Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time Vol. #5 (of 9) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The curse comes home to roost with Akane and Ran caught up in Akram’s latest plot to capture the Dragon Priestess.

What They Say
At last, the final Guardian makes his appearance! Akram's sinister plot slowly engulfs Akane, disturbing the fates of the Priestess of the Dragon God, her Eight Guardians, and Ran, the girl who holds the key to Akram's snare!

Contains episodes 12-14.

Demon Lurking Darkness
Ran, the girl with the Demon clan, places Akane under a curse that calls for her death the next evening. In order to have that curse dispelled, Akane travels to the home of Seimei, Yasuaki's master. Tenma is severely torn between his younger sister Ran and Akane, as the emotions of the other Eight Guardians also waver and run wild. Meanwhile, Yasuaki performs a purification ritual and ponders the meaning of the first words he exchanged with his master, Seimei...

Release Your Heart
Akane agrees to Akram's offer in order to save Ran, and suddenly finds herself in the demon village. She enters a mysterious manor, where she discovers Ran unconscious. Elsewhere, the Eight Guardians and Tomomasa follow Akane's trail. Ready to risk their lives, they confront Akram. Will they be able to save Akane and Ran?!

The Rainbow Prophecy
Some time after the Eight Guardians wrest Akane and Ran from Akram’s clutches... The midday sun is pierced by a white rainbow: a sign of ill omen. As coincidence would have it, that omen falls upon an unlucky calendar day for Akane. Akane, while out with Yorihisa, therefore spends the night at a manor to avoid traveling in an unlucky direction. That's when a mysterious pale white aura draws closer to her...

The Review!
The audio for Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ continues to be a solid release 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.

The covers change a little bit with this volume as it utilizes the pairing of Yorihisa and Tenma together but set against a star filled background instead of a city scene. It gives it a bit more of a powerful feel that works rather well since it removes the domesticity of it all. 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 purple 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 yellowish-brown shading and it has some really neat things in it. There are a few character designs, a brief set of interview with the series editor 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)
Haruka runs through the halfway mark with this volume and we get a few more things accomplished here, but none more than the simple truth that Akane doesn’t think things through. Though they often do work in her favor, mostly because of how others interact with her, whatever she does will ultimately lead to more trouble first. Unlike a certain other lead character of a very similar series however, Akane doesn’t come across as a complete idiot and run around in small deformed mode while trying to acquire the help of others. Akane, at least, seems to be somewhat more serious in nature and does what she does in order to help others without thought of her own risk.

So it’s pretty obvious that as soon as we learned that the new Dragon Priestess that arrived was actually Tenma’s sister that she would practically throw herself in the line of fire to save her. What’s interesting is that she doesn’t do that at first but rather focuses on this brand new curse that’s been laid on her. The Guardians are intent on freeing her of it of course and she’s all for that since she doesn’t exactly have a death wish, but Yasuaki does his best to obfuscate a few key points prior to the actual removal of the curse. While the actual sequence of events is fairly striking and creepy, none are more so than when Ysauaki casually informs her that the curse has been reversed. Which means Ran just got hit with it.

That Akane is upset by this isn’t in any doubt, but when Akram uses it as a tool with which to draw her into his clutches, it’s easy to see that she’ll fall for it. Whisking Ran away and telling her that if she gives herself to him he’ll fix her right up is the quickest way to get her and she has almost no hesitation about it. And even though she’s got quite a few guys hanging around her, she’s able to get past all of them and begin that treacherous by brief path to try and save her. The bonds that are shown here are worthwhile growth moments overall as the Guardian’s do have to actively work together for a bit to try and rescue her so that are obvious good motivations behind it all, but it just feels like they’re pandering to basic story structure ideas rather than trying to stand out from them.

Interestingly enough though, the way it all plays out is fairly nice and safe and it works within the context that the show has established so far. Akane’s personality and temperament is on display regularly here as she helps Ran cope with the aftermath of it and she even manages to surprise some of her Guardian’s with how she wants them to deal with Ran about it. All of this leads into an episode that starts to tackle the whole possibility of what could go wrong next on a larger scale as there are ominous signs and portents that are talked about amongst the various officials of Shangri-la. Much of this flies over the heads of Akane and her friends because of their displacement, but there are some amusing differences, especially with how she finds rainbows to be a positive thing and others like Yorihisa see them as bad signs.

In Summary:
Haruka makes some small progress here and there but it still feels like a strange game of vastly superior cat playing with a weak little mouse. Akram’s goals are plainly obvious but his methods feel like they’re out of a cheap theatrical plot where the supposition of power is more important than actually getting things done. He falls into a rather standard villain role because of it and it makes the somewhat plodding pace at times all the more troublesome to get through. Combine this with the soft look of the show and it’s easy to get rather mellow during it and just sort of accept it as it all happens. Haruka isn’t a bad show, it’s pretty standard girls fantasy fare, but that’s about all that can be said about it. It’ll certainly have its fans and it’s a good entry into the genre, but if you’ve seen similar before you’re likely not missing all that much here.

Japanese 2.0 Language,English Subtitles

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