Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time Vol. #2 (of 9) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, May 12, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, May 27, 2008
What They Say
Chosen as the Priestess of the Dragon God and transported to the alternate world of a capital, Akane now finds herself overwhelmed by the power bestowed upon her by the Dragon God. Until all of the Eight Guardians fated to protect her are assembled, she remains stranded with no way to return to her home world. As if seeing right through Akane's anxiety ridden heart, Akram, head of the demon clan, lets out a smile...
Contains episodes 3-5.
Adjusting to the world they're now in, Akane and the others find their situation difficult to deal with in a sort of high school way as they don't get what they want.
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~ has its second volume done in a similar fashion to the first as it provides a very soft and feminine feel to it as you have Haruka, Shimon and one of the other Guardians in outfits native to this particular world. The background setting of the buildings and the bridge over the river makes it clear what kind of time period it takes in and adds to the soft feeling overall. 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 a light pink 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 set of interviews with the producer and the series planner 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 more 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)
The first volume of Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ wasn't exactly the easiest to get into since it was really little more than a tease due to having just two episodes. This volume brings in another three episodes which gets us through episode five, and if it was done as a single disc of the first five episodes, I believe it would have left me a bit more interested in the show at the start to see where it will go. The character familiarity is a bit better and events are starting to show a bit more motion which certainly helps. Of course, everything is playing by a familiar playbook but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ is still running through some basic setup with this volume which isn't a surprise since there are a total of eight Guardian's to introduce and we only have a handful of them so far. The group as it stands now isn't exactly working well together nor are they all accepting of the situation. Tenma in particular is the worst of the lot as he just doesn't believe in all of this and he's feeling conflicted about letting others protect Akane. There are some good bits of background that get mixed into this volume which helps explain his protectiveness with her as well as his motivation in general. His general past with her is tied to his stronger feelings of protectiveness as we learn that his sister up and disappeared some time ago, never to be found. This weighed on him heavily but it also caused him to get held back a year in school since he spent so much time looking for her. That made him something of a social outcast in his new class and only Akane made friends with him after a random act of kindness on his part.
This small thing made for a stronger bond over time as the two grew closer, but the more interesting part is about Tenma's sister, Ran. What made it interesting is that while it is bluntly foreshadowed that she'll play a role in the series, it isn't done in a way where she suddenly appears. Or at least in a way that makes it obvious who she is if she has indeed shown up. So many times there's foreshadowing like this that is then used to introduce the next plot element within the same episode. When a series can expose a bit of a characters past and wait several episodes before delving into it, it adds a bit more uncertainty and unpredictability to all of it. Now you spend your time wondering how Ran may figure into it - if at all - and if she looks dramatically different in this world.
The larger storyline of the series isn't covered all that much here as the main focus is getting Akane and the others to realize that they need to work with Fuji and Akane's Guardian's to just accept what's going on. That takes a serious tumble at first when Akane tries to get away from it all but is subjected to a magical fever that puts her into the world where Akram can try and win her over. To her surprise though, there's another "sorcerer" there by the name of Yasuaki, a rather attractive green haired man who is quite skilled in the arts. His very relaxed demeanor helps to put her at ease and it doesn't take long for her to realize that he's another of her Guardian's. Yasuaki's introduction into the group helps to give them a bit more of a magical edge as well as someone who can explain things clearly to everyone else, when he's actually there. It also brings in another pretty boy that puts Tenma on edge over his feelings in regards to Akane.
Much of the volume deals with the little personal interplays that are going on between the characters. Shimon is kept relatively off stage for these episodes outside of his costume change and his smile here and there as he's supportive of Akane. Tomomasa gets some nice time as his real role in this world becomes a bit clearer and his smooth and suave personality is just fun to watch as it tweaks Tenma to no end. Yorihasa is a bit harder to figure out since he's still playing it very cool and aloof but he's instantly there when Akane needs him, so much so that again it just puts Tenma out since he intends to be protective of her. I suspect we'll have some time in the near future where Tenma goes to him for training and advice since he's the most skilled in the physical arts so far. And beyond some mild amusement about clothing choices, much of this volume is just character building and setup.
The setup aspect is becoming more interesting as it goes along though, particularly as Akane is brought to the "red stained cherry blossom trees" through which she must help to purify. The trees have their petals turn red as they accumulate the impurities from the surrounding area and they must be purified before they fall en masse onto the capital. This nice bit of tradition and sorcery brings Akram back into play and hints a bit more at what he has in mind, but also that he may not be entirely ready to handle what's coming. So often in shows like these, the bad guys seem all powerful and incapable of error. With the encounter he has here, he is able to be aggressive in his relaxed manner, but Akane's abilities are starting to show more strongly which gives him pause since she may not be as easy to manipulate as he first believed.
While Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ isn't terribly original, it is playing by the standard story elements pretty well and with three more episodes I'm now feeling more comfortable with it. This isn't high art by any stretch of the imagination, but there's such a dearth of shoujo material at the moment that even middling or weak material can be fun while waiting for something more enjoyable to come along. Everything about the show is competent but it's lacking that one critical thing to make it rise above itself. Whether it can find it remains to be seen but at least with three episodes a disc going forward it'll be a bit more enjoyable to watch.
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: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time