Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hiiro no Kakera, Seasons 1 and 2 (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Hiiro no Kakera is a 26-episode fantasy and romance series. It's based on an otome game.

By the way, a few days after posting about my problems with streaming CR on my TV, I got an email from their tech support, stating that the problem lies in the servers I'm streaming with and the service they're being provided by their ISP. They assured me they're working to solve the problem, as it affects users streaming on all non-computer devices (Roku box, Playstation 3, Xbox, Panasonic TVs with Viera Connect, etc.). It's now been about two months since I contacted tech support, and the problem still hasn't been fixed, which is just mind-boggling to me. I'll continue to bring the problem up on this blog as long as it exists. When it has finally been fixed, if that ever happens during the course of my membership (8 more months left!), I'll mention that too.

Synopsis:

Tamaki is a high school student who travels to the small village where her grandmother lives, to stay with her for a while. Things don't go as well as Tamaki hoped: she spots a weird-looking round white creature with stick arms and legs, gets attacked by monsters, and is saved by a good-looking-but-cranky guy with magical abilities.

The guy who saved her is Takuma, one of the five guardians of the Tamayori princess. The old Tamayori princess was Tamaki's grandmother. Tamaki is shocked to learn that she's the new Tamayori princess. Her job is to protect the Onikirimaru seals and prevent Onikirimaru, a sword, from releasing its dark power upon the world. The five guardians are supposed to aid her. They are:
  • Takuma: A serious and tough-looking guy who enjoys doing crossword puzzles.
  • Mahiro: An upperclassman who seems to know an awful lot about Onikirimaru and the Tamayori princess but won't say why he knows so much. He's self-conscious about his short height and resents being a guardian, because it prevents him from following his dream of traveling the world.
  • Yuuichi: Another upperclassman. He has a tendency to fall asleep at any time.
  • Suguru: The leader of the guardians, and the eldest. He's polite and reliable and enjoys making tea.
  • Shinji: He appears later on in the series. He has a strong desire to prove that he's a useful guardian, and he seems to have a history with Mitsuru, a girl who works at the Tamayori shrine.
Logos is a group that opposes them and wishes to steal the Artifacts and claim Onikirimaru for themselves. If Tamaki and her guardians can't stop them, Onikirimaru may bring about the end of the world.

Review:

I started watching this series for the same reason I've watched shows like Uraboku, Hakuoki, and Brave 10 – the art style attracted me, and I looked forward to watching a cast composed mostly of gorgeous guys. I knew going into it that it was based on an otome game. To my knowledge, I've only ever seen one other anime (Hakuoki) based on an otome game and it kind of sucked. Its pacing was excruciatingly slow, and its heroine was a useless moron who turned the men around her into wet washcloths. The best thing about the show was its artwork. Would Hiiro no Kakera be better? I certainly hoped so.

In my notes, I nicknamed Season 1 “The Great Disappointment.” It ended with a billion unanswered questions and lots of loose plot threads. This wouldn't have been so bad if there had been some kind of guarantee that those plot threads were going to be dealt with in some way, but there wasn't. Season 2 was better, as the things that were hinted at in Season 1 began to come together. Unfortunately, those who couldn't stand the pacing, vague hints, and other frustrating aspects of Seasons 1 might not make it to the payoffs of Season 2.

One of those frustrating aspects was Tamaki herself. She, like Hakuoki's Chizuru, was not very bright. I've only played maybe a handful of otome games, most of them created by Westerners. It's easy to make allowances for the main characters while playing those games, because the main characters are placeholders – they're just the conduit through which you, the player, are experiencing the game's world and other characters. I've sometimes grumbled at the main characters for not allowing me to make choices for them that seem much more intelligent than the few choices they've given me, but it's usually easy to brush off their moments of stupidity and move on. Those moments of stupidity don't translate quite so well when I'm a viewer, rather than a player. In Hakuoki, this was especially frustrating, because even the other characters didn't seem to be aware of how stupid and silly Chizuru was. Hiiro no Kakera was a little different, at least in the beginning.

See, once Tamaki learned about her role as the Tamayori princess and what the five guardians had to do, she desperately wanted to help. Except she didn't have a clue about how to do anything other than scream, shout, and try to be the group's cheerleader. There was at least one fight where her method of “helping” involved rushing into the middle of everything (putting herself at risk and therefore giving the guardians the additional task of protecting her as well as themselves) and shouting at everyone to stop fighting. Yes, really.

I was impressed when a few of the guardians told her off for being so silly. Maybe that would spur Tamaki into learning some skills that could actually be helpful in a fight? Unfortunately, even when she was trying to become more useful, Tamaki continued to just be silly. She did a bit of research, which I applauded, but when it came to developing her powers as a Tamayori princess she failed, badly. All she really did in that respect was sit around a lot, stretch her arms out in front of her, and concentrate really hard. Watching her sit around and concentrate was similar to watching someone stand there and blindly swing a bat at oncoming baseballs – okay, so they might hit the ball a few times, but there's no sense that they're actually learning and improving any skills. When Tamaki was successful at using her powers, it was because the plot needed her to be, not because she was figuring anything out about how to better use those powers.

I couldn't understand why so many of the characters were so passive. Tamaki never once railed at her grandmother for criticizing her skills as a Tamayori princess when she (Tamaki's grandmother, and the more experienced Tamayori princess) couldn't even be bothered to give Tamaki a few tips about what to do. The guardians grudgingly accepted that everything in their lives was on a need-to-know basis, and Tamaki's grandmother didn't think they needed to know. And Tamaki wasn't the only one I yelled at for not doing more to improve her skills. Most of the fights could be summed up like so: the guardians and Logos members come across each other and begin fighting, the guardians get a few good hits in, and then the Logos members turn around and grind them into bits. More intelligent characters would have worked to improve their skills, but not the guardians. No, on their off time they acted depressed and raged about their worthlessness as guardians. Sometimes Tamaki would cheer them up with promises that they'd do better next time and that she wouldn't let them get hurt. And then they'd go off and get their butts kicked again.

Season 2 was better not because Tamaki became more intelligent (she didn't) or because the guardians suddenly started working on newer and better fighting strategies (they didn't), but because the series finally started answering some questions. Why did Tamaki's grandmother and Mitsuru seem so shifty and potentially malevolent? Did Shinji really have some kind of connection to Logos? Who was that mysterious guy who liked how Tamaki smelled? What was up with Tamaki's friend at school? How was the world going to be saved when Tamaki and the five guardians sucked so badly at doing their jobs? Since I've seen plenty of shows that allow loose plot threads to just keep dangling (Uraboku, for example), I was happy to see that this show had some sort of payoff.

Oh, and there was a romantic payoff too. Too bad the romance wasn't really all that compelling. For a good chunk of the first season, Tamaki had pretty much zero chemistry with any of the other characters. Then suddenly Takuma began demonstrating an interest in her, and there was this whole angsty storyline about him gradually turning evil and maybe eventually killing Tamaki. I had trouble maintaining my interest in their romance and was actually more invested in the hints of romance between Mitsuru and Shinji. Too bad (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER) those hints revealed themselves to be surprise incest. Well, okay, not really, but it would have been incest if anything had ever happened between them.

Hmm. So, overall this series was mediocre. Season 1 could easily have been condensed, and it would have been nice if more of the main cast had been in possession of a brain. However, I enjoyed and was even surprised by several of the revelations in Season 2 (there are so many betrayals and pseudo betrayals, it's not even funny). Also, the artwork was consistently nice to look at – the characters who were supposed to be eye candy accomplished their jobs well. For the record, my favorite guardians were Yuuichi (based entirely on my love of white-haired characters - he was the least-developed of all the characters) and Suguru (he seemed to be the most intelligent of the bunch, and I loved his hair).

Extras:

If you choose to watch the series for the eye candy and gorgeous guys, be sure to watch past the closing credits of all the episodes. Each episode ends with a brief clip that feels like a cut-scene from an otome game, with the guardians addressing the viewer directly. Yes, it was kind of cheesy. I still enjoyed the eye candy, though, and a couple of those clips seemed timed as a sort of apology for some of the things that were going on in the show (again with the betrayals).

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Hakuoki (anime TV series) - Another anime based on an otome game, although Hakuoki's origin is slightly less obvious than Hiiro no Kakera's. If you'd like another show starring lots of painfully gorgeous male characters who soon find themselves wanting to support the heroine at any cost, you might want to give this a try. I have written about the first season.
  • Fushigi Yuugi: The Mysterious Play (manga) by Yuu Watase; Fushigi Yuugi: The Mysterious Play (anime TV series) - If you'd like another series featuring magic, an ordinary girl who is suddenly told that she's a powerful priestess, and a bunch of handsome guardians, you might want to give this a try.
  • Inuyasha (manga) by Rumiko Takahashi; Inuyasha (anime TV series) - If you liked Tamaki and Takuma's relationship dynamic, you might want to give this series a try. Kagome, the main character, finds out she's the reincarnation of a powerful priestess. With the help of a half dog demon, she tries to locate and purify the shards of the Shikon Jewel. I've written about volume 33 of the manga. Yes, random, I know.
  • The Betrayal Knows My Name (manga) by Hotaru Odagiri; Uraboku (anime TV series) - This one flirts heavily with m/m romance, but, if you don't mind that, you might check this series out. Like Hiiro no Kakera, there are quite a few hot male characters. Also, like Tamaki, the main character is kind of wimpy and has special priestess powers (er, he was a she in his past life, so that's where the priestess thing comes in). There are fantasy elements and great heaping amounts of angst. I have written about the anime.

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