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Intrigue in the Bakumatsu: Irohanihoheto Collection 2(TV) (2006-2007)
The Shogunate is in its final years, and war is fast approaching. When Akizuki Yojiro, a dark and mysterious mercenary, nears something supernatural with some kind of importance to him, the ornament on the end of his sword hilt waves in its direction, his eyes glow mysteriously, and he is driven to go after it. He comes across a traveling theater group who is out for revenge for the killing of the parents of the group's leader, and whose mysterious playwright likes to secretly help along events of history. Yojiro joins them to lend them his skill against their enemies, while dark conspiracy continues to follow behind him.
For more about Intrigue in the Bakumatsu: Irohanihoheto Collection 2 and the Intrigue in the Bakumatsu: Irohanihoheto Collection 2 Blu-ray release, see Intrigue in the Bakumatsu: Irohanihoheto Collection 2 Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 26, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Houston Hayes, Emily Neves
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Intrigue in the Bakumatsu: Irohanihoheto Collection 2 Blu-ray Review
Still intriguing, maybe just slightly less so.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 26, 2012
It may be purely unintentional, but there are some ghosts of sorts hanging around Intrigue in the Bakumatsu, beyond the actual spirits and apparitions that waft by and through virtually every episode of this interesting anime. No, these are the ghosts of writers like Luigi Pirandello and (the still living) Tom Stoppard, writers who often worked in a sort of "meta" language where are all sorts of extracurricular references were weaved into their actual works of art, iconic pieces like Six Characters in Search of an Author or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Now Intrigue in the Bakumatsu never even comes close to approaching the intellectual heights of either Pirandello or Stoppard, but it still manages to convey its own sort of "meta" leanings as it combines the professional efforts of a traveling theatrical troupe into a fairly complex tale of feuding factions in the mid-nineteenth century as the Tokugawa Shogunate (circa 1853 ľ 1867) was nearing its death knell. While the basic premise of the series is that good old standby, good versus evil (with more than a little supernatural element thrown in just for good measure), the series often mixes the theatrical performances with various other plot machinations where even the characters themselves start referring to non-theatrically related events as being part of "the play", as if everything were being performed on some massive global stage that only the most self aware actors are cognizant of. This second volume of episodes from the series' one and only season continues that conceit while perhaps being more concerned with some other interesting aspects of Japanese history during this era, including the contentious relationship between the Japanese and the British as well as some other unusual elements like the fates of children who have been orphaned and left abandoned due to an all encompassing battle raging across the land.
This second volume of episodes of course picks right up where the first volume left off, with the hostilities and our heroes moving northward as various other subplots involving supporting characters also unfold. The main character in the series is mysterious mercenary samurai Akizuki Yojiro, an enigmatic warrior who is on a quest to capture an equally enigmatic glowing red skull that is the personification of evil and tends to possess various subjects as the series goes its combative way. Yojiro has joined forces with a traveling theatrical troupe headed by Yuyama, a woman with her own shaded past. Part of the second half of the series of course involves the slowly evolving relationship between Yojiro and Yuyama, but there's also a fateful decision made by Yuyama early on in this volume that sets things on a precarious course for the pair, and by implication, Japan (if not the entire planet).
Intrigue in the Bakumatsu labors a bit more than perhaps it needs to as it moves toward its endgame, once again stalling repeatedly to spend time on either tangential plot points or, more frequently, flashbacks that simply erupt into the "current" timeframe and take over for several minutes. Each episode also begin with quick montages that give us a glimmer of what has gone on before, but anyone coming into this second volume cold is going to mightily confused by a lot of what happens, even if, as in the final arc involving the last possessions of the evil red skull, some basic plot points are relatively clear. What helps to elevate this series, which seems to be almost intentionally confusing at times, is the excellent interplay between three of the main characters, Yojiro, Yuyama, and Ibaragi Sotetsu, the somewhat devious playwright of the theatrical troupe whose machinations to gain control of the evil head provide a lot of the intrigue in Intrigue in the Bakumatsu.
There are a couple of other really interesting aspects to the series that also generate some compelling content. Passing references to the "boorish" English become more prevalent in this set of episodes, though in a rather unexpected turn of events, we also see rude Japanese children tormenting a poor hapless English youngster in one especially notable flashback. Another little subplot involving kids lets Yojiro sneak some food to two adorable waifs whose parents have been killed in the fighting. It's in little moments like these that Intrigue in the Bakumatsu actually finds some real emotional content, something that tends to get steamrollered over in the supernatural battle sequences, which frequently involve huge arcs of lightning crackling across the screen as Yojiro attempts to tame the telepathic efforts of the evil skull.
The series comes to a rather unexpectedly mellow, even bittersweet, end (after the rousing final battle, of course). Instead of a pat happy ending, we get intimations of a continuing relationship between Yojiro and Yuyama, without any overt promises that such a thing will actually come to pass. In fact, the two erstwhile lovers seem to be merely players, having their own exits and entrances which may not in fact leave them on stage at the same time.
Intrigue in the Bakumatsu: Irohanihoheto Collection 2 Blu-ray, Video Quality
Intrigue in the Bakumatsu is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Sentai Filmworks with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. While this second volume continues with the same bifurcated aesthetic that marked the first volume, I'm now more of the mind that this is actually an upconversion (I haven't been able to find any relevant information online; if any member has definitive verifiable information, please pass it along and I'll include it in the review), as this second volume shows a more marked tendency toward consistent softness than the first volume did, for whatever reason. (The series aired during the 2006-07 television season, which would have been right on the cusp of when most anime shifted to HD.) But that said, my comments about the first volume's image quality hold largely true for this volume as well. The first thing that many anime fans will notice is how disparate several of the design aesthetics are in this series. Long swaths of the series are animated with an intentionally soft and even grainy look, which are then suddenly intercut with razor sharp sequences. Generally speaking, the softer elements tend to be used for flashbacks, while the "current" happenings are a good deal cleaner. A lot of the series tends to favor a muted color palette, with slate grays, browns and beiges filling the frame. That may lead some to think that there isn't much "wow" to the visual element of the series, but I personally was really impressed with the overall look of the series, and in fact it actually helps to make the show really pop when it does finally explode into brighter primary colors. Line detail here is very sharp and the overall image is generally clear and well detailed.
Intrigue in the Bakumatsu: Irohanihoheto Collection 2 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Intrigue in the Bakumatsu features both its original Japanese language track as well as an English dub, both presented via DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mixes. Once again, the Japanese track is mixed quite a bit lower than the English track, and so those who like their audio on the bombastic side will probably want to opt for the English dub, even if they generally tend to favor original language options. Fidelity on both of these tracks is excellent, and voice work is also appealing (and really quite similar in tone and general ambience) on both of these tracks. The series has some really nice music, including lots of cues that use kotos and ethnic flutes (or at least synthesizer approximations of those instruments), and those ring through the soundfield with a great deal of sharpness and appeal.
Intrigue in the Bakumatsu: Irohanihoheto Collection 2 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The very same supplements which were on Intrigue in the Bakumatsu: Irohanihoheto Collection 1 are repeated on this second volume:
Intrigue in the Bakumatsu: Irohanihoheto Collection 2 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Intrigue in the Bakumatsu is an often fascinating series, but truth be told I found myself losing a bit of interest (and patience) during this second set of episodes. The series would have been much better (albeit a lot shorter) if it hadn't paused so often for inconsequential tangents and especially so many flashbacks. While it's true some of the backstories add depth and interest to the characters, they also repeatedly interrupt the main momentum of the story, so that it seems like the series lurches in fits and starts, with a lot of downtime in between. Still, this is an often compelling combination of elements that should certainly satisfy samurai fans as well as those who like a little supernatural nastiness creeping into the proceedings. This second volume seemed just a tad more consistently soft than the first, but the audio maintains its same level of excellence. Unfortunately, the very same supplements from the first volume have been repeated here. Taken as a whole, though, the series comes Recommended.
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