Want an anime that's about a random trio of witty travelers with magical abilities? How about one that includes a girl who seems to have a keen fashion sense and a smart mouth to match, alongside a quiet guardian bent on revenge and a silly oaf of a gent who seems to just go along for the ride? If you're at all intrigued by the above description, Hatenkou Yuugi just might be what you're looking for.
Granted, Hatenkou Yuugi was the first shoujo title I'd come across in a while that peaked my interest. For those who follow the manga...it's much, much better than the anime, but delving too much into that would mean a digression, so I'll stick to what the series is about and what it seems to do well (as well as not).
For starters, Hatenkou Yuugi does make an interesting series for an episodic anime focusing on the supernatural and a case by case journey of the heroine and two heroes. Yet the anime feels, in the ten episodes that it presents, quite reminescent of a "wash, rinse, cycle and repeat as needed" in terms of the progression. What makes the series as fun is not the plot itself, as it had so many loose threads that you'd find yourself in a tangle trying to figure out where they lead. As a single season, taken on its own, it was disappointing on quite a few levels, because it did leave many things out in the open and unanswered. Yet, if you like travel anime series with witty characters, particularly if dry wit/humor is your thing, you wouldn't have a problem watching Hatenkou Yuugi at least once, as long as you didn't expect too much from the backing story and a few stories that seem similar in structure, but not necessarily the same.
I'll give an example: there are a few episodes in the series where the characters, Rahzel, Heat and Alzeid, journey through towns and find themselves caught in a pinch that they happen to fall into. Sometimes it's funny, like the time they end up spending in a jail or in a warped circus routine early on in the series. Others, you'll note they're helping out quite a few kids who happen to be a part of a larger scheme at work. Depending on how you approach this bite sized series, if you're looking for a complex story, you won't find it here. There are some unique revelations that tie into the characters and their overall development, something I found decently done on the whole and never felt it was too rushed, but it was the lack of closure that I found a little bitter to swallow. It has great potential as an overall series, just not thoroughly explored to the level it could have been.
I actually did enjoy Hatenkou Yuugi, it made me smile and laugh because it had the kind of humor and interactions between the characters that I really liked. Unfortunately, I wish that it could have amounted to a bit more in places.
Simply stated, I was impressed with Hatenkou Yuugi's animation, great use of coloring, character design (with rather interesting detail on Rahzel's lavish outfits), and overall cel production values. I could say it's up to par on adapting both from the manga adaptation (which I won't compare too closely for the sake of this review) and also meeting peer contemporary standards.
There are some action sequences and use of magical powers in this series, but none are really fast or fluid, simply standard. I should note that they're right on par though, they aren't really the central element of the series to be able to enjoy it, though.
Hatenkou Yuugi's OST works well on an overall standard for the most part. I didn't read too much into the BGM for the series, some of them were quite good, but none were necessarily stand alone outside of the series. For the vocal performances, however, I have to really give respect. The opening theme "Heartbreaking Romance" by Itou Kanako (known from her performances from Demonbane TV, Myself Yourself, and School Days) still shines with a stellar vocal and an interesting melodic progression to back it. I found it a rather catchy theme with an interesting electronic twist. The ending "Te no Naka no Eien" by Kaori Hikita is of equal caliber, a sweet, soothing performance overall. I felt both themes matched their sequences spot on.
The Japanese voice acting was quite well done for the series overall. Sanae Kobayashi, who plays Rahzel, has acted in numerous anime series over the years (roles including Elfen Lied as Lucy/Nyuu and Haru from Someday's Dreamers), and she brings a much needed wit and funny heart to the character. I'd probably give my hats off award to her considering how well she fits into the character. Heat and Alzeid's VAs also do a great job filling their roles respectively, and all three seem to have great chemistry in the series overall. I just wish the series had been a little more developed to really bring this more to the forefront.
At the very least, Hatenkou Yuugi has likable characters, and the main three have a definite chemistry with each other despite the three seeming to travel on their own agendas. Rahzel's an implusive girl with a unique magical ability despite a rather painful past. Then again, one could say the same of Alzeid, while in a rather typical "quiet rebel" coat, he seems to have a weight upon him that's checked upon in the course of the series, but never quite closed. Then there's Heat. Heat is a character I really liked for his spontaneous personality. He's a big goofball, sometimes funny, and sometimes annoying as you don't really know what he's going to do next, whether he's playing for the other team or just likes to give Rahzel and Alzeid a hard time (or both!). There are some actions on his part that keep him interesting, but at the same time make you go "Huh? Why did he do that?" and again, it's not so much of the characterization that's the problem, it's to do with the lacking story. Pity, because if Hatenkou Yuugi did have a stronger story with better development, this could have been more of an enjoyment factor.
I'm so glad this is the kind of anime that's much better as a whole than the first episode indicates. The storytelling in the first ep is jumpy as hell and seriously incoherent. Fortunately, the second episode is just jumpy and even the jumpiness is reduced to normal by the fifth ep.
The reason why I'm glad about that is because the concept is right up my alley: a confident magician girl travels a fantasy world, accompanied by two cool guys and experiencing various adventures. It's kind of clichéd, but as long as it doesn't develop into a serious love triangle, I like that sort of settings.
I also like the characters. The cold guy is neither a bastard nor particularly emo, the funny guy isn't just funny but also cool, the girl isn't annoying (at least to me) or weak, she's pretty cool at times... and all three of them are totally overwhelming against most enemies. XD Sure, that means there isn't much excitement in battles, but combined with style that suits my tastes, it makes for good entertainment. I like characters who kick ass with style, never getting nervous. Especially when they have mysterious, tragic pasts. And when they're voiced by good seiyuu.
Even in the first episode, where I didn't know the characters yet and the storytelling was incoherent, there was one thing supporting this anime: hilarious dialogue. I wouldn't go as far as to say that the dialogue is brilliant, but it's clearly above average throughout the anime. It's the one thing in this anime that never fails, and out of all the elements, it gets the highest score from me.
The plot... well, there's not much of a plot, really. The whole thing is rather episodic, and you can't put much complexity into an arc of one or two eps. (BTW, the best arcs are the two dual-episode arcs.) But I don't mind, it's entertaining enough to watch the characters solve various problems in one or two episodes, while deepening their bonds and slowly exploring each others' dark pasts. Not forever, of course, but it's not difficult to later introduce longer arcs into settings like this. In fact, I have a feeling that there was a longer arc coming right as the anime ended.
Some of the episodes present rather interesting themes, often arising from tragedy. The arcs all have some tragic elements, but despite that the overall tone is light enough to not drive away someone who dislikes tragedy like me. There's a contemplative tone to the tragedy, as if the purpose was to make you think, rather than feel. I'd say this is slightly deeper and more thought-provoking than the average anime.
The BG musics are nothing memorable, but the OP and ED are quite good in my opinion. Overall, atmosphere isn't one of the strong points in this anime, but it's not like there isn't any. The three main characters all have well-chosen seiyuu, and they do their work with professional quality, though this is hardly the role of their life for any of them. Decent voice acting all around.
It's too bad this anime was obviously a low-investment project: the animation quality is quite bad and the whole thing is only 10 episodes long. It's too damn short! I think there's serious potential in the concept and characters, and there are 12 volumes of manga. The ending isn't bad, it's decently fulfilling while leaving a door open for more seasons, but... I was left wanting more, and I fear I'm not going to get more any time soon.
Overall, not bad. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit, but I'm hesitant to give a high score because of some glaring flaws and the fact that I can attribute much of that enjoyment to the settings and characters being "right up my alley".
I love this anime series its so good! and if you like dark fantasy with a touch of humor your'll love this show as much as i do, the charectors are great and each episode is a exciting new adeventure! with danger around every corner!