Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time Vol. #8 (of 9) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, November 18, 2008

As the series reaches ever closer to its conclusion, it’s only now starting to show a little sense of urgency to matters.

What They Say
The tale surges toward climax as Akram’s scheme is set into action, while the Eight Guardians continue their quest for the Four Sacred Talismans!

Can the demons and humankind ever understand one another? Where does the final Sacred Talisman, the Talisman of the North lie? The power of the Dragon God that dwells within Akane grows stronger with each passing day, while the thoughts of the Eight Guardians weave and clash...

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.

After the brighter and whiter cover of the previous volume, this one goes darker with lots of purples to it as we get the pairing of Eisen and Yasuaki together as they prepare for a fight. There’s a lot of detail here and the cover is very eye catching in general even with the purples. 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 various purple shadings 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 purple shading and it has some really neat things in it. There are a few character designs, a brief interview the scriptwriter and a quick bit with most of the main cast as well as 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)
When it comes to most twenty-six episode series, the final six episodes tend to be among the more exciting ones. As Haruka works through three of those episodes before the final three, the lack of urgency is only slowly starting to come into play as the situation becomes more dire. You’d almost expect that the Guardians and Akane would prefer to simply lounge around all day and discuss their problem rather than do anything. And if they do want to do something, that Akane better stay put because it’s not safe out there.

Sometimes shoujo annoys me.

The three episodes here do start progressing the story a bit more as Akram has made a “bold” play along the way to get his goals achieved. While Akane and the Guardians continue to go out in small groups and pairings to find the Four Sacred Talismans, Akram is really just biding his time and poking and prodding them along the way. The series takes a rather mundane turn at first as Inori and Shimon have a moment together as Inori finds that his sister is now apparently in love and Icktidarl is right there in the thick of things which only sets off Inori. His past with his sister is still very strong for him as they were outcasts and blamed for much of what went wrong in their village, so the chance that she’d be in the same situation again sets him off completely. The change in relationship between Inori and Shimon is nice though considering how at odds they were with each other at first.

After this is put out to pasture, the story turns back to that of Tenma’s sister Ran who hasn’t had a good time of it since coming to this period. Once she was out of the control of Akram, with her memory gone, Akane and the others opted to play it cool and let things relax a bit to see whether she’d remember and otherwise work to make her happy. Unfortunately, those memories become unlocked by Yasuaki on purpose and that sets her to become a tool of Akram again. The confusion that Ran brings to the table is amusing as she swings back and forth while coming to grips with it, but also because it serves Akram well as he’s able to bring her back into his possession, along with some simple magics that help him to acquire the three Sacred Talismans that have been found so far. It’s times like these that luck seems to favor Akram as well as his basic methods of doing things to get it done and not playing so much. He came across more that way early on but is now a bit more manipulative.

As the series gets ever closer to the finale, it’s interesting and surprising that we’re still getting individual character stories. Akane has worked her way through most of them, but even here at episode twenty-three we’re still seeing her getting hands on with some of them. Yasuaki has been the most curious of all the Guardians that have come to her side and after what he’s done to Ran, he’s not necessarily all that popular among some of the members at this time. But he is single minded and focused on his goal so he’s able to throw himself into that in his emotionless way. Naturally, this is another of those bonding moments that comes along which brings everyone back together slowly, and Eisen is able to bring a little more to the table as they search for the final remaining talisman. Yasuaki is one of the few Guardian’s who is actually interesting still at this point, partially because of his mystery, and what we get here ends up asking more questions than it answers and I can’t be quite sure that’s so good when there’s only three episodes left.

In Summary:
Admittedly, for its faults in storytelling, it is working through a fairly standard style for this genre. It’s not surprising, but I kept holding out hope for something a little bit more involved, a little more engaging. This set of episodes brings things forward a bit more and puts more of the power back into Akram’s hands but it also lays more of the foundation as to where his betrayals will come from which is played out far too openly. Haruka isn’t deviating from the regular playbook all that much and with the relatively short run time compared to longer series of a similar nature, it’s still lacking that serious oomph and impact to give it more weight. It’s light and fun enough with lots of pretty guys, but there’s not much more than that, especially at nine volumes.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Demon's Soliloquoy

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: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2