Hakkenden: Touhou Hakken Ibun 2nd Season Review

This is review number two hundred and thirty nine. This anime is part of the Summer 2013 lineup. The anime I’ll be reviewing is the second season of Hakkenden. It’s a continuation of a show about hot dudes fighting each other or something. It’s a thirteen episode show full of hot guys and some supernatural stuff. I liked the first season so I was pretty excited to watch this one. Is the wait worth it? Let’s read on.

Story

The anime is still about Shino trying to collect the eight beads and getting involved in some supernatural troubles along the way. This time around, the eight warriors are now coming together and some impending danger is about to go down. Shino isn’t aware of it but the eight beads he is collecting hold some tremendous power that other people are after. He isn’t worried much about that because Sousuke’s shadow, Ao, is finally back to steal Shino away and this shadow will do anything he can to make sure that it succeeds.

Taking the Pants Off

I remember watching the first season of this anime back in the Winter lineup. I was a guy with too much time back then and now I barely have any. My, what half a year of time can do to change a man’s life. Anyways, the first season was a muddled tangle of a mess that eventually untangled itself as it progresses. People would’ve likely dropped the anime because the story is hard to grasp, the show is too overcrowded and it’s really just an excuse to drool at hot guys. I think one of the things I repeated countless time on the first season review was that the hot guys were a strong component of the anime and then slowly pitched the rest of the show in the rest of the paragraphs. The show is hard to like but it definitely had its merits. The show is built on individual stories slowly setting up the main story. It was a different kind of storytelling but I was slowly engrossed in it. When the first season ended, I was certainly craving for more. I’m sure most people who finished up the first season felt the same way. The show intentionally ended on a cliffhanger so it can tease another season. I definitely wanted to see it. A word of caution for those that saw the first season though, if you’re expecting a grand ending to satiate the long time of waiting then better lower that expectation down. I, myself, am used to shows that intentionally cut the first season to build up another season but they usually end things in a grand way. Hakkenden is special because it wasn’t trying to end things so extravagantly. Despite the groundwork placed by the first season, the second season still kept to the same approach. The second season was still busy laying the groundwork the first season didn’t complete. There is no big difference to the first and second season of this show. There are a few improvements in the story but I am forced to once again convince you, dear readers, to pick this show up because of this:

And then hopefully you’ll fall back to the same storytelling that you’ve come to expect from this show. Of course, the first season made sure you fall in love with the characters and the second season capitalized on that to make the experience pretty enjoyable. I certainly missed the characters and seeing the subtle yaoi elements once again spice up every possible scene is something I enjoyed the last time I saw this anime.

As I said before, the first season was a bit of a mess. The show is mainly about a boy named Shino trying to complete a task assigned to him by some important church guy. The task is to collect eight beads scattered all over the land. He goes to different towns trying to find the beads but also try to complete side jobs given to him along the way. The eight beads are all owned by reincarnated “Dog” warriors and they all have “Inu” in their name. While this was the ideal main story of the show, it wasn’t necessarily the focus of it. The anime’s content is mostly about the side jobs Shino handles and the different kinds of supernatural trouble each job stirs up. When I watched the first season, I was certainly lost because I had no idea what the hell was going on. All I did was honestly stare at the wonderful bishies of the show. As I kept watching, I realized the show is based on a Japanese epic about eight warriors who were born from a union of a princess and a dog and they joined forces to defeat an evil bad guy or something like that. Once I realized that concept, I had to abandon it because the show isn’t about that. It’s a loose retelling with a lot of new elements to create a new kind of story. It’s not just about a bunch of warriors out to defeat an evil entity. It’s also about a boy trying to find eight beads that belong to eight reincarnated warriors that once defeated an evil entity. Once I realized that though, I had to put it aside because the show wasn’t focusing on that. It was about the various adventures Shino partakes in that often involve a lot of supernatural beings. I take that into consideration but also push it to the side because the show’s approach is character driven. Each story about Shino being involved with some supernatural being is centered on different characters that play important parts in those stories. So the first season of Hakkenden is a retold epic wrapped around an episodic format wrapped around different non episodic stories. In other word, a genuine clusterf*ck. It’s obviously one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever written.

The second season is pretty much the same as the first. The style of storytelling is almost the same and the pacing is oddly familiar. The only thing different about the second season is that it was finally covering a lot of things the first season missed. One thing to keep in mind though is that the anime is still very much a non-episodic character centered show. The focus is still on the different individual stories about people and their relations to some supernatural beings. I honestly loved this back in the first season. The simple stories presented in such a sophisticated manner were something I am truly a fan of. It was easy to love the individual stories because they were easy to follow and the payoff was pretty great compared to the clustered presentation of the overall story. In the second season, the roles are a bit reversed. The individual stories still kept things intact but there was also some huge focus on the overall story of the anime. Each individual story plays a big role in providing more details about the main story and this was a huge leg up from the first season that seemed to tip toe around that simple idea. There’s not that much to describe about the individual stories themselves. They’re still the same sophisticated stories that you’d expect from the show. Each one had some wonderful content about the complicated relationship of humans and supernatural beings. It told a nice story of the bonds the two beings create and the trouble that grows from it. I still love how it was presented. It’s not really that much but it’s enough to really elevate the anime.

For this review, I’ll be focusing on the overall story though. There are two main plot points regarding the main story of the anime. These two go hand in hand together to complete the show. The first one is obviously about Shino and his journey to find some balls. In the first season, the characters that supposedly own some of the beads were introduced but the beads themselves were never collected. Most of the individual stories of the first season are about the different owners and their supernatural occurrence. The show was mostly concerned about the way the individual stories would progress and not much about Shino’s journey to collect the beads. I think the anime was doing a foreshadowing of things to come and building up their eventual union down the line. It certainly did a good job of it because the one thing the first season teased was how each character would affect the show later on. When the eight characters join together, the clear stand out personalities will certainly add a lot to the final showdown the show will eventually have. This bead collecting issue and the eventual union of the characters happen here in the second season. After the rest of the characters are introduced, the anime is mostly building up the moment where all the characters would join together. I honestly have dreams of the moment themselves ever since I saw the first season. The show was smart to make sure you tune in to see that particular moment and I really admire that aspect of the anime.

The story about the eight beads is also being heavily discussed. In the first season, Shino was simply asked to collect the beads. There were no more details about it after that. Just collect the beads and get yourself into trouble is the most you’ll get out of the first season. They certainly tiptoed around that subject but it’s now being tackled in the second season. The purpose of the beads is finally explained and the relation to the Japanese epic is finally being utilized. It appears that collecting the beads would help revive the goddess that once aided the eight warriors into fighting that evil dude they defeated in the past. The reincarnated warriors now possess various parts of the goddess through the beads and when they are combined, the goddess would be revived. It’s not as simple as that though. It seems that joining the beads also holds another prize for the one that collects it. The eight beads are now something so precious that a lot of people are after it. They want the power of the eight beads and they hold something truly special once they get their hands on it.

The second plot point is about Shino’s relationship with Ao. In the first season, it was revealed that this dude that looked like his close friend, Sousuke, is actually named Ao. He is the shadow of Sousuke and he wants to become more than a shadow. He had a plan of stealing Sousuke’s spirit and become one with him. The first season ended before anything can happen. All he did back then was steal some golden eye from a prostitute or something. The second season finally gave him a lot more room to work in. Most of the individual stories include Ao doing something despicable to overcomplicate the situations. It’s all part of his plan to steal Shino away and become one with Sousuke. As the anime progresses, Sousuke would slowly be affected by Ao’s evil plan and it’s now up to Shino to stop the shadow from becoming whole.  There’s a slight problem though. Ao and Sousuke is virtually the same. Can he draw a sword on the person he cares for the most? Well, he’s not really Sousuke but he shares his face and Shino is now conflicted to point a blade at that face. Shino seems to be between a rock and a hard place because he must find a way to stop Ao from stealing Sousuke’s life while also finding a way to effectively stop him. The second plot point was also something the anime nicely teased towards the end of the first season and it’s now being heavily featured this time. Most of the individual stories are actually really good because of how the second plot points pop up from time to time to complicate the stories. There was a decent build up and the moment where Shino will eventually come to a decision is pretty satisfying.

This is a character driven show though. The old characters were really nicely utilized in this show. Shino is still the typical hero as he was in the first season. The important thing to note here is that some aspects about him are being explored with how the plot points are concerned. Shino would remember parts about his past and his close relation to some of the important people in the anime. There were a lot of things explored in terms of his character because of the new things the plot points presented in the show. Shino is pretty much like his same old self though since he needed a stable personality to make the individual episodes shine. Much like the rest of the recurring characters, Shino would have some particular role at each story he is involved with and he can’t deviate much from that. The rest of the characters are also pretty much the same. Keep in mind, this is an overcrowded anime. There are a lot of characters to consider and a lot of relationships to take note off. I am honestly intimidated by it as well. Most characters are often on stand stills because they don’t offer much to the current story of the show but has a role in the overall status of the anime. Most of the old eight warriors are among some of them. You can tell this anime had way too many characters because most of the old characters don’t have a role to play. They stick to their one dimensional personalities but I often felt like they’re just on standby for when the anime actually tackle the main core of the story. They take up space and that’s really most of what they do.

The new characters had the same intrigue as the old characters back when they were introduced in the first season. They would be charming and cute in their individual stories but soon lost their place after it. They had the same one dimensional personality as the rest of the cast but that’s not really a bad thing. They function within their individual stories and they actually make them special so they did their role well. You can’t really ask for more. The one shot characters are pretty great though. They really add a lot of intrigue in the stories. They made sure the supernatural aspects come through while also making sure they stand out from the rest of the cast. The individual stories themselves are pretty good though so the one shot characters have a lot of potential to shine.

I honestly have some complaints about the second season. The most concerning of them all is the lack of a more decent payoff. I’ll be blunt, I wanted something truly worth waiting two seasons and the show can’t seem to deliver that. The steady build up wasn’t felt much so the climax of the main story felt a bit dull. The unusual approach of a non-episodic format didn’t seem fair because I wanted the show to wrap up in a more fascinating way. I’m conflicted about this though because this style of the anime isn’t really a bad thing. The show captured the steady pacing of the manga. It nicely presented the appeal of the original source without ruining anything about it. The problem is that my mind was convinced the show will end in a more spectacular way. I’m used to season twos of various shows doing that kind of thing and I guess I’m just a bit uneasy because Hakkenden wasn’t like that. At its heart, it’s a character driven show founded on supernatural stories with recurring characters having its own journey on the side. With the way the second season went down, you wouldn’t really be surprised how it ended but you can’t help but feel a bit sour about it as well. This is why complex shows like this are a pain to review and nothing has tripped me more than this one.

Again, just don’t expect much from the second season. It continued the things presented in the first season but it still kept the normal pacing and the unusual individual story focused structure. I’m pretty sure you’ll pick up the second season because you’ve seen the first season and I can tell you that it is worth it. The appeal of the first season combined with the decent conclusion of the various stories makes the second season a pretty fun show to watch. Be wary of Studio Deen though. They do a lot of this hot guy centered shows and each of them is often hard to appreciate. I’m glad Hakkenden is an exception simply because the original source is pretty good itself. The studio certainly has a niche audience by now and they plan to cater to them for years to come. If you loved staring at hot guys in anime then you’ll love Studio Deen. Save the story and the other details for another time because Studio Deen doesn’t care much about that. With that being said, it’s now time to talk about the visuals of this anime.

Sight and Sound

So by now, I’m spending way too much time with my fujoshi friend because my newly established social life is making me hang out with her more. I honestly would’ve dated her by now if conversations with her wouldn’t end in a story of two guys buttf*cking each other (you’re weird, my fujoshi friend.) One day, I jokingly recommended her the first season of this show. It has hot guys so she’ll appreciate it but I know she is more of a story heavy anime fan. She reads yaoi but enjoys more fulfilling shows like Tatami Galaxy for her anime. It literally took three seconds for her to recognize the character design and then immediately blurted out “MIYUKI ABE”!!! This is where things become scary. The Hakkenden series is actually a shounen manga created by a pretty talented yaoi mangaka. In my review of the first season, I kept praising the subtle yaoi content. I never imagined it was actually made by someone that does yaoi for a career. I am now regretting recommending this anime to my fujoshi friend. Anyways, Miyuki Abe is one talented artist. She really knows how to make amazing seme and uke characters. Seme are dominant characters in a yaoi pairing. They’re the one doing the sexy time. Miyuki does a wonderful job of creating the typical seme traits. Tall characters, broad shoulders, a chiseled face, wonderfully detailed necks that outline the adam’s apple are among the thing Miyuki can do with ease. This is paired with some wonderfully fierce eyes and a really hot face with a nice messy hair to complete it. The result is a typical fujoshi bait. You cannot resist that and Miyuki makes sure you never will. The uke characters are also pretty great. One thing you’ll notice is that they’re often frail shorter boys compared to the tall semes. The standout features for them is that they look rather innocent. In yaoi, this does wonders because the seme and the uke will eventually do sexy time. This suggestive style makes the interaction of the characters really fun to watch. As my fujoshi friend keeps watching it, she had an undeniable fujoshi aura emanating from her and it was pretty scary. The one thing that makes Miyuki’s character design special though is the skin color of the characters. It’s more of a redish flesh color that look rather unusual but it nicely compliments the detailed faces and the yaoi appeal of various characters. The wonderful character designs are really one of the best things in the anime. I will now post waaayyyyy too many pictures of Hakkenden characters below. Enjoy.

hakkenden2-9

Another great thing about Miyuki’s design is that there is a nice range in the characters. While the characters all share the same template (something yaoi magaka usually do because most readers are after their hot guys and really nothing more), you can easily tell characters apart. I’m critical about this because I’m not a fan of clone characters like the ones I see in Junjo Romantica/Sekachii Hatsukoi. Despite the overcrowded characters in the show, you can still easily pick out the eight warriors, the church members, the side characters and the one shot characters. There are a lot of things contributing to this, actually. The wide range of design Miyuki knows is one of the biggest reasons but the outfit of the characters also add a lot to the design. From traditional Japanese clothing to imperial uniforms to laymen clothing to western styled urban clothing, they made each characters special and easier to discern. Even if a character doesn’t have a lot of screen time, you can still easily remember them because of the well rounded character design Miyuki gave them.

Animation is pretty decent. There are not a lot of standout fight scenes in the anime because they’re pretty limited. Most fight scenes just serve to make certain stories more engaging but they are never interesting themselves. Characters would just swing their swords or use their powers with no real pacing to the fight scenes. Like most bishie anime, the beautiful faces are reserved at each scene so the eyes don’t often blink and facial expressions are limited. Unless it’s severe reactions, you won’t see much expression from the characters other than that droolingly handsome fixed expression they have on. The visual presentation of the anime is pretty amazing though. This is one thing I am really amazed at Studio Deen. They know how to make amazing background work that matches the beauty of their character. They were able to capture the beauty of imperial Japanese with its traditional looking buildings and the simple houses that normal people live in. The nice architectural details are given with care to give the show a lovely atmosphere. This is completed with some stunning digital touches that make the anime pretty sophisticated. The way the characters interact with the background and the way each scene has a nice fantasy effect to it is really a nice touch by Studio Deen. Animation may be limited but they sure even it out with some great cinematography that you can’t help but appreciate.

The anime’s OP is “wonder fang” by Faylan. I actually love the rhythm of this song. It’s catchy and Faylan’s voice gives the show a nice personality. The song also has some decent instrumentals to it that is really fun to listen to. I can’t get used to the weird English lines though. It’s a bit off putting to me. The OP sequence summarizes the anime. It introduced all the characters, gave a decent presentation of the status quo and had some awesome scenes related to the events of the second season. It also boasts some great animation the actual show rarely does. It’s awesome.

The anime’s ED is “Souai Calendula” by Ceui. This is a really nice romance song with a slow pace and some meaningful lyrics behind it. It’s a weird one for the show though. It tells of a person being madly in love with another. The ED sequence is about Shino, Sousuke and Ao though so this love story is in regards to their relationship. It’s pretty weird. A bit feminine for my taste but what do I know. The Ed sequence is about Ao lurking in the shadows while Shino and Sousuke do some things together. It ends with Ao imagining of the long haired Shino smiling back at him. Again, it’s weird.

Overall Score

6/10 “It has the same appeal as the first season with a more progressed story. It wasn’t able to give the audience more than that though.”

Much like the first season, this anime has hot dudes and subtle yaoi elements that you can truly enjoy. The story is lacking though. I honestly can’t describe it properly but it wasn’t as grand as I hope it’d be. It doesn’t matter though because the show was a nice continuation of the things you loved in the first season. If you enjoyed the first one then you have to try this second season. If you like handsome dudes in your anime then you’ll love this one. If you’re a fan of fantasy and supernatural elements in your anime then you’ll enjoy this one. I recommend it.

2 thoughts on “Hakkenden: Touhou Hakken Ibun 2nd Season Review

  1. I really like how all the more visual inventive anime this season all come from DEEN. Some seriously beautiful backgrounds here. I REALLY need to check this out soon 😀

    • well I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. There’s some serious “visual” experience here I’m sure you’ll like. 🙂
      thanks for commenting. haha

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