What They Say
An incident occurs at Toji temple involving a young monk who dies after touching an eight-stringed koto. Akane visits the temple to see the koto and meets Eisen by the lakeside. Before she knows it, she is moved to tears by the sorrowful sound of his flute as he plays a dirge for the departed. Then, as the sinister tones of the koto resound, Akane falls unconscious. Under the curse of the eight-stringed koto, Akane drifts into a sleep from which she will never awaken...
The one responsible for the curse of the eight-stringed koto was Sefle, a demon boy. He reveals the secret to breaking the curse - one of the Eight Guardians must play the koto and give up his life. Only the "Kan of the Eight Guardians" is capable of awakening the Priestess. That guardian is Eisen, the runaway younger brother of the emperor. He approaches the koto to rescue Akane, prepared for death, when...
A young girl calling herself the "Priestess of the Dragon God" appears?! Akane seeks her out, while Tenma frantically searches alone for his missing sister. What Akane, Tenma, and the others come across in the city is a mysterious figure as she transforms impurities into butterflies and releases them into the capital. That girl was none other than Tenma's younger sister, Ran!!
Introducing another of the Guardians a well as more on Tenma’s family issues, Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ works through three more episodes with small doses of progress.
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.
The soft and colorful covers continue once more as three of the characters that are pretty relevant to these episodes are brought together. The introduction of Lord Eisen brings him to the cover as does the role that both Akane and Yasuaki play in it and they all flow rather well together here. The background is done up using a scene from the city itself with blue skies 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 yellowish-brown 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 music 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 fourth volume of the series sadly only brings us up through episode eleven but it does bring us through a two episode storyline that’s a good bit of fun. The introduction of another of the Guardian’s is a definite plus since once we have them all it should signal the real start of the storyline. We also get a really intriguing bit of the past brought in when Tenma’s missing sister shows up as well, something that only serves to heighten his interest in figuring all of this out.
The opening two part storyline starts off a bit shaky as it introduces a harp that has been brought to the Toji Temple to be watched over. The harp is considered to be cursed because it has eight strings, and those who play it end up dying afterwards because of it. This becomes more well known after a monk there is drawn to it and ends up dying, which in turn sets off a ripple effect that puts Akane into a trance. Yasuaki reveals to the rest of the Guardian’s that she may be in this coma for days, weeks or forever and that there doesn’t appear to be any proper way to undo the curse with regards to the harp itself.
Naturally, this means that there has to be a new character introduced who is specifically tuned to the situation who can help out. Blunt as can be, Lord Eisen is brought into the show, though at first it’s certainly very easy to believe it’s a woman instead. Eisen is a soft spoken beautiful young man who is more than willing to give his life to help save the Priestess since he doesn’t believe he’ll be of much use to anyone otherwise. Low on self esteem, he sees this as an opportunity to do something to help out in some small way. Eisen isn’t a bad character as introduced, but like many of the other Guardian’s so far, he’s fairly bland since we’re not getting all that much on him and he leads a pretty uninteresting life. His role here fits perfectly to the need, which is admittedly rather typical, but it feels like it stands out as even more blatant and obvious than usual.
The two part storyline is resolved fairly easily and without much fuss, but it’s the single episode afterwards that really is the most interesting of the series so far. While we got plenty of foreshadowing in the previous volume regarding Tenma’s sister Ran and her disappearance, seeing what’s actually going on with her within this world is quite fascinating. Her sudden appearance in the city where she’s claiming to be the Dragon Priestess and is using various powers to back up the claim begins to win over several of the citizens who then spread the news. Retaining a classic beauty look to her and fitting in easily with the garb of the time, it’s like night and day when compared to Akane.
The twist, not entirely unexpected, is that she doesn’t have any recollection of who she was before and she’s being manipulated by Akram rather easily. With his bringing Akane here, it makes sense that he involved Ran some time prior and is now trying to get it right by manipulating Akane through Ran. Even more so because it affects at least one of her Guardian’s which can turn many other things into a problem along the way. The intensity of Tenma’s reactions to what’s going on is rather well done but the best moments come when Ran and Akane confront each other and act almost as if they’re mirror images with their phrases and looks. Akram’s manipulations have turned her into someone who believes everything she’s saying, which only causes doubt within Akane.
The main problem with Haruka ~Beyond the Stream of Time~ at this point in time continues to be its release schedule. With four volumes and not even twelve episodes into it, it has the feeling that it’s taking longer than it should to get where we’re going. The show itself is still pretty standard fare which isn’t a bad thing but it’s not setting itself apart all that much either. The animation has settled in nicely and the cast is growing, though not much in terms of depth. Shoujo fans know what to expect from a series like this and I’ve got fairly low expectations in general for it, but it is proving to be a nicely done show with some interesting designs, but nothing that will actually prove to be highly memorable. Perhaps the second half, when we get to it, will have something to make it more memorable.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Demon's Soliloquy
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.