Also known as:
HARUKA: Beyond the Stream Of Time: A Tale Of The Eight Guardians
Often abbreviated to:
Since this has finally got US licencing and will be released in America in 2008, I figured a review was in order.
Genre: Neoromance. Harukanaru Toki no Naka De is based originally on a PS2 game, which in turn spawned manga which the anime is taken loosely from. Although there are three (with a fourth to come) incarnations of the HaruToki universe, each with different characters and settings, this review is for the TV series from Harukanaru Toki no Naka De 1 - the Hachiyou series which comprises 26 episodes.
My first impression of HaruToki was that it was a cross between Fushigi Yuugi and Inuyasha, and even now I don't suppose that's totally wrong. Although it is set in Heian Japan, not ancient China, it still involves the taking of a girl from the "real" world and making her a "Miko" in a historically themed world. Like Fushigi Yuugi, she also has guardians to defend her...and like Kagome in Inuyasha, she gets sucked down a well and she spends time purifying stuff.
That said, it develops along its own lines. Instead of Shichiseishi, the main protagonist - "Motomiya Akane" is taken to the Heian era with two of her friends, Morimura Tenma and Nagareyama Shimon, both of whom consequently become members of the Hachiyou or "Eight Leaves" - the guardians who protect Ryuujin no Miko from harm.
The other six members of the Hachiyou comprise very varied characters - from the spiritually cognisant, emotionally devoid Abe no Yasuaki to the loyal samurai Minamoto no Yorihisa and the local court casanova, Tachibana no Tomomasa. The developing chemistry between these characters and between them and Akane is what actually makes the series, since there are enough episodes to enlarge a little on each of them and their pasts/motives/thoughts.
Of course, because it's Neoromance, the main thrust is a reverse harem. But even so, this theme isn't made too oppressively heavy, and (in my biased opinion), some of the male characters have a stronger potential romantic bond with Akane than others.
As already said, Motomiya Akane is dragged through a well to the Heian Era in order to become Ryuujin no Miko (Priestess of the Dragon God) and save Kyou (historical Kyouto) from ruin at the hands of the devious Oni clan.
The twist is that it's actually the leader of the Oni-ichizoku who summons Akane to Kyou - a young bishounen by the name of Akuram who is the series' main antagonist. Despite the fact he's always doing mean and uncomprehensible things, he attracts Akane's attention, and leaves her confused about her feelings versus her duty for most of the series. Akuram's reasons for summoning her seem to be to manipulate her magic for his own ends, and as Akane arrives in Kyou, the city is in dire straits. At the behest of Fuji, the young princess of the Hoshi clan, Akane is persuaded to begin gathering together her "Hachiyou" in an attempt to prevent Akuram's dire schemes.
The culmination of the series is the location of the four seals to release each of Kyou's four protective Gods from the oni-ichizoku's confinement.
Nothing too complicated ^_^ For general plot, at times it is a tad predictable in where it's going, although the characters generally rescue it from that.
Although it is taken from the manga, as is commonly the case, the manga has more detail in places and there are some events which happen in a different order. Some things are also missing completely, which is a bit of a shame. Overall, however, it flows pretty well and is still enjoyable.
This is the strength of the show. Though Akane is not a remarkable heroine, and she does cry to be saved a few times, she's not so wet as to be annoying and her normality is quite nice in contrast with her companions.
The other principle characters are:
Ten no Seiryuu: Minamoto no Yorihisa - The Hoshi clan's loyal samurai guard, Yorihisa understands how to use his sword and is generally willing to throw himself into danger on the Miko's behalf, but he knows nothing at all about being around women.
Chi no Seiryuu: Morimura Tenma - Akane's classmate and a hot-headed, somewhat bad-tempered youth who is in love with Akane and wants to be the only one to protect her. He is also searching for his missing sister Ran.
Ten no Suzaku: Inori - a young village kid whose parents are dead and who's only family is an older sister who he fiercely defends. He hates the oni clan because one of them got them kicked out of their previous village.
Chi no Suzaku: Nagareyama Shimon: Akane's friend from the real world - Shimon is a gentle boy who likes to cook and is often bullied because of his blond hair and blue eyes. He is often mistaken for an 'oni' by the people of Kyou for the same reason.
Ten no Byakko: Fujiwara no Takamichi: A government official from an illegitimate background, Takamichi's driven to hard work - sometimes too much so- and takes duty very seriously.
Chi no Byakko: Tachibana no Tomomasa: The court casanova, Tomomasa is one of the Emperor's trusted, and a great favourite with the women. He's also a Shougun, however, and can be responsible when he wants to be.
Ten no Genbu: Eisen: The brother of the current Emperor and a priest of Buddha, Eisen is intelligent and musically gifted but lacking in self-confidence.
Chi no Genbu: Abe no Yasuaki: The creation of onmyouji Abe no Seimei, Yasuaki has no human feelings...until he meets Ryuujin no Miko.
Fuji-hime: A ten year old girl who guides Akane through the predictions of the Hoshi clan.
Morimura Ran: Tenma's younger sister who disappeared from the "real" world some time earlier. She is at Akuram's behest as the Kokuryuu no Miko (Priestess of the Black Dragon) and is manipulated by the Oni clan to act on their behalf, even against her brother.
Akuram: Leader of the oni clan and the most powerful - manipulative and somewhat callous in his approach.
Shirin: Another oni, who acts on Akuram's commands because she is in love with him. A great beauty, she is known for bewitching men to follow her will.
Sefuru: A young oni who was rescued by Akuram and is fiercely determined to prove his usefulness to the oni leader.
Ikutidaru: An oni who obeys Akuram but whose loyalties are also torn by his sense of conscience and his affection for Inori's elder sister Seri.
Characters overall: 9/10.
The animation for HaruToki is pretty good. It's not perhaps the high quality of the Maihitoyo movie, but then it's a TV series, not a movie! The characters are well defined and they don't look rushed or messily done. Some of them have decidedly bizarre outfits, even for Heian Japan, but it's fiction so I suppose it can be forgiven...
The cast for this anime is top rate. There exists no English dub at present (I'm told the US release will be subbed, but not dubbed) but the Japanese version is first class. Key roles are voiced by Miki Shinichirou (Uruhara from Bleach, Youji from Weiss Kreuz), Seki Tomokazu (Izak Youle from Gundam, Chichiri from Fushigi Yuugi), Okiayu Ryoutarou (Byakuya from Bleach, K from Gravitation), Miyata Kouki (Hanatarou from Bleach, Murata Ken from Kyou Kara Maou) Hoshi Souichirou (Goku from Saiyuki, Sakamoto from Princess Princess, Ran/Nao from Sukisho ) Ishida Akira (Nanami from Sukisho, Cho Hakkai from Saiyuki), and Inoue Kazuhiko (Gunther from Kyou Kara Maou, Eiri from Gravitation).
There is a LOT of music associated with HaruToki and dividing it from HaruToki 2, 3, Maihitoyo etc is sometimes difficult. However the actual Hachiyou Shou soundtrack songs mostly feature either as ending themes or backing tracks in the show. Particularly nice ones are Yorihisa's and Yasuaki's. But the general music quality is good and fitting with the characters.
If it was more true to the manga (and if certain manga scenes had appeared in it), I would probably have given it an 8 or a 9. Even so though, it holds together well, and some moments (such as Yasuaki's discovery of human emotion) are touching and well played out. It's not a complicated plot, and it follows a lot of well worn tracks. But somehow it still works.
There is also the movie "Maihitoyo" plus OVAs that connect to this continuity, and an OVA for each HaruToki 2 and 3, not to mention a plethora of live events, games, manga, books, magazines, etc that connect to the HaruToki world. Despite that, though, and unlike some series devised from games, the Hachiyou series is watchable without any prior knowledge of character or setting, which makes it easy to recommend.
If you're a fan of shoujo/romance/semi-historical anime, this is a good one to watch
(However, the English title is AWFUL and horrible to remember - they should have stuck with the Japanese original :S)