Rewriting reality: Hakuouki

There is a lot of rewriting history going on in anime and manga, generally you would call it alternate universes or alternate realities. The what-if approaches where you take real historical figures or events and make something completely different happen. But that’s not enough. What about rewriting geography too? Like in Meine Liebe, where a huge Germanic-Prussia-like island is placed somewhere in the vicinity of England, in the turn of the 19th century, or a time slightly resembling that. No problem. Making historical figures, like war generals, female instead of male? Placed in a high school setting? Or making them vampires? Or robots in space? That limitless fantastical approach to history, religion and fairly tales is so great.

hau4 Pretty boys, katanas and cherry blossoms…

Hakuouki is following that tradition. Taking real historical figures and follows the actual history in some ways, but adding characters and events that have nothing to do with reality. And doing it well. The historical figures are the Shinsengumi. Sword-fighting heroes going against overwhelming odds and prejudice in the last days of the samurai. The Shinsengumi are portrayed in numerous movies and a lot of anime and manga. I have only watched the different parts of Hakuouki, Peacemaker Kurogane and Gintama (where the names are slightly changed). I got Runroni Kenshin a while ago, but haven’t watched it yet.

Hakuouki Hekketsuroku - 13 - Large Snapshot 02Wearing the Shinsengumi coats. 

Hijikata-Toshizo- Hijikata, not hard on the eyes.

Hakuouki is based on a video game, a so-called otome game, directed at a female audience, where the goal is romance. It’s a romance, all right, but with swords, battles and whatnot. It’s really stunningly drawn, though, both the characters and their surroundings. The protagonist girl is really likeable and there are some other good female characters too. I would have liked it more if Chizuru, the protagonist had been a real member of the force, but hey, I can’t always get what I want. (If so I would have liked it to be full out BL. well, it probably is, but not just shown…) Obviously the Shinsengumi men are all charming and stunningly pretty. Even the antagonists are stunning in some cases and fun to watch in others. Fanservice fact: Almost all of the leading characters have really long hair, flowing in the wind… while the rest have the traditional samurai chonmage, shaved on top and the rest long and twisted into a topknot. 

And there are vampires and demons too. Here, the vampires here are kind of a failed making man-made demon experiment. And it’s a really cool backstory, both the real one and the fantasy parts. It’s not a peaceful part of Japan’s history (the battles mentioned are mostly real, except for the demons participating) and it’s not one of those stories where people aren’t really dead until they die, no matter what, and probably not even then. People are actually dropping off like flies, even main characters, especially in the second season. It doesn’t really follow actual events and deaths but if you know the real history you will get some hints. Let me just say this, your tear ducts will work overtime when you watch this one. At least if you are like me, easily moved.

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These are the series so far (I’ve added the Japanese names, since I’ve found it really hard to keep them apart):

Hakuouki (Shinsengumi Kitan) 12 eps

Hakuouki: Record of the Jade Blood (Hekketsaroku) 10 eps. Season 2. This tearfest follows the first season.

Hakuouki: A memory of snow flowers (Sekkaroku) 6 eps OVA taking place between ep 6 and 9 in the first season). It’s good to see this one after Sekkaroku.

Hakuouki: Demon of the fleeting blossom – Dawn of the Shinsengumi. (Reimeiroku) 12 eps. Prequel. I like this one, it’s before the first one and the Shinsengumi is still called the Roshigumi. The protagonist is a young boy in this one (not a historical person). But the others are in it. I watched this after all the others and it felt like a good choice.

There are also two movies, which I haven’t seen yet:

Hakuōki Dai-isshō Kyoto Ranbu (2013)

Hakuōki Dai-nishō Shikon Sōkyū (2014)

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Habitually Breaking the 4th Wall – Gintama

I know that there are a few anime out there who habitually breaks the so called fourth wall (speaking directly to the audience), but the one I know best is Gintama.

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Gintama is brilliant in many ways and has a total disregard for almost anything resembling reality. It takes place during the Meji restoration in Japan, middle 19th century, last of the samurais etc. Except not since it also seem to take place in modern times. Aliens have invaded Japan, using the locals as cheap labour and has forbidden the samurai to wear swords. The leading character, Sataka Gintoki, is instead wearing a wooden bokken (Internet purchased…) that sometimes feels more effective than a real katana, well, sometimes not. He is that he takes on anything as , almost always with abysmal success, at least monetary-wise, even if he of course saves the world now and then. His sidekick, Shinpachi, is a teenager and heir to an abandoned dojo. Then there are Kagura, the strongest girl in the universe, and Sadaharu, her gigantic and cute dog/demon or whatever it is. Since it’s the Meji restoration, the Shinsengumi are there too, as the Shogunate police force, with a little different names, though. They are completely nuts, mostly, especially Okita Souji, who tries to kill Hijikata whenever he can. Hijikata, on the other hand is obsessed with mayonnaise and Shinsengumi captain is an obsessive stalker, oh, and another of them often cosplays as Echizen Ryoma from Prince of Tennis. One of my favourites is Katsura, the terrorist and former friend of Gintoki (his name means wig), and his pet Elisabeth, who may or may not (well, may) be a man dressed in a giant white penguin-like costume. Also the ninjas, Hattori, who suffer from haemorrhoids and Sa-chan, a masochistic female ninja who is completely obsessed with s&m and constantly tries to get Gin to tie her up.

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Breaking the 4th wall, as usual.

Hard to follow? Not at all and it’s not so complicated to get, once you start. The story is full of manga and anime references and sometimes the cast from other animes show up, like Bleach and Prince of Tennis. And they break the fourth wall constantly. Like Otose, the landlady, who suddenly has a wriggling snake tongue for a short while, since her voice actor also does snakelike villain Orochimaru in Naruto. She also jumps out and kills the director since a gorilla ranked higher than her in a popularity poll. He is then replaced by a robot. The cast often refers to the viewers, Gintoki complains that they didn’t wake him up in time for the show and so on. And after the first season the leading characters get together and make suggestions of how the story should develop, mostly blatant ripoffs or parodies of other manga/horror movies.

The episodes are often stand-alone, but there are some longer story archs. It is better to watch from the beginning anyway.

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A little gender-bending with Gintama and Katsura.

The fujoshi-friendly part:

I can totally see the slashability of this series (where the most popular pairing is Hijikata/Gintoki, strangely enough, I would have thought Katsura/Gintoki, but what do I know?) I don’t really feel the need to seek out doujinshi/fic, since it’s parody and fun all the way. I wouldn’t want to read serious stories about the characters, and if the stories are comedy I think just to watch it is enough. And you don’t have to get the manga, movie or historical references to appreciate it.

There are lots and lots of episodes (I think 264, plus a couple of movies).