Hakuoki Shinkai Fūkaden [Hachiro Iba Route]

Okay, now I will cover one of the three new bachelors in Shinkai reboot and the one I like the most among the three: Hachiro Iba! He is an old friend of the Shinsengumi captains, and most importantly, Chizuru’s childhood friend! Yes, he belongs to the childhood friend trope. Usually, I have a mixed feeling for the childhood friend trope with the cliches and all. Iba, however, is acceptable. The more I played his route, the more I liked him!  

There will be HEAVY SPOILERS! Read at your own risk, don’t say I haven’t warned you!

A handsome, strong but polite and refined gentleman, Iba was an okuzume (shogun’s bodyguard) from the famed Iba family who owned one of the four best elite dojos in Edo. He was one of a very rare hatamoto (Shogunate vassals) who was humble and treated those of lower status equally with respect. This extended even to his enemies, always calling them with the suffix “-san” in Japanese, like Chizuru. Iba was close to the Shinsengumi, but he’s still separate enough that his relationship with Chizuru was disconnected to the Shinsengumi.

Unlike other bachelors who fell in love with Chizuru as the story progresses, Iba has been in love with her since far long even before the beginning of the story. After his debut appearance, Iba always looked after Chizuru, showering her with subtle affection and protectiveness that one would never show to a mere childhood friend. Some people perhaps would find Iba’s attitude creepy, but that’s only because either they don’t know he and Chizuru are childhood friends or the fact of their relationship doesn’t click with them.

When they were children, Iba regularly visited the Yukimura Clinic to read Kodo’s western books and played with Chizuru. They were close enough for Chizuru to consider him an older brother figure, calling him “Hachiro-oniisan” (Big brother Hachiro). Even as a child, Iba has a wiser mind than children his age. When other children started bullying Chizuru after witnessing her healing ability, Iba was the only one who stood by her side and accepted her for who she is. sigh I wish someone like him was by my side when I was still a child. That would help me from bullying.

For Iba, being different was not necessarily a bad thing. Regardless of her healing ability, Chizuru was always an honest, normal girl to him and continued to treat her such. He was, in fact, the one who told Chizuru to promise that she should hide her ability to avoid further bullying. Chizuru’s bullying led Iba to decide to start diligently practicing his swordsmanship so he could protect her, which motivated him to train for years until he became the skilled swordsman in the present. Ironically, partly due to this, he stopped coming to the Yukimura Clinic and Chizuru slowly forgot about him.

Eleven years of separation didn’t change Iba’s love for Chizuru in the slightest. When they were reunited for the first time after years, Iba immediately recognized her. Even when he was saddened by the fact she forgot about him, he remained optimistic and used any opportunity he had to become close with her again. He didn’t mind if she didn’t remember him. He’ll just make her remember him from now on. Chizuru forgetting him didn’t stop Iba from loving her unconditionally. To Iba, Chizuru was his most precious person. He prioritized her above all else. Before the shogunate, the Shinsengumi, and his other comrades, he would risk his life for Chizuru’s sake. No matter what the situation, Iba cared more for Chizuru’s safety that he’s willing to continue to fight regardless of his condition to protect her. This gave me another reason to love him! That’s one heck of a dedication! Childhood love that persists into adulthood is very sweet~! 

But Iba was not without fault. He had a bad habit of so preoccupied with what he believed was best for Chizuru that he lost track of what she actually wanted and did things without their permission. Fortunately, he quickly learned of this mistake and was more sensitive afterwards, asking for Chizuru’s consent first and respected her wishes even if he disagreed with her.

As for Chizuru, she was initially confused to accept Iba’s kindness because even though he remembered her, she didn’t, so Iba was technically a stranger to her. A stranger being all nice to you normally would’ve made you uncomfortable (not that Chizuru ever felt that way). Receiving so much kindness from Iba made Chizuru feel guilty for not remembering him. Whelp, Iba’s efforts didn’t go to waste since she slowly remembered him again. After Chizuru was able to recall her childhood, it became easier for the two of them to reconnect. However, what I like is that Chizuru didn’t rely on their childhood memories or the fact that they were childhood friends for her to bond with Iba, she got closer with Iba for everything he did for her in the present. 

Watching Iba’s dedication to her, how could Chizuru not fall in love with him? Having a guy like Iba, I think I’ll fall for him in real life. (^w^)

Like most of the Shinsengumi bachelors, Iba’s route offered a different perspective of what it means to be a warrior as well as the situation during the whole conflict. This time, it was offered from the point of view of a hatamoto. Back in the day when Iba was training together with Hijikata and the others at Shiei Hall, his skill was on par with Okita, who was one of the strongest swordsmen of the Shinsengumi. However, during their separation, Okita’s skill has significantly improved more than Iba’s. The deciding factor of the difference in their skills was real-battle experience. Iba was strong, but unlike the Shinsengumi, he never killed anyone. Before coming to Kyoto, he lived in the safety of Edo, spending his days training in his dojo. His position as an okuzume was also gained more because of his father’s connection rather than due to his swordsmanship. As an okuzume’s duty was to guard the Shogun, Iba didn’t get much opportunity to fight tooth and nail like the Shinsengumi.

Iba knew that he must be prepared for a life-and-death situation, but in the end, resolving his mind and experiencing it for himself are two different things. He severely lacked the edge needed in a real fight. Okita sensed this, and so commented that Iba’s blade was light because he never swung his sword with the intention to take lives. This was evidenced when he fought against Amagiri. Iba avoided slashing the vital spots, which gave Amagiri the advantage. For Okita to point this out right to his face unnerved Iba. His position didn’t give him many opportunities like the Shinsengumi, so all Iba could do was continue to sharpen his blade and steel his mind.

Iba finally found his fang when he fought against the main antagonist of his route: Kanryusai Takeda. 

One absolute rule that anyone must follow if they don’t want to get on Iba’s bad side: NEVER insult or harm Chizuru. Iba was usually calm, rarely losing his composure in most situations. The only thing that could make him quick to succumb to his emotion was whenever Chizuru is insulted or endangered. Try to call her a monster or a beast, you’ll become the target of his ire. Try to cut her, you’ll receive the end of his blade. Hurting her, you’ll be dead. Does it give you a yandere vibe? Some people think so. Not me, though. Although, for a moment at certain part of his route, I actually quite worried that he’ll turn out to be a yandere character like a certain infamous yandere bachelor who also belonged to a childhood friend troupe. I’m so relieved that wasn’t the case with Iba. (^w^)

After the confrontation against Takeda, Iba finally experienced the feeling of wanting to kill someone and understood how the Shinsengumi feel ever since they came to Kyoto. Protecting someone or something is not as simple as it looks. In the chaotic era they’re living, there’s a flipside when they have someone or something to protect. They must face the situation where killing was their only choice and prepare to shoulder the burden of the lives they take.

Iba has sworn to use his sword to protect, so following this realization, he came to the decision that he will hurt others or even take someone’s life for the sake of the ones he’s protecting. Otherwise, he might lose them and regret it. As war was approaching, Iba was even more determined as the Shogunate began losing power and trust from other domains. As a hatamoto, Iba knew that the warriors of his class and low-ranking vassals were mostly types who were unwilling to take risks. That’s why Iba knew they’re not prepared for an actual war. Iba doubted many men would be willing to come to the Shogunate’s aid. It was something hard for Iba to admit, but a reality that he must face.

As much as he hoped he’s wrong, Iba’s worst fear came true when the master he served abandoned the warriors who fought for him. He was further disillusioned when the Tokugawa retainers turned out to have sent the Shinsengumi as an offering to the Imperial Army under the pretext of making a dent against the Imperial Army. Iba took this personally because he himself was a hatamoto. The thought of his fellow Tokugawa vassals feeding his close friends to the dogs enraged him. He felt he’s also responsible because he was complicit. Oh, no, Iba! You’re not guilty at all! No one would blame you! (TT_TT)

Like the Shinsengumi, even though the Shogunate had abandoned them, Iba still decided to fight against the Imperial Army for the path of the warrior that he believed. He didn’t want to tarnish the name of the bakushin by refusing to fight in the name of the Shogunate. He didn’t consider those who defected to the Imperial Army as warriors. Loyalty bears no contingency on adversity or peril. If he was permitted to fight, then he would fight until his dying breath.

Surrendering was an option. Actually, doing so would save many lives. Then why did the Shinsengumi, Aizu Domain, and others still insist on fighting on the losing side for the people who didn’t even care for them? Normal people would think it’s foolish and suicidal of them to keep on fighting, still they fight. That’s because allowing that meant the death of their principle. They willingly sacrifice their own lives for their beliefs. It’s a purpose beyond their existence. As long as there’s a fact that there were samurais who fought to the death for the Shogunate, it’s possible to change the way the posterity sees history that would be recorded.

I don’t know much about samurai, but is it possible to give some sort of post-mortem samurai recognition for the Shinsengumi? From what I see, they deserve that recognition! (>_<)

I’ve said this before, but what I liked the most about Iba was how optimistic he was. Iba’s left arm was so severely injured that he could no longer hold a sword for the rest of his life, similar to Sanan when his arm was injured before becoming a Fury. For Sanan and the Shinsengumi, losing an arm was essentially a death for a warrior, which led Sanan to drink Water of Life. Iba didn’t believe so. Even if he only has one arm, he will continue to fight. He couldn’t use a sword anymore? Then he’ll just swap his weapon that would suit him. I really like how his spirit was unwavering even when he lost an arm.

Instead of sulking or drowning in self-pity like you-know-who, Iba tried to think of another way to fight. The only reason he chose to become a Fury was because it’s the only way to defeat his then non-human nemesis. Iba was prepared to fight with his remaining arm or swap his sword for a gun, if it was a simple human conflict that is. Unfortunately, not only did Takeda become a Fury, the demon arm gave him even more power that surpassed normal Furies and demons. Iba had no choice but to become Fury himself and then used the other demon arm if he hoped to have any chance of winning against Takeda.

Speaking of arms, one of the things I liked playing Iba’s route was that it unexpectedly explored more about the demon lore in the form of demon arms protected by Sen’s clan in Yase Village. Otomate sure was clever to use Iba’s historically injured arm to include the demon arm plot without it being forced. Good job!

Accepting a demon arm came with a cost, however: Iba must never interfere with human history. This meant not only Iba gave up his humanity, but he also couldn’t fight alongside his comrades who were still fighting against the Imperial Army. 

There’s no need to say how painful it was for Iba that he couldn’t fight together with his close friends. Nevertheless, Iba still accepted the demon arm because there’s no meaning if he didn’t have the power to protect Chizuru, the person he cherished the most. And he knew from fighting Takeda himself that he’s far too dangerous to be left alone. The Shogunate’s fall was inevitable anyway, so Iba has nothing more to lose. Yes, later he lamented that he could only stay as a medic during the war, but he regretted nothing.

What nobody expected (me included), having a demon arm was more than just receiving demonic power. The arm itself seemed like it had a mind of its own, and its demonic instinct seeked a mate. Chizuru, being a pureblood female demon and the woman Iba loved, became the target for the arm to mate. The demon arm influenced Iba’s mind to make a move on her. Iba’s main problem as Fury was not his bloodlust, but resisting the demonic urge influencing him that threatened to defile Chizuru. I found this quite uncomfortable, especially because Iba wasn’t the only one to develop such an urge towards Chizuru. However, this gave more depth to Iba’s character as his struggle was different from other bachelors.

Iba has contemplated suicide every time he woke up from the dreams, showing how much he was disgusted with himself. Not only that, Chizuru always cuts herself every time he has bouts of bloodlust so she can give him blood, adding more layer of guilt. The increasing influence of his demonic arm coupled with bloodlust was slowly driving Iba to madness day by day. He tried his best not to succumb to the demonic urge, but after he almost assaulted Chizuru not only once but twice, Iba lost confidence in himself. His demon arm just won’t stop and it scared him. He threw away his humanity for the sake of protecting Chizuru, but ironically, now he became a danger to her. Iba was already in a state of mental duress with everything happening to him at the same time. It’s amazing that Iba could still stay sane under so many pressures. Any lesser man would already have their mind deteriorating completely with so many problems coming at once. 

This is when the power of love prevails. What Iba needed to reignite his spirit was Chizuru’s love confession. Seeing that his decade of love was reciprocated and Chizuru’s endless faith in him despite the risk, Iba was beyond happy. Even though he already admitted the demonic urge inside of him and what he might do to her, it never stopped Chizuru from believing in him. Her trust gave him strength and his desire to protect Chizuru became stronger. The affirmation of their love was what subdued the demonic urge. It’s a natural instinct for male demons to be protective of the female one. The demon arm sensed Iba’s sincere strong desire to protect Chizuru, a female demon. In response to Iba’s feelings, the demon arm finally relinquished its hold, allowing Iba to freely use the demon arm. In other words, the demon arm deemed Iba’s emotional resolve as comparable to a real demon, earning its respect.

That’s the power of love for you! The moment when Chizuru and Iba finally shared their feelings really got me! Their kiss CG is my favorite of the entire kiss CGs in the game. Watching Iba in his vulnerable moments made me want to enter the game and just hug him myself! Mamoru Miyano did a splendid job in bringing out so many emotions from Iba’s character. As expected from one of my favorite voice actors who voiced Tamaki (Ouran HighSchool Host Club), Riku (Kingdom Hearts), Light Yagami (Death Note), Setsuna F. Seiei (Gundam 00), Ryuji Sakamoto (Persona 5), etc! (^v^)

Lastly, what makes Iba’s route so enjoyable to play is the antagonist, Takeda, who is clearly a complete foil to Iba. I said it was enjoyable, but it didn’t mean I like him. Frankly speaking, I DESPISE Takeda. He was cruel, arrogant, power hungry, and an ass-kisser who used to be the Fifth Division Shinsengumi Captain. He tended to go out of his way to look good in front of those of higher status in an attempt to receive preferential treatment on his way through the ranks. When he didn’t get the treatment that he thinks he deserved, he would be willing to betray and seek other factions to make a name for himself. The first time he made his debut, I’m positive that anyone would find more than plenty of reasons to not like him. He was the type of person you’d love to hate. And that’s why he made a compelling antagonist.

Takeda came from a no name family and worked hard to reach his current status. With that kind of background, it’s no wonder why he’s so obsessed with rank and power. When his position is threatened, he’ll do anything to mark his name, even if it means misusing his position to intimidate an innocent civilian. He also has a shallow mind. He resented Iba from the moment they first met just because Iba was from a high-ranking family. He was jealous of Iba, who he perceived to be more privileged and easily gained the position of an okuzume at such a young age. Yeah, I really really wanted to give him a piece of my mind. How dare he judge Iba like that just because of something so trivial! Yes, maybe he did become an okuzume through his father’s connection, but Iba also worked hard in polishing his swordsmanship! Heck, the fact you got easily beaten by him was enough proof that even without his father’s connection, Iba has what it takes to be an okuzume!

The worst part was, after receiving the demon arm, since it’s connected with Iba’s, Takeda also experienced the same sensuous dream about Chizuru every night. Since then, he’s lusting after Chizuru, intending to make her bear and give birth to his children. He also has no qualms in feasting on human blood, killing many people to strengthen himself. Urgh, this guy is beyond creepy and disgusting! This is why I put him dead last out of three new antagonists introduced in Shinkai. I don’t like him at all. At least Miki and Nakaoka still have a conscience (and they have cooler designs too). Takeda? He’s hopeless, he has no chance of redemption. Historically, from what I read in a few sources, the real Takeda was also a jerk. I’m so satisfied when Iba finally killed him (and in a very cool way at that)! But too bad, he still got some fans in Japan because of his good looks. (_ _lll)

Aside from Iba and Takeda, there’s also Kotaro Motoyama, Iba’s long-time friend who also served the Shogunate. He was a funny guy. He was nervous and scared of the Shinsengumi like they’re going to eat him alive. When he first met Chizuru and found out that she’s the Demon Commander’s page, Motoyama freaked out so much that he practically dragged Iba out of the compound while saying he doesn’t want to be killed. Lol

Motoyama also played a matchmaker for Iba and Chizuru before becoming a third wheel at one point. Despite being afraid of the Shinsengumi, he was no coward against their enemies and would fight to the death together with his comrades. He even saved Iba and Chizuru once from Takeda and his Furies. He’s less memorable than Nomura and Nakaoka, but still a likeable companion for Iba.

The downsides of Iba’s route that bothered me the most was the translation. Some lines were changed into much more cheesy lines in localization. The Japanese say something much simpler, but the translation replaced it with overly romanticized lines that ruined the mood. I avoid reading the texts so that I could know what Iba was truly saying unless it’s really necessary. There’s also a conversation topic about Iba and Chizuru’s childhood that was repeated. Iba and Chizuru already spoke about it, but then brought it up again like they haven’t talked about it before. It’s repetitive. Thank goodness this only happened in Kyoto Winds.

Also, the second time Iba made a move on Chizuru, she decided to just give up and let him do as he pleased with her. I get it that Chizuru won’t be able to free herself from Iba’s grasp in that situation, she wanted to be with him no matter what so she stayed quiet, and maybe she let him because if she’s being complicit that would lessen his guilt. The thing is, if you ask me, Chizuru letting Iba like that was a big mistake. If Iba didn’t regain his senses on time, he’s as good as being overwhelmed by guilt to the point of committing a seppuku because he’ll never forgive himself. Chizuru, if you want to help Iba, then don’t stay still and try to help him regain his senses!

The ending also felt rushed because Chizuru went into a coma without explanation. I figured it’ll be explained in the Fandisc. Honestly, I think Otomate should stop using FD as a means of explanation for things left unexplained in the original game, especially if the FD is not localized! (TT_TT)

And then Kazama and co. I was disappointed that Kazama, Amagiri, and Shiranui didn’t appear in this route in the Edo Blossoms. Because there’s a demon lore explained, I thought at least Kazama would make an appearance again. I’d love to see him and Iba meeting again after Iba received the demon arm. I was curious how Kazama would react if he saw Iba and Takeda with demon arms. In Drama CDs in which Iba and Kazama appear together, amusingly, they have a rivalry and compete over Chizuru (I can’t stop giggling and smiling when hearing the two of them banter in Drama CDs). That’s why it’s such a waste that they didn’t include Kazama in Iba’s Edo Blossoms route.

Overall, out of the six new routes, I enjoyed playing Iba’s route the most. His route was one of the most romantic thanks to the childhood love element and Iba’s visible affection. When it comes to romance, Iba is quite similar to Sano, only that because he’s coming from a high-ranking family, his gesture is more polite and dignified. In terms of character development, Iba didn’t change much in my opinion, but his struggle against the demon arm’s influence and how he overcame it won over me. The inclusion of the demon lore was a big welcome since in other routes except Kazama, there’s not much exploration about demons. His swordsmanship was also cool after becoming a Fury, able to deflect bullets! (^/////^)

Kazanova

An introverted but passionate Japanese lover who spend the days doing anything related to anime, manga, and games.

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