Hiiro no Kakera
As her parents travel abroad for work, Tamaki Kasuga transfers to a small village in rural Japan to live with her grandmother in her shrine. Upon setting foot off the bus and into the village, an eerie aura settles in, and in the blink of an eye, several hideous monsters are closing in on her! She is snatched away by a handsome, but uncouth young man, who appears to be under the guidance of her grandmother! She learns the true nature behind her summoning to the village - she is the next in line to be the Tamayori Princess, which means she has to use her heritage to seal the Onikirimaru, a cursed sword intended for the world's destruction! Along with five young guardians, they have to prevent the sword from falling into the hands of those who wish to wield it!
Words cannot begin to describe the pain I am having to go through to write a less-than-stellar review for the anime adaptation of my all-time favorite otome game. It will take some considerable amount of self-control not to tack on 'but in the game' to every sentence, but so help me, I will try...because I don't want anyone to think that one of my favorite canons of all time is fairly represented by this unfortunate television series.
Which isn't to say that Hiiro no Kakera can't be enjoyable. There are lots of good points about the series that I will do my best to highlight. Unfortunately, the series is much like Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle in that it suffers so much from poor pacing that it's hard for someone who isn't a fan of the genre to stick through it. That, and the typically-charming quirks of the five male leads ("male leads," when there's really only one since Otomate decided to stick to a single dude's route) are poorly executed, instead reducing complex and interesting heroes into little more than parodies and trite cliches of their game counterparts. What's really unfortunate is that Takuma, the chosen route of this series over the other five possiblities is probably the least interesting of the choices they could've gone with. In some ways, choosing him makes the most amount of sense for the overall base of the storyline - after all, all five the guardians' stories tie in to the over-arching mythos of the Tamayori Princess - but it made for an un-engaging first half of series (essentially all of season 1) and most importantly, for a series like this, a romance devoid of any chemistry. Takuma has a quirk or two - namely a pretty obscure hobby - but none of it really sinks in enough to make him an interesting character. It's a real shame, especially since Tamaki is probably one of the most enjoyable otome heroines in the genre.
Tamaki, like most otome heroines, is already at a disadvantage by merit of her existence. Her purpose is essentially to be in the viewer's place, to be the "every girl," in the same way Bella Swan would be for the Twilight franchise. In most situations, this would make her a character void of any real personality (see Amnesia for an example) and unable to speak up for herself. While she is often in need of rescue in the earlier parts of the series, Tamaki is a stubborn and mouthy girl full of spunk and sarcasm. One of the beautiful things about Hiiro no Kakera is that the majority of the guardians really don't like her, and resent everything she represents, for that matter. After all, their lives from birth have been centered around her eventual arrival, and now their lives are dictated more or less by her actions. Most series of these types instantly go into the 'hey I just met you but I feel the need to protect you with my life' - not here.
The other guardians outside of Takuma are the often highlight of the series...when given the opportunity to offer more to the scene than convenient information for the audience's sake. The short-stacked upperclassman Mahiro Atori (if Japanese fandom blogs and image galleries are any indicator, the fan-favorite) manages to get the most collective bones thrown his way from the show-runners. True to his upperclassman form, he offers (begrudgingly, might I add) the most insight to the history of Tamaki's duty (much more than her grandmother ever does), and as a result, most of the show's intrigue. (He remains to this day my favorite otome game romantic lead, and I maintain the opinion that the anime would've been far more successful an adaptation if they went with Mahiro's route, but that's another discussion for another time.) Shinji Inukai, the lower classman, starts out as a super-uke 'guuuys, maybe we should be nice to herrr' type, but very quickly stirs about his own intrigue as well. Suguru Ohmi, the eldest of the guardians, is the voice of reason and the bastion of stability...and probably the only one who really ever acts in Tamaki's favor, but even he has his own motives and ambitions. The only guardian whose personality and inner turmoil we don't get a fair picture of is a surprise: Yuichi Komura, the stoic and beautiful silver-haired upperclassman, is the other fan-favorite and barely gets an allusion to his complex and tragic backstory - one of many casualties of this grossly abbreviated re-telling.
Pacing and over-condensing aside, Hiiro no Kakera has all the makings of a beautiful anime series. For the most part, Studio DEEN's animation budget (especially for the openings) is really all-out here, a considerable improvement over the Hakuouki series (outside of Reimeiroku). The colors and movement are fluid and lovely, the CGI is seamlessly integrated into the scenes, and the music, both the lyrical music by Maiko Fujita (who does all the games' music) and Shuhei Kita is memorable and honestly psyches you up for each episode. The voice-acting is exceptional, with some consistent favorites and some folks that I haven't heard from in a while.
And honestly, re-watching it again made the show more enjoyable for me - mainly because a lot of the talking in the first season (and wow, is there a lot of talking) made so much more sense when you knew what it was all going towards..! So maybe this series is more enjoyable for those who have played the game first (unlike me, who played the game after knowing it had to be better - very similar to my experience with Howl's Moving Castle!) and knew what they were all alluding to, but I found myself much like Tamaki through the whole thing - completely in the dark, frustrated with not having a clue, and getting really impatient in getting some answers. While everything is discovered in due time, I really don't think audiences should be expected to go through an entire 12 episodes before understanding just what all these crazy kids are fighting for. It may work for a visual novel, but as an anime adaptation, if you don't have a reason for sticking it out, the series just drags.
Good for anyone who's a fan of Otomate's games or reverse harems, or likes a spunky heroine with cute guys. Unfortunately while the game is A+, the anime simply passes as a B-grade series. — Melissa Sternenberg
Recommended Audience: Some mild super-powered violence, talk of human sacrifice, and Tamaki walking in on bathing guardians would be considered mildly objectionable. There are also some incestuous overtones in a subplot.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream from Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subtitles.
Review Status: Full (26/26)
Hiiro no Kakera © 2012 Otomate, Idea Factory
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