Reviewby Theron Martin, May 5th 2008
Haruka: Beyond The Stream of Time
While walking to school one day, Akane finds herself drawn towards an old well. As she approaches a demonic figure emerges and seizes her. Though friends Shimon and Tenma try to rescue her, all three get drawn into another world very similar to early feudal Japan. During the transition Akane finds herself approached by a strange entity and imbued with mystical jewels which, upon her arrival, make her the Dragon Priestess. Though she little understands the ability she has, her mystical power can protect the capital of the land she has traveled to or destroy it. Akuram, head of the Oni Clan, seeks to seduce her to just such a purpose after having removed the four gods that protect the city, while noblewoman Princess Fuji attempts to convince Akane to protect the city. To do so the jewels will assemble eight protectors around her, two of the first three of whom end up being her friends Shimon and Tenma.
Let's see: a school girl gets dragged into an old abandoned well by a demon, resulting in a journey across time during which she discovers a mystical jewel within her. Sounds like InuYasha, right?
Or how about this: a school girl travels to a realm patterned off an ancient Eastern Earth civilization, where she becomes a priestess to one of the major gods of the realm and collects around her several dashing guys as protectors? And classmates get drawn into the world, too? Surely that's describing Fushigi Yuugi.
A girl called across time and space by a rather nihilistic individual to become an instrument of destruction? Could be Escaflowne – The Movie.
Nope. All three actually describe Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time, a late 2004/early 2005 reverse harem fantasy series based on a girl-oriented adventure game franchise, which looks entirely like a conglomeration of plot elements borrowed from various earlier anime titles. If the series has an original bone in its structure, it does not show any during the first two episodes; in fact, veteran fans may find it a game to see how many other series the story elements and sound effects have been lifted from. Bandai Visual does not help matters by only putting two episodes on the first DVD, as that only allows enough time to establish the basic premise and confirm three of the eight jewel bearers who will be Akane's protectors. (So many specifically-designed characters appear in these two episodes that we have likely seen the rest of the future protectors already, however.) Granted, they are putting out new DVDs every 4-5 weeks for the rest of the year, but did they learn nothing from ADV's short-lived attempt to release Gantz two episodes at a time?
These first two episodes clearly show where the emphasis of the series truly lies: on its visuals and male supporting cast. Akane, despite being the central character, comes across decidedly wimpy, more the “maiden in distress” than someone wielding enough power to save or shatter a city. Sure, she may be overwhelmed by the circumstances and not understanding what is going on, but even given that she has, so far, shown all the personality and resilience of a wet noodle. The scenes where Akuram tries to seduce her to his cause fall painfully flat compared to other scenes of their type, and only when the other guys step into action do things get interesting. It does not matter who it is, whether it be classmate Tenma, the dour samurai Minamoto no Yorihisa, or even the anachronistically bespectacled fellow who has yet to be named, because any of them are more involving to watch than Akane. (Of course, the male lead in a harem romantic comedy is often the blandest member of its cast, too, so this shouldn't be surprising.)
The visuals do their part by providing vibrant, richly-drawn character designs which offer a wide, eye-appealing array of dashing male characters and a few nice female ones, especially Princess Fuji. Again, Akane is arguably the least interesting-looking character, and maybe a little too angular in design to truly be called pretty, but even she is drawn well. Those with a penchant for period pieces will find a lot to like here due to the concerted effort to pattern the unnamed setting off of Heian-era Kyoto. The overall bright color scheme prevents the setting from taking on the grittier look and feel seen in some other works based on the same time period, however. The animation takes some shortcuts (especially in the few action scenes) but does not do so excessively.
While relying primarily on modern dramatic and suspense styles, the soundtrack also tries to evoke the sense of period by mixing in variations on traditional Japanese music. The pop-rock style of the upbeat but mundane opener and more tepid closer remind the viewer that this effort aspires to nothing grander than typical pop culture entertainment, however.
As has become typical for BV USA releases, this one has no English dub. The only Extra included is “The Demon's Soliloquy,” which is really just alternate Next Episode previews for episodes 2 and 3. A $29.99 price tag for two regular-length subbed-only episodes with minimal Extras seems excessive by any other standards, but comparative to some other releases under BV USA's Honneamise label it almost approaches a reasonable price point. (ADV's releases of the early Gantz volumes offered two episodes, with dub and better Extras, at less than 60% of that cost, however.)
Haruka was clearly aimed at the same kind of audience that fell in love with Fushigi Yuugi, although it also may hold appeal for fans of pretty period pieces like Story of Saiunkoku. While the first volume does have something for action, suspense, and mystical components, they are not sufficient to sell the series on that alone and the writing is not good enough to recommend giving it a try if reverse harem series are not normally your thing.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Pretty male character designs, good general artistry.
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