Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 29th 2013
Hiiro no Kakera
Blu-Ray - Season 1 Complete Collection
For her second year of high schol, Tamaki goes to live with her grandmother in her mountainside estate. She quickly discovers that weird things are afoot, as some kind of strange mystical barrier seems to surround the land and odd creatures roam about. After being rescued from some by a handsome young man, she discovers part of the reason for it: she is something called the Tamayori princess (as her grandmother was before her), and it is the sacred duty of such individuals to keep the sword Onikirimaru sealed, lest its power be released and ultimately lead to the destruction of the world. The seal has been weakening recently, however, which has attracted all manner of lesser gods, so it is Tamaki's job, with the help and protection of four (later five) dedicated Guardians, to figure out how to restore the overall seal. The big problem is that a foreign group called Logos also seeks the sword for completely different reasons, and a team of four potent individuals led by the seeming little girl Aria conflict with Guardians over obtaining the artifacts that form the seal. Aria also insists on calling Tamaki “Sybil” for unexplained reasons and a government rep and other random bishonen guy also lurk around.
This 13-episode series from the Spring 2012 season is based on an otome game (i.e., a visual novel aimed specifically at female players) for the PS2, an origin which is so inescapable that this adaptation not only does not bother to try stepping away from that structure and feel but even actively promotes it. The result is an awkward, sometimes dully repetitive production rife with all kinds of problems, one which is unlikely to have much appeal beyond its target audience: teenage girls and young adult women.
Director Bob Shirohata and series composer Yoshiko Nakamura seemed to understand perfectly well that the content has little going for it beyond its herd of bishonen and pretty visuals, so they emphasize those traits at every opportunity. Every episode ends with an address to the viewer by one of the male leads that ranges from warmly welcoming to mildly provocative, and every male characters acts in a carefully calculated way towards the female lead. The latter would still be fine if the personalities were well-developed and consistently-executed, but each of these males is every bit as much a standard archetypes as the typical cast of female characters in a regular harem series and each one softens from his normal personality in any situation that would drive him away from the female lead. While a true romantic element is practically nonexistent in this series (it is apparently much more prominent in the second series), the plot requires that Tamaki is constantly surrounded by her boys in a non-intimidating fashion. Everything also still revolves around Tamaki, even though she is largely useless in a way that makes milquetoast harem romantic comedy male leads look good by comparison. She is not even convincing as moral support.
On top of that, the pacing and execution are anything but smooth and steady. Events drag out over 13 episodes that probably could have been sufficiently covered in half that or less, with the space largely filled up by repeating scenes of Tamaki getting into a little tiff with one of the boys but things getting resolved suddenly when they have to jump to help or protect her. Snippets of information about the Tamayuri princess come out in frustratingly small doses, and given how important her duties are, that the whole business with the Tamayuri princess is not explicitly explained to Tamaki from the beginning seems blatantly illogical. The Logos forces prove after the first fight that the Guardians are no match for them, and this has to be reinforced multiple other times with the Guardians getting soundly beaten each time with Tamaki (usually) just standing and watching pathetically. That saps all potential for thrill from the fights. That Logos and Aria take quite some time to capture all of the seals despite being able to wipe the floor with their opposition at will also seems like nothing more than a stalling tactic to drag the content out to full season length. In fact, the fights seem staggered to give the guys periodic chances to (futilely) act tough in front of Tamaki. Throw in a couple of other mysterious guys who do little to nothing and a late plot twist which comes from nowhere and you have nonsensical story that can be drudgery to watch. (And let's not even get started on how idiotic Tamaki and the Guardians have to be to not figure out sooner that their teacher has the precise same build and hair style as one of the bad guys, and hence that means that she probably secretly is one of the bad guys even though – gasp! – her hair color is different.)
At least the series looks pretty. Studio DEEN provides character designs that range from attractive to outright beautiful, though the inclusion of a very busty woman who practically flaunts her cleavage seems incongruous for a series clearly aimed at female audiences; if it is intended to be an attempt to draw in male viewers, its drawing power pales compared to the repulsion effect that those episode-ending scenes has on straight male viewers. The background art offers numerous shots of gorgeous mountain scenery, and a school building that looks like a wooden mountain resort in places is an interesting stylistic touch. Some of the gods that pop up are too obviously CG creations and just are not quite as menacing as they should be. The little fox O-chan is adorable, though, and his mannerisms are the best-animated part of the series. The animation quality is otherwise spotty, as the action scenes simply do not have enough movement and energy but some of the ordinary scenes move smoothly enough. Although a bit of fan service for the ladies does appear in one scene, there is none for the guys to be found. Graphic content is also mild despite the number and intensity of the fights.
For the most part the musical score does a decent but unexciting job. It kicks up heavily during the action scenes, however – a bit too heavily at times, as it can get obtrusive enough to make the dialogue hard to follow. In this case the richer sound offered by the MTS HD Audio tracks on the Blu-Ray version actually exacerbates this problem. Pretty-looking, melodious opener “Nee” sets a good tone for each episode, while a pleasant and also pretty-looking but otherwise-forgettable closer wraps up all but the last episode.
Sentai Filmworks' English dub prioritizes faithfulness and accuracy over everything else, which results in dub dialogue which retains all honorifics and closely mirrors the subtitles except in places where actors have to ad lib filler lines. However, this occasionally results in some unnatural pauses or cases where the line timing is adjusted slightly. Pronunciation on names also sometimes varies a bit. Casting choices and performances are quite solid for males roles, while female roles are hit-or-miss; Emily Neves (Sigyn in Broken Blade, Rinda in Guin Saga) is good enough but unimpressive in the key role of Tamaki, but relative newcomer Rebekah Stevens struggles as Mitsuru.
Sentai is offering this series in both Blu-Ray and DVD versions. The former has no significant flaws or problems beyond only having clean opener and closer for Extras.
Regular harem series do not need to do much beyond have copious amounts of aesthetically pleasing fan service to be salable, and a similar principle should apply here. The pretty guys and pretty scenery are about all that this one is worth watching for, though, as it has no other draws.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C-
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : C+
+ Character designs, background art.
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