Reviewby Theron Martin, May 21st 2013
Hakuōki: A Memory of Snow Flowers
DVD 1-2 - OVA Set
In December 1866, Chizuru is informed by the recently-befriended Sen that rogue samurai have gathered at Shimabara with the apparent intent of eventually attacking the Shinsengumi headquarters. Since Chizuru can successfully pass as a geisha with the proper dress, the Shinensgumi reluctantly allow her to go undercover to gather information, with a couple of them serving as guards in case things get hairy – and, naturally, they do. That is not the only business of consequence afoot in December and January, however. Checkpoints have been set up around Kyoto to watch for spies, and the Shinsengumi are required to help man them. A certain assemblage of devils is also afoot, conducting their own schemes, but nearly everyone has to stop and appreciate the snow.
Although this six-episode OVA series mostly from 2011 (the final episode came out in mid-2012) is the third installment in the anime side of the Hakuōki franchise, its story actually takes place during the six month gap between episodes 8 and 9 of the first TV series. However, familiarity with certain revelations in the final four episodes of the first series is assumed, so watching it in chronological order is not recommended for newcomers. And while it is a side story, it does elaborate further on the relationships between certain characters and provide a few minor details that were behind the scenes of the action in the main series.
Typically these side story efforts are merely collections of one-shots, but A Memory of Snow Flowers takes a different approach. It instead tells essentially the same story from six different angles, with each episode focusing on one or two of the male characters and detailing what their involvement is in the main incidents and what they get involved in that does not directly involve the others. As a result, certain scenes repeat in most or all of the episodes but often from different perspectives. For instance, at one point Yamazaki does a “Secret Technique: Tatami Mat Flip” to protect a geisha-dressed Chizuru from overenthusiastic samurai. In episode 1 we actually get to see the event happen, while in most of the later episodes we instead hear it happen while the camera focuses on other characters elsewhere in Shimabara. In other cases individual stories intersect in common scenes (such as how Hijikata and Kazama come to a duel from different directions or a gathering of devils to discuss Chizuru and other concerns) or fill in the gaps for others (Hijikata's story in episode 5 explains how he came to be running back to the Shinsengumi HQ with the geisha-clad Chizuru, as seen in episode 1).
As interesting as this gimmick can be, though, the meat of the OVAs lies in the episode-specific content. This approach allows each episode to focus on how Chizuru interacts with one of the main male characters, and these interactions often have a more flirtatious feel than interactions in the first series episodes do; here the franchise's origins as an otome game are most evident, as one could look at these episodes as the starts of alternate character paths. They also flesh out the personalities of each guy a bit more, especially Kazama; his conversation with Sen over the proper way to deal with women clearly has ramifications later on. Seeing the different ways that each character reacts to the snow is also rather amusing, as a couple that one might not expect approach it with childlike exuberance. On the downside, except for one scene Chizuru is still largely helpless and an excuse for the Shinsengumi members (or even Kazama) to be gallant, and her geisha outfit merely allows her an excuse for dress-up.
Somewhat surprisingly for an OVA offering, the technical merits may actually be a slight downgrade from the regular series. Background shots and the male character designs are still major strengths, and Chizuru looks fantastic as a geisha (it is not at all hard to understand why the male characters go out of their way to see her dressed like this), but quality control slips much more noticeably and with greater frequency and the character artistry in general does not look quite as refined. Likely this has something to do with a change in animation director, as Atsuko Nakajima served in that capacity for the two prior TV series but here each episode has a different person in that role. (Nakajima did only the closer and character designs this time.) That also explains why the production quality varies some from episode to episode. The animation effort is sufficient for what the series does but nothing special. Graphic violence in this set of episodes is minimal, and closest thing to fan service it offers are the chest-baring manner in which certain male characters sometimes wear their clothing.
The soundtrack maintains the standard set by the first series, with equivalent results. New opener “Yume no Ukifune” is a solid number with a dramatic sound, though it also sounds very similar to some other established openers. The closer varies from episode to episode, however. Episodes 1, 2, 4, and 5 use the same visuals but different songs, while episodes 3 and 6 use variations on the regular visuals (but some overlapping shots) but additional different songs. The six are all sung by Maon Kurosaki and use a wide array of different tones and musical styles.
Sentai Filmworks is releasing the OVA collection on a pair of DVDs in a single case; no Blu-Ray option is available for this one. The second disk has the clean opener and clean versions of all of the closers for Extras. The Christopher Ayres-directed dub brings back the whole cast from the previous two TV series, and they uniformly turn in solid but unexceptional performances. One scene did have a slight timing problem which made one line of dialogue come off less smoothly than it should have, but this was not a recurring problem and no other significant flaws were noted. As has been Sentai's recent standard, the dialogue sticks very close to the subtitles in most cases.
This set of five 25-minute and one 29-minute episodes are hardly crucial viewing, as the new insight they offer will not stimulate any dramatic new understandings of the characters and nothing is shown here that is critical to the main story. They also avoid delving much into actual history, as the earlier series do. However, fans of the franchise should still find them quite satisfying, as they offer plenty more of what most are probably watching the franchise for in the first place.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B
+ Providing alternate angles on certain scenes is interesting, some characters are allowed to loosen up a bit.
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