The OVA has finally came to a close. To my satisfaction, this OVA ended on a high note. After the drop in the quality of writing and animation in the second episode, I didn’t expect much for this last episode. Fortunately, the good qualities from the first episode returned and delivered an exciting and rather bittersweet finale.
In this final episode, after taking the backseat for the majority of episode 1 and 2, Hijikata finally took on-screen action and stole the spotlight. One of my favourite parts of this episode was how it delved deeper into Hijikata’s role as the Demon Vice-Commander of the Shinsengumi and how he truly felt about it. Being the person responsible for creating the iron-clad rules and the one who made most of the decisions, Hijikata was mainly responsible in forcing the members of Shinsengumi who broke the rules to become Furies. When a member broke the rule, they were given two choices: commit seppuku or drinking Water of Life. Hijikata was the one who gave the options and oversaw their choice.
In the game, particularly Hakuoki Zuisoroku, Hijikata once opened up to Chizuru that he always wondered how he felt he was haunted by the people whom he ordered to kill themselves or killed after turning into Furies. Hijikata was fully aware that what he had done to those people was not something to be proud of and admitted that he was at fault. This episode showed that the men whom Hijikata forced to become Furies were resentful of Hijikata, cursing the rules he made that led them into becoming bloodthirsty monsters, unable to return to their normal human life.
I could sympathize with the Furies. It’s true that they did break the rule that has been established, but Hijikata’s rule itself was too extreme, even by the standard of the era they were living. This rule was partly the reason why some of the members grew to dislike the Shinsengumi. It took the lives of their own comrades more than their enemies. A bit trivia, historically, the majority of Shinsengumi members who died during their active years was mostly due to rule violation instead of illness or fighting against ronins.
Even though Hijikata acted like it didn’t bother him while reasoning that the moment the men joined the Shinsengumi they all must be prepared for death to uphold their samurai code, all those deaths, especially the ones caused by him, were actually weighed heavily on Hijikata. It must be hard for him to kill the people whom he actually considered as comrades. He couldn’t show his guilt to anybody due to his position and must always maintain his mask as a cold-hearted demon. When the time came to kill the Furies, Hijikata made it his mission to oversee their deaths in person and remember them for as long as he lives. It was the only way he could think of to atone for ending their lives all in the name of the Shinsengumi. I could sense Hijikata’s pain even without him having to say it.
Hijikata had always has a strong moral compass that he bury for the sake of the Shinsengumi, yet could never bring himself to completely throw it away. The episode wonderfully showed the subtlety of Hijikata’s expression of guilt and how he dealt with it. His cold tone with underlying sadness when he told his decision to confront the Furies, his request to Chizuru for a lukewarm tea to ease his mind after having to kill his own comrades that he hid through his demon persona, and his pained expression as he held the dying Sakai in his arms, and watched the milky way while mourning for his deceased comrade.
I like the symbolisms at the end. Hijikata still keeping the bruise he got from the fight seemed to symbolize the mental struggle Hijikata was having, how his heart has not yet recover from the loss. The falling star at the end seemed to symbolize Sakai’s departure with Chizuru and Hijikata being the ones most affected by his death. And speaking of Hijikata, it was sweet of him to secretly prepared a yukata for Chizuru to wear for tanabata celebration. Turned out, when Chizuru first mentioned tanabata, Hijikata already had it in mind to give Chizuru a day off and opportunity to be herself, even more so after the horrible thing she went through. (^_^)
The next person who stole the spotlight was Sakai. I truly felt sorry and sympathize with Sakai! Not only he was forced into becoming a Fury, he was manipulated into turning into a murderous monster directed to kill his own comrades. He was imprisoned for so long, no doubt each day agonizing what would become of him while waiting for someone to free him. Knowing Kaoru was not Chizuru and the revelation of his transformation finally drove him to his breaking point. It was heartbreaking knowing Sakai has already resigned to his fate and spent the little time he has to write a letter for his parents before his sanity completely left him. Even at the end of his life, he didn’t curse Hijikata who killed him, instead he worried for Chizuru’s safety. Hearing Chizuru was okay at least gave Sakai the peace he needed before he breathe his last. I swear I was crying when watching his death scene. Rest in peace, Sakai! (TT_TT)
My problem with Sakai, however, was the moment when he transformed into Fury and fought Hijikata and the others. His ability to become all muscular and easily overpowered them felt out of nowhere, considering it never happened before. Even if it seemed it was caused by Kaoru giving him another Water of Life and Sanan presumed his body reaction to the second dose of the elixir caused a different side-effect, it felt strange. Maybe the writers wanted to make the climax exciting by making Sakai a formidable final boss-like opponent, but making Sakai too monstrous was too much. it’s just too weird. Another thing, Sakai’s arm was cut by Okita, but then he managed to attach it back. The source material has specifically stated that it was impossible to reattach limbs that have been cut off. I’m not too keen with this change because not only it strayed too much with what has been established about Furies from source material, it also made the Fury-turned-Sakai who was already powerful became too overpowered.
On the other hand, I enjoyed watching the battle. The fighting choreography was topnotch and to make it even better, Hijikata, Sanan, and all of the Captains fought together as a team. I gave a round applause for their perfect coordination in fighting the Furies. And speaking about the fight, the OVA, like most anime these days, didn’t bother with censorship. They made the death scenes as brutal as possible. While the previous anime adaptations showed blood but limited to only cutting bodies and stabbing, the OVA didn’t shy away from complete decapitation, and one even was shown close-up. The level of violence was fitting for the setting of Hakuoki. Although, as much as I enjoyed the fighting scenes and my adoration for Hijikata, I believed that Hijikata able to defeat Sakai all by himself also too overpowered since the other Captains together have a hard time fighting against him.
Overall, I’m happy watching this OVA series as a whole. In terms of visual, this adaptation was one if not the best for its quality. The songs and musics were good to listen, though some might sounded bland compared to the others. It also has more fighting scenes compared to the other adaptations. Fans who loved action would enjoy watching whenever the characters were fighting. Unfortunately, as it focused on the plot, there was little-to-no romance at all in this adaptation. The best we could get was Heisuke near the end of the series being mesmerized by Chizuru’s beauty when he saw her in yukata. For fans who expected romance, sadly to say that this OVA won’t give you the romance you’re dying for.
Chizuru, who was supposed to be the main character, was unfortunately also served only as damsel-in-distress and mostly took the backseat for the majority of the OVA. She made herself useful, but that was more due to either sheer coincidence when she was captured or sheer luck due to her having the same face as Kaoru. But she still got my praise for staying strong through the whole ordeal, never letting herself to break down even when being faced with the cruel fact that the people whom she had considered as her comrades would be killed. She didn’t let even a single tear to fall. It’s not something that most normal people let alone a 16-years-old girl could easily endure.
And then the demons. I was disappointed that Sen and Kimigiku only appeared in episode 2. Because Sen was worried for Chizuru, I thought she should at least appeared in the final episode even if it’s only for a brief time, showing her being glad that Chizuru has returned instead of just disappearing from the rest of the story. Kaoru too. He just disappeared after he set Sakai free. It would’ve been better to show Kaoru one last time after the climax doing something like he’s thinking for his next plan or the sort.
I hope there’ll be another anime adaptation of Hakuoki. And if there’s one in the future, please make it the adaptation of the Shinkai reboot! I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I want to see Iba, Souma, Ryouma, Nomura, Miki, and the rest of the new characters to be animated! Also, I hope they have enough budget to make a longer anime series so that each character can have proper spotlight!