Monday, 1 August 2011

幕末機関説 いろはにほへと / Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto

Bakumatsu is what you might call a historical fantasy, or alternate-universe story. Set during the bakumatsu period, when the Bafuku was falling and the Meiji Restoration was about to begin, it’s so full of historical detail and characters based on real people that if you don’t have some sense of what happened in the last days of the shogunate, you may be a bit lost here - the series often assumes some knowledge of Japanese history. That said, you’ll likely follow the gist even if you’ve never heard of the Shinsengumi or the Ezo Republic, and there are a lot of fantastical elements overlaid.

As the shogunate’s forces slowly fall, a mysterious man with an oddly modern haircut called Akizuki searches Japan for an ancient cursed artefact called the Head of the Conqueror. He soon gets mixed up in a theatrical troupe’s quest for revenge, and then later with Hijikata Toshizou of the Shinsengumi as he struggles against the newly-established government’s forces.

Overall, Bakumatsu has a serious tone, especially for a Sunrise anime. Apart from some token cute kiddies, the characters are grim, there’s blood and death, and there’s an interesting presentation of the Westerner’s presence in Japan not long after the Black Ships. The first half drags a little too much, though, too much mystery and not enough character development. The action of the second part is better, however, and Hijikata is the real star of the piece, though as with Seirei no Moribito, everything is somewhat cheapened by the dafter parts: famous figures getting possessed by a magic evil skull, magic sword techniques, bullets deflected by blades, whole regiments taken out by lone swordsmen and most of all big flying castles that zap the world below with lightning. Also several bad cases of heroes saving the person who happens to be onscreen, even though several we don’t see must be dying elsewhere.

The show would perhaps have been better if it were as highbrow as it tried to be at the outset, but it was by no means a disaster. It was also certainly pleasing for the eyes, and with some superb period detail. Not bad at all – but disappointing at the end.

(originally written 5.5.08)

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