Set in the final years of the Bakumatsu era, the Meiji Restoration era is fast approaching and the Shogunate is in its final years. The brooding, mysterious swordsman known as Akidzuki Yojiro is on an important mission of supernatural proportions. For centuries the legendary Lord’s Head has been hidden in the shadows, controlling the hearts of men and driving people to war, and as the eternal assassin, it is up to Akidzuki armed with his mystical Moontear blade to hunt this demon down once and for all.
His path crosses with that of an eclectic travelling theater group, who too are out on a mission of revenge, led by a mysterious playwright who seems to be pulling the very strings of history itself. As the backdrop of a tumultuous political environment plays itself out in a violent fashion and the men of the era influence the future, these two groups must work together in order to fulfill their respective quests – even as a dark conspiracy unfolds behind them and destiny threatens to envelop them all.
What makes Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto so interesting is that the entire story is based on historical fact. The people, the events, the political climate, they all come straight from the history books and one of the added bits of fun to watching this show is that you can go to your friendly Wikipedia right after a show and follow the story from the anime through real life. Of course, this would make for a possibly boring anime, and so the show’s writers has infused their supernatural element over the events showing us just how the events of the past might have transpired, thanks to the influence of the demonic Demon’s Head possessions.
The story focuses both heavily on Akidzuki’s quest as the eternal assassin as well as the actual historical events that played out in the birthing of Japan as we know it. The story is about destiny, loyalty and even aspects of romance gets woven into the plot. The show does contain a little humour, but this definitely takes a back seat to drama and intrigue, as well as a very healthy dose of simply gorgeously animated and styled action sequences (both sword and gun fights). The series’ plot seems very much in two parts, as it seems to drive a more character-focused first half of the season, before moving in a more event driven latter half and then finally pulling all the threads together into a gripping and well told finale.
Story wise, Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto does very little wrong and comes across as a tightly scripted, well researched and gripping ride. The characters are all well fleshed out and individual enough to keep your attention and there are more than enough of them to keep you interested.
On the animation side of things, Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto features very detailed backgrounds and character models, with lots of attention spent on the era clothes, buildings and weaponry. The animation is smooth and well animated, going for realism as much as possible. The action sequences are solidly done and the fighting scenes are well choreographed. The theater productions are particularly well done, and the writers and animators have done a brilliant job in showing just how things might have been done back in the day (though they do throw in a few modern conveniences here and there just to make things a little easier).
The soundtrack is hauntingly beautiful, using a lot of typical arrangements used in shows and anime based on this period. It has a particularly effective piece of music that is utilized in the action/suspense sequences.
As is always the case with polished anime productions, the voice cast are all of high quality, though to us Western watchers, it is a bit grating when the Japanese actors attempt to talk in English. With all the English people living in Japan nowadays, you would think it would be possible to hire genuine English actors for the few English lines that are spoken.
Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto is a great piece of storytelling, extremely well animated and features an epic ending which makes it one of those must see anime titles, particularly if samurai, supernatural and historical genres are your cup of tea.
Related link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bakumatsu_Kikansetsu_Irohanihoheto