Hakuouki Hekketsuroku – 20, 21
「散ずる桜花」 (Chizuru Ouka)
“Falling Cherry Blossoms”
Progression-wise, the continuation of the Hakuouki story has been good, but has yet to struck an emotional chord with me like the finale did in the first season. That is, until this episode, which was undoubtedly the most powerful one to date. What’s even better is that it was full of good twists — ones that no understanding of history could have foreseen. They came in rapid succession as well, starting with Sannan’s revelation that he’s been secretly working with Koudou to perfect the Rasetsu. However, that wasn’t actually a surprise since I was suspecting that Sannan had some ulterior motives in mind ever since Hijikata ordered him to stop researching the Ochimizu. In fact, after the opening to this episode seemed to reinforce that suspicion by showing Sannan cutting down a samurai around Sendai Castle, it seemed like a surefire betrayal once he unsheathed his katana against Hijikata. As such, the sudden revelation that it was all a ploy to deceive Koudou that starting with deceiving everyone blew my mind. Given how the series has led us astray with Sannan’s nightly rounds both in Sendai and back in Edo, I wasn’t expecting it to be because he was killing the Rasetsu who couldn’t calm their thirst for blood. However, the surprise only really hit me when he said the Shinsengumi commander’s orders are absolute (in reference to Hijikata saying the Rasetsu aren’t needed), followed by his explanation to Koudou that the Rasetsu are a failed experiment since that thirst while never be quenched and his declaration that has to correct his mistake while he still has time. On some level, that turn of events actually had me feeling bad about suspecting Sannan all this time.
Following that up was a fatherly side of Koudou that I would have never expected this late in the story, where he sacrificed himself to protect Chizuru. This was after he had kidnapped her in hopes that she’ll return to his side and lead the revival of the Yukimura clan. Seeing as he’s a branch demon driven by revenge against humans, I was pretty much convinced that he would be the ultimate antagonist in this series. Well imagine my surprise when he died shortly after a tearful and heartfelt moment with Chizuru that almost made light of all his actions thus far. All the talk about how he used to be a doctor and how Chizuru was always proud to have him as her father struck an emotional chord, which was followed up by another one when Sannan and Toudou collapsed from expending all their remaining life force to finish off the Rasetsu. I’d be lying if I said didn’t get me a bit teary-eyed, particularly when Hijikata looked like he was going to shed a few as he thanked them both for their commendable service all this time. It gives me goosebumps thinking about their last words even now, plus the smiles on their faces as they dissolved into nothing but ash. Their deaths were right up there with Yamazaki’s at the end of season one, and had a lot of impact because there was no way I could have seen them coming. As I’ve mentioned before, both Sannan and Toudou should already be dead well before this stage of the Boshin War.
What’s noteworthy is that if a Rasetsu army did exist and was gathered at Sendai Castle ready and waiting to be led by Hijikata against the Imperial forces that Koudou was turning against, the Shinsengumi commander’s decision not to use them is what would ultimately cost them the war. In a way, it was an eye-opener of sorts, as Hijikata departed for Hokkaido with the remaining former Bakufu forces led by military commander Ootori Keisuke and navy admiral Enomoto Takeaki (Itou Eiji). Left behind was Chizuru, whom he didn’t want to get involved any further and ordered to find her own path in life. Definitely a somewhat sad parting, seeing as neither of them really had any close support except from each other. On the plus side, this would prove to be a setup for further development in the next episode.
「雪割草の花咲きて」 (Yukiwarisou no Hanasakite)
“A Hepatica’s Bloom”
With the change of setting to the Bakufu’s last stand in Hakodate, Hokkaido, the stage was set for final battle of the Boshin War. Compared to the previous episode, this one didn’t nearly have as much of an emotional impact, yet still maintained a very unsettling feeling with the abolishment of the Tokugawa shogunate on the horizon. Looking back, it’s kind of amazing how this series has touched upon all the major events in the war, which a map of the territorial shift helps give a quick overview of. What started off with a group of unacknowledged samurai from Aizu had now reached the final days of a nearly two year long war. It has been nothing but a steep uphill climb for the Shinsengumi after establishing themselves as a special police division in Edo, and the casualties have been aplenty as they kept retreating with the Bakufu troops after losing the active support of their shogun. By now, the remaining resistance that include Hijikata Toshizou’s Shinsengumi were seen as nothing more than rebels, as they engaged the Imperial forces one last time in the Battle of Hakodate.
Despite what the name suggests, this final battle actually involved multiple encounters and started off with the rebel army attacking the local Matsumae domain, taking over the Goryoukaku fortress, and establishing the Republic of Ezo with Enomoto Takeaki as their president. The interesting part about the depiction of that first battle is that it included Hijikata’s tactic for overcoming the Matsumae’s defense that involved repeatedly opening and closing the gate to fire their cannon — something that would be documented by Shimada Kai after the war. Afterward, we learn how two of their ships, Kaiyou and Shinsoku, were lost to a storm during the battle, which would snowball into more problems for a rebel army that was banking on its naval power to keep Imperial forces away from Hokkaido. In contrast, it was nice to see the Hijikata x Chizuru side of the story get some attention amidst the unfolding of historic events, after it was spurred on by Ootori’s teasing. However, I was a bit surprised to hear Hijikata admit that he wants Chizuru by his side to give him strength, since it seems to suggest that he’s run out of people to depend upon in a losing war. There hasn’t been a lot of focus on potential pairings in this series after all, so to have it all come at the tail end like this makes Hijikata’s situation feel even more ominous. To that end, it looks like Kazama will be in Hakodate to settle his personal vendetta with him, even at the cost of his demon ties.
The preview pretty much speaks for itself on how things don’t bode well for Hijikata in the coming episode, leaving me wondering if there will be any saving grace in this relatively depressing story before it’s all said and done. The sight of Hijikata quietly frustrated over their failed surprise attack to capture the armored ship Koutetsu at the Naval Battle of Miyako Bay was a bit hard to swallow, because he knew very well that this loss meant the loss of the war. The rebel forces lost the Takao in the process due to its engine failure, and the Banryuu had to turn back due to bad weather, never allowing them to perform the pincer attack they planned. One of the biggest tide turners in this port battle was the use of a Gatling gun that laid waste to all of Hijikata’s boarding party. All of the events in this battle played out exactly as history recorded it, including the Kaiten’s use of an American flag to approach the dock without being fired upon and switching to their own just before ramming the Koutetsu to board it. Also depicted was the death of the Kaiten’s captain, Gengo Kougo, which prompted the eventual retreat. From the historic perspective, I enjoyed every moment of this episode. From the fictional Hakuouki perspective, I’m simply taking in the emotional roller coaster of a ride and holding onto hope that there will be one redeeming aspect to Chizuru’s story. At the moment, I really can’t see what that could be, so I’ll be eagerly anticipating the upcoming episode.