom sometimes felt like scenes from a civil war rather than a coherent story. I had a constant sense that things were not being explained, that major plot and characterisation details were not there.

Or rather, that they existed elsewhere in the franchise. I’ve ranted about previously in my Sometimes More is More post, and it seriously damaged my enjoyment of the series.

However it is hard to tell for certain how much of the omissions were game related, and how much was an assumption of historical/cultural knowledge.

The History

As I mentioned in my review of Kamui no Ken “there are events which echo in a nation, reverberating and reshaping themselves even as the nation reshapes itself.”

For Japan one of these periods is the Bakumatsu and the Mejji Restoration, and it is a period I know mostly through anime [4].

Demon of the Fleeting Blossom sits squarely in this period, mostly from 1864 – 1867, and is loaded with historical references including most of the main characters being versions of major players in the Shinsengumi.

That three year spread allows the series to cover a number of key historical events, but only by jumping months between episodes. This contributed to the disjointed feel, and this was exacerbated by things that I knew were historical references but didn’t have the context for.

Lacking the context to properly assess these references also coloured my reactions to the main characters.

The Shinsengumi

Speaking of which, the Shinsengumi are the reverse harem in the original otome games for the female plot coupon, er, lead character Chizuru Yukimura to develop a romantic relationship with.

This was an interesting experience since my previous exposure to the Shinsengumi was mostly through Rurouni Kenshin where Hajime Saito is something of an ambiguous character if not an outright villain.

Here, Hajime Saito is one of the protagonists, if not an outright hero. This caused a bit of cognitive dissonance for at least the first few episodes.

It also reinforced the “scenes from a civil war” experience of the anime: there were many sides to this struggle, and inevitably all will be due for some degree of hagiography or romanticisation.

The Devils in the Details

In addition to already being historical, martial arts and romanc anime, Demon of the Fleeting Blossom is also a supernatural anime with both artificially created Oni [5], and the real deal. Toss in some separated families, and the fact that Chizuru eventually discovers herself to be a princess of the oni, and there’s really too much going on in this show for a 12 episode season.

The excessive editing is particularly apparent with respect to Chizuru’s heritage as there are characters introduced with very little background or screen time. Given that there is already a lot of characters to keep track of and I found it hard to keep them separate (or to find the motivation to do so).

It also contributed to the sense that Hakuoki is a franchise that is trying to do too much in too little space.

The Good

Despite my complaints, there is actually a lot to like about this show.

Although an occasionally frustrating female lead, especially when it seems her primary purpose is to get rescued, Chizuru is nevertheless quite an engaging character with a relatively low level of whining.

Most of the Shinsengumi, despite my initial concerns, rapidly become quite sympathetic characters [6].

The fight sequences are well done, reasonably accurate in terms of casualties, and the Shinsengumi are not immune to this.

I did actually appreciate the historical details, particularly when there were voiceovers from Chizuru that put some context around them.

It is also a very pretty show to watch, and I did like the opening and ending credit songs.

The (interim) Verdict

I’m still not entirely sure what to make of Demon of the Fleeting Blossom. The reliance on games I haven’t played, and history that I don’t know, made it hard to connect to.

Despite that there was always something… right about the show that made me keep watching to the end. I did actually enjoy watching Demon of the Fleeting Blossom but I’m not sure that it is a show that I’ll want to rewatch.

I definitely recommend it for those who know their Japanese history and/or have played the computer games. For me this is a temporary verdict, and one I may revise once I’ve seen the rest of the anime.

[1] The local release is spelt “Hakuoki”, Google suggests “Hakuoki”, and the Wikipedia page has it as “Hakuōki”.

[2] i.e Wikipedia and TV Tropes.

[3] Two more of which I also have to hand courtesy of Hanabee Australia.

[4] In other words I effectively know nothing about the period.

[5] These are closer to vampires than the classic Japanese Oni, and mostly mindless.

[6] Whenever I can tell them apart.