Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time Vol. #3 (of 9) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, June 30, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What They Say
Episode 6
One night, at the Chief Councilor's banquet, the Vice Minister of Civil Affairs Fujiwara-no-Takamichi meets the dancer Shirin. All of the noblemen are intoxicated by her beautiful figure and graceful performance. Though, Takamichi alone points a cold stare in the girl's direction.
Meanwhile, Akane, as Priestess, is granted an audience with the Emperor and heads to The Imperial Palace. There, she is shocked to overhear some nobles discussing something truly frightful!
"Episode 7
Upon hearing that white-winged vengeful spirits have appeared at the foot of Daimonji Mountain and threatened the people there, Yorihisa remembers the "Nue" he encountered in the mountains of his homeland in his youth. That Nue was a proud beast, and the sole survivor of its clan. Akane and the Eight Guardians depart for Daimonji Mountain to drive out the vengeful spirits, when along the way Akane is attacked by an unknown assailant and taken captive!

"Episode 8
Inori is a young boy who lives a tough life in the capital, working as an apprentice blacksmith while protecting his sick elder sister. One day, his master sends him on an errand to deliver a sword to the samurai working for the Senior Minister of State. There, he meets Akane, and upon being introduced to Shimon immediately reacts in a way no one could have predicted! Elsewhere, Shirin burns with jealousy towards the "Priestess of the Dragon God," the target of Akram's infatuation...

The Review!
The search for more Guardian's continues as Akram's Demon Clan dabbles in mind games with Akane and her friends.

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~ continues in its same style with this volume as it provides a very soft and feminine feel to it as you have Haruka, Takamichi and Tomomosa together in all their finery. The background is done up using a beautiful shoji screen with rich purples and greens to it that plays out well against the colors within the character artwork. 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 interview with the sound 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 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 all three episodes here.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The third installment of Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ brings us another three episodes and starts to move things along just a touch more than before. The series is still grappling with its main issue right now and that's introducing more of the Guardian's to the cast of characters. With eight Guardian's needed and only five found so far, three more must be introduced before the story can be gotten underway in full. Of course, we also have to have more background material brought up for the existing characters so it'll get a bit tight here and there.

The three stories on this volume are all relatively episodic though they do carry forward the overall plot of the series. The threads that weave them together are fairly decent and the larger narrative that's slowly being brought about is one that is based largely in mood and atmosphere, which is to be expected of a shoujo series. Akram for his part really isn't all that involved in these episodes which is a very positive thing since he'd be turned into a less than enthralling villain if he's so easily dealt with repeatedly. Instead, the woman who lusts after him takes the stage for a lot of this as his surrogate. The beautiful Shirin ingratiates herself with the nobles and elite in order to get close to those that would do harm to her master and she works to eliminate them.

Shirin's love for her master has her viewing almost everyone else as beneath him, and herself as well, but none more so than Akane. When the two finally do meet, after Shirin toys with Takamichi to poor effect, she can't help but be derisive about the little girl that her master is so entranced with. As a surrogate, she's not exactly the best since you can imagine that Shirin would just as soon kill Akane before bringing her back to Akram as she should. When Shirin meets with Akane again later at the palace, she's far more interested in taking Akane out of the picture, which is nicely timed to the introduction of Inori, a young man who is taking care of his sister after losing their parents recently. Naturally, because he's a colorful character in colorful garb, you know he'll be the next of the Guardian's since they have to introduce more. On the plus side, Inori does a god job of dealing with the pint sized Tengu. On the down side, he's got crazy hair.

The odd story out from this volume is the middle on in which Yorihisa reminisces about his past after hearing stories about a vengeful spirit on Daimonji Mountain. Yorihisa has been the straight laced silent type since the start, though he's squared off against Tenma already, so seeing some of him from his younger more brash days is a lot of fun. Trying to earn himself something of a reputation and some honor, he headed into the Forest of the Nue in order to kill the Nue so that he'd be able to prove himself to his family. The story of the Nue and how he toys with young Yorihisa is fun but it's also the kind of story that you know will come around in the present because it's so blatantly telegraphed. It's the kind of story that does nicely to expand on Yorihisa, but in some ways feels like a basic cheat and almost filler material.

In Summary:
Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ doesn't really progress all that far for the most part but it is solidifying its cast of characters nicely and bringing in the newer ones to help flesh it out. The plus side is that there are a lot of very pretty men walking around and often talking in a way that is very appealing. The downside is that other than the main focus of that particular episode, the rest of the characters get shunted off to the side. Tenma and Shiom for example get nearly written out of the show for the bulk of this as do a few others like Yuasaki. Large casts like this are difficult to manage but it's part and parcel of the genre. These episodes are the kind you expect at this early point in the series where it's building everything up slowly and still introducing new elements. There are things to like but at the same time it's all rather predictable and expected. Pretty, but that can only go so far.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Demon's Soliloquy

Review Equipment
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.
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 74
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time