Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time Vol. #1 (of 9) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, April 21, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, April 22, 2008
What They Say
While on her way to high school with friends Tenma and Shimon, Akane Motomiya is drawn to an old well. With a sudden gust of wind, a mysterious shadow appears. Drifting through a mysterious void, Akane is bestowed with a glimmering jewel - a divine orb that marks her as one who has inherited the power of the Priestess of the Dragon God. Akane awakes to find herself in another world; a place that is reminiscent of ancient Japan's Heian court in Kyoto. Separated from Tenma and Shimon, a bewildered Akane encounters Akram, the man who summoned her into this world...
Contains episodes 1-2:
It is Thee, Priestess of the Dragon God
The Capital, Invaded by Demons
Suddenly summoned to an alternate world, Akane and her friends find themselves embroiled in intrigue and change that involve a whole lot of pretty men.
The audio for Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ is surprisingly solid as the technical side of it goes further than most stereo releases do. Encoded at 448kbps, the show has a fairly straightforward stereo mix to it but it has a bit more oomph and impact to it due to the higher quality of the encoding. The bass level feels a bit richer and dialogue has a more distinct and clear feeling across the forward soundstage. Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ isn't a big outgoing show, more intent on expressing atmosphere, but the show works well in general and the music throughout it benefits from the method use. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in late 2004 and early 2005, Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ has a pretty good looking presentation to it but it's a show that has a bit of a strange style to it considering when it aired. Done in what could only be called shoujo-vision, there's a certain softness to it overall that adds to the atmosphere. Thankfully this doesn't cause much in the way of background noise to filter in due to great source materials and high bitrates. Where this softness comes across as problematic is that many of the character designs have a very unusual feel to them with a too-digital look. The uniforms of the characters for example just don't feel like they blend too well into the show during quiet scenes. When there's a lot going on it's much less noticeable however. Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ in general looks really good when taking into account the style in which it was animated and it stands out strongly against a lot of other similar shows that have been released outside of Japan.
Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ works with a fairly predictable style for its cover design but this isn't a bad thing as it's going to appeal heavily to its intended demographic. With a really nice framing to it, this installment features Akane along with two of her pretty boys in attendance behind her in very different outfits. All three of them are set against a soft backdrop of part of the capital city done in a light mint green shade. Using a similar logo design to the manga release that Viz Media is putting out, it's all well branded in order to attract to the same audience. The back cover uses the same kind of mint green shading for its background and it uses a standard layout of two strips of pictures with a brief summary in between them. Episode titles and numbers are listed while the bottom third runs through the cast and staff credits along with the technical grid and a few required logos. The foldout booklet included is done in the same green shading and it has some really neat things in it. There are a few character designs, a brief interview with the director and a look at the poetry within the show. The reverse side has two pieces of full color artwork - including the original piece used for the cover, and a summary of each of the episodes in some detail.
The menu design harkens back to some of Bandai Visual USA's earlier releases in that we get a static background - this time of the capital city - with episode selection along the top which includes a separate chapter menu for each. Subtitle selection is here as well and there's a submenu selection for the bonus material. The menu is set to a three minute runtime without any music and after that three minutes is up it dumps you out of the disc and into a stop state, a feature that the company uses which I continue to dislike heavily. Access times are nice and fast considering there's little here and the menu is certainly functional enough to get around outside of the bad way it stops when you go back to it.
The extras included are pretty light as we get two pieces of the "Demon's Soliloquy" in which there is fifteen seconds of animation accompanied by some cautious dialogue about how events are proceeding. In a way they feel like next episode teasers more than anything else as they're set for episodes two and three.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ is a twenty-six episode shoujo series that's based on the video game that was released on the PlayStation 1 which was released back in 2000. An enhanced remake of it was launched in 2005 just after the anime ended and there's also the manga that's done by Tohko Mizuno which started back in 2000 and is still ongoing today at over fourteen volumes. The franchise has been fairly popular as it's gone through a couple of game incarnations so it's little surprise that it garnered an anime adaptation as well. By all appearances however, based on these first two episodes, there isn't any need to know about the games before getting into the show.
For long time viewers of anime or manga readers, Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ is almost instantly recognizable as the latest successor to one of the better known shows out there, particularly among Western fandom. Fushigi Yugi was based on previous material as its inspiration so it's little surprise that Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ plays in the same area and has a very similar feel. There are some differences to be found in these first two episodes that we get here, with the most obvious one being that it takes us to an alternate past world of Japan as episodes to China. That gives it a slightly different feel while still striking the same tone. The other interesting difference is that it's not two girls heading off for adventure in a fantasy land of pretty boys but rather a girl and her two male friends.
Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ is centered around a high school student named Akane who seems to be pretty average. She's generally happy, has a decent personality and no real quirks that we can tell from the start that would define her in a bad way. While walking to school with her friends Tenma and Shimon, Akane feels herself being pulled towards an old well. Someone from beyond has been watching for her from there and the winds whirl and shadows whip around her without warning. Before she knows it, even as her friends try to protect her, all three are thrown down the well and land in very different areas of another world. It's all very similar to ancient Japan with its layout and design which makes it fairly easy for all three of them to fit in and try to figure out what's going on.
The city of Kyou is one that has plenty of intrigue going on in it as the place is suffering from problems due to the absence or dwindling effects of the Four Gods. Akane's arrival heralds her as the new Priestess of the Dragon God who will be defended and protected by the Eight Guardians. She's rescued early on by those who may be part of this group and she struggles to figure out what's going on while alternately trying to get out and away on her own to search for her friends. At the same time, Tenma has been working to make his way towards his friends as well and has fit in quite well with his jack of all trades feeling. Shimon on the other hand, being a few years younger than Tenma, is a bit less sure of himself and ends up getting into enough trouble while trying to get back together with everyone.
With only two episodes, there isn't a lot going on here that really does much beyond set the basic tone of the show and introduce a number of characters. The establishment of what's going on in the city and the disappearance of the Four Gods is the primary piece but it's also establishing what Akane can do as the Priestess of the Dragon God. The main villain of the series, a masked man in an Omnyouji outfit, makes several appearances and is doing his best to draw Akane over to his plan though he's incredibly vague about everything. He doesn't exude anything good which is why it's easy to see why Akane isn't drawn to him at all. She is however drawn to several of the pretty boys that are introduced which appear to be part of her Eight Guardians circle that is slowly being revealed. The size of the cast is what ails the show early on here though, especially in the two episode format, as a lot of people are making appearances but don't have chances to really establish themselves just yet. It is amusing however that several of them do feel like they're following the Fushigi Yugi template almost to the letter.
Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ has an interesting visual style to it which we covered in the video section a bit. It utilizes a lot of soft atmospheric scenes while putting many of the characters through a very digital looking presentation with vibrant colors. The opening scenes in modern day Japan are almost jarring with how the boys' uniforms look at times and even Shimon's far too blonde hair. When it shifts to the alternate world, the hair colors are even more varied and extreme and some of the costumes are almost garish. Orange does not go with purple hair in the slightest. The designs are all quite striking though and in watching this with a room full of women it was very apparent that they were designed to appeal to that segment of the audience strongly. There was much love for a number of them, though the green haired gentleman in glasses almost cries out in the same way that the typical girl with glasses does in boys oriented shows.
Quite a few years ago, Fushigi Yugi practically defined this genre and still holds sway over a lot of Western anime fans as how all of this should be done. Fans in Japan tend to move on more to the next show once one is over so they have a very different approach in comparison to Western fans and generally won't have the same love and connection to a show while dealing with a new one. In addition, Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ was designed to appeal to a newer and younger audience in a way as well as one that had grown into it from the manga and games. With just two episodes, it's very hard to say how the show is simply because so much of it feels familiar. It's very well done overall and it has an interesting style that lets it stand out but there's simply not enough here to really judge it. Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ looks to go down a similar path and utilize the standard plot devices of the genre so fans who want more of it will likely enjoy this a lot.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Demon's Soliloquy Shorts
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: B-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Visual USA, Inc.
Running time: 50
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time