「雪華の都」 (Sekka no Miyako)
Being based on a female romance adventure game, Hakuouki is one of the series I knew the least about coming into its premiere episode, but may just prove to be a dark horse this season. I quickly came to that conclusion after this first showing gave me very little in terms of overall plot, but left me wanting more. It didn’t cover much more than what I described in the Spring 2010 Preview, starting off with Yukimura Chizuru (Kuwashima Houko) being chased by a couple of ronin. While searching for her, they’re suddenly killed by a couple of blood-thirsty and deranged samurai, who promptly go after Chizuru next. She’s saved by three men wearing similar clothes however, before passing out from the shock of it all. The group’s vice-chief Hijikata Toshizou (Miki Shinichirou, on right) then decides to take her back to headquarters, rather than killing her for witnessing what happened.
When Chizuru wakes up, she finds herself gagged and tied up, but a man comes by to untie her, introduces himself as Inoue Genzaburou (Kobayashi Norio), and informs her that she’s at the Shinsengumi‘s headquarters. Still restrained, Chizuru is taken to a room to meet the rest of the Shinsengumi, where their chief Kondou Isami (Ookawa Tooru, on left) eventually gets Saitou Hajime (Toriumi Kousuke) to explain the situation. According to Hajime, they finished off the “failed ones” who got into a scrum with some ronin and Chizuru witnessed it all. Fearing for her life, Chizuru pleads that she didn’t see anything, but Okita Souji (Morikubo Shoutarou, far right) insists that they just kill her off. Isami objects however and they later decide to detain Chizuru but spare her life.
The next day, Toshizou catches Chizuru trying to escape and decides to hear her out in front of the others. During the meeting, several of the men are surprised to learn that Chizuru’s actually a girl, before she explains how she’s come to the capital in search of her father, Yukimura Koudou (Saitou Ryuugo), whom she’s lost contact with for over a month. Hearing the name, Toshizou is quick to question how much she knows about her father’s work, but she’s at a loss to what he’s referring to. Hajime then explains that the medical clinic that he was working at was burnt down a month ago and his whereabouts are currently unknown, as his corpse wasn’t among the rubble. The Shinsengumi then reveal that they’re searching for her father as well, so Isami and master sergeant Sannan Keisuke (Tobita Nobuo, closest) decide to make her Toshizou’s attendant while she’s with them. However, Toshizou and Hajime are still wondering if Chizuru’s actually here in search of their secret, even though Souji highly doubts it.
For now, Chizuru is simply asked to continue pretending to be a guy so that she doesn’t stand out, and Toshizou is even kind enough to give back her short katana. Some time later over dinner with the others, Chizuru starts thinking the Shinsengumi aren’t that bad. Genzaborou later comes by with a report from Toshizou informing them that Keisuke was seriously injured and may lose the use of his left arm. While his life isn’t in any danger, everyone considers the inability to wield a sword properly a grave loss, with Nagakura Shinpachi (Tsuboi Tomohiro) wondering what the upper Shinsengumi will do. Hearing this confuses Chizuru because she’s under the belief that Isami is the chief, to which Toudou Heisuke (Yoshino Hiroyuki) inadvertently starts talking about how their Shinsengumi is different. Before he can say another word however, Harada Sanosuke (Yusa Kouji) angrily punches him for almost revealing their secrets, leaving Chizuru in shock.
So as I mentioned above, not a whole lot happened aside from the introduction of a lot of characters, but there was just enough plot build-up to leave me really curious about the Shinsengumi’s dark secret. As things stand now, it appears they have some sort of sickness that can cause them to degenerate to blood-thirsty monsters if they don’t keep it in check, which the red vial and glowing eyes in the opening sequence seem to support. If that is indeed the case, then it remains to be seen whether Chizuru’s father is responsible or if he’s trying to find a cure. There wasn’t much else in terms of story in this premiere episode, but the fact that I’m already considering various possibilities says this series is doing something right in my mind.
Production-wise, Studio DEEN‘s animation looks fairly good and I have no qualms with it. The number one highlight for me though is Kuwashima Houko’s portrayal of Chizuru, which I found absolutely adorable even though she’s not trying to be. I mentioned before how I really enjoy Houko’s performances, and given how she’s rarely in anything nowadays, they tend to be something I really look forward to. In fact, I feel like I’ve been in a “Houko anime dry spell” as of late (yes, it’s that bad), so I’m almost inclined to continue following Hakuouki simply because she’s starring in it. Of course, it never hurts when you have a mysterious premise as the foundation to the story either.
Finally, I should mention that the opening theme is by Yoshioka Aika, who performed all the theme songs in the Hakuouki games (yes, there are several). It’s a pretty good song and worth a listen, much like the ending theme here by mao.