Hakumyu is an amazing work of art

I love Hakuouki, the story of the Shinsengumi clinging to their beliefs as the world around moves beyond them. Samurai stories like this are some of my favorite pieces of fiction. However my favorite piece of Hakuouki media is not the original VN nor the anime adaptations, no, my favorite piece of Hakuouki media is the musicals.

The Hakuouki musicals (here on referred to as the popularized nickname Hakumyu) are downright amazing, both as musicals and as adaptations of Hakuouki. In this article I will go over exactly why I love them, fair warning however. I am speaking about these as someone who knows nothing about music let alone about what makes a musical good, so it’s entirely possible I’ll just be spouting gibberish.

For those unaware or unfamiliar with the plot of Hakuouki here’s a rundown of the basic concept. The story stars fictional versions of the historical group the Shinsengumi, after various events the Shinsengumi become “Furies”: white haired, extremely powerful people who need to consume blood. Yup, they’re vampires. What direction the plot goes in depends on what boy’s route you go for in the VN. The musicals adapt every boy’s route as their own musicals.

In this article I will only be speaking about what is considered the “original run” of the musicals which were Saito-hen, Okita-hen, Toudou-hen, and Kazama-hen. I will not be speaking about the run of the remakes for one simple reason: I do not like them.

The cast of Hakuouki is composed of the Shinsengumi, each member of the Shinsengumi has their own personality and the musicals geniously give each boy their own style of music to reflect that, so even if you don’t know anything about the character you can instantly get a good handle of their personality from a single one of their songs.

Once again I know nothing about music, so most of what I’m about to say is paraphrased from asking 3 friends about music. My expertise lies in watching the cool vampire men, not music. With that said again, let’s go over the cast, their personalities, and their music.

Okita Souji [Portrayed by Hirose Daisuke] – The captain of the Shinsengumi’s first squad. Ruthless and ready to slay his foes at a moment’s notice, beneath this surface of hostility he is hiding that he is dying of tuberculosis and feels very fragile, and thus Okita’s musical style is glam metal. It sounds a bit more like American glam metal than the visual kei kinds of Japanese bands that were around in the 90s. Songs like “PAINT IT BLOOD” and “GIVE ME THE POWER” show off his bloodlust and desire to fight while songs like “Fate” show off his softer side.

Hijikata Toshizou [portrayed by Yazaki Hiroshi in Hijikata-hen, Okita-hen, Saito-hen, and Kazama-hen. Portrayed by Izawa Yuuki in Toudou-hen] – the main boy of Hakuoki and sub commander of the Shinsengumi. In contrast to Okita, Hijikata is calm and collected in his duties as a member of the Shinsengumi, however there are times where he’ll snap and show exactly why the Shinsengumi were referred to as wolves. His one desire is to be acknowledged as a true warrior and raise the reputation of Kondou (the Shinsengumi’s leader). Hijitaka’s music is more of a Michael Jackson kind of pop. As far as I know J-pop had that kind of sound in the late 80s and into the 90s since their musical scenes got a later start compared to the West and Europe. It was the kind of production style where it used a Big Band kind of setup (lots of brass especially), and some jazz guitar

Harada Sanosuke [Portrayed by Ono Kento in Saito-hen, Okita-hen, and Hijikata-hen. Portrayed by Igarashi Maasa in Toudou-hen and Kazama-hen] – the muscle of the group for lack of a better term, Harada wields his spear for the sake of protecting women and children, but he is more lax and fun loving than the ever so serious Hijikata and Saito. Harada’s music sounds even more like the classic 80s J-pop style, the singing especially. It sounds reminiscent of a time when Western classical singing hadn’t reached Japan yet, and singers’ pitch wasn’t as precise. When Western technique came over is when you started hearing singers hit notes more cleanly, as in they would hit the right pitch immediately, and hang onto it, instead of starting a little lower or a little higher and finding the right pitch from there. Harada was the only member of the main cast not to get a musical to himself in the original run, but did eventually get one in the remakes run. Songs like “PASSION OF THE FIGHT” show off his fun loving nature and his ideals perfectly.

Toudou Heisuke [Portrayed by Ikeda Junya] – the youngest and least samurai of the group. Heisuke has no ideals or reason to fight, but he wants to stay with everyone and see their smiling faces. His music sounds the closest to a Japanese style. Unsure what to compare it to when it comes to Western styles other than maybe disco, and a few pop rock artists from the 80s like Pat Benotar

Sannan Keisuke [Portrayed by Mikata Ryosuke]- The sub-commander of the Shinsengumi and the reason everything goes wrong. Well, not completely, but you can probably blame him for 90% of what goes wrong. He is the one responsible for the the Shinsengumi becoming vampires in the first place. His songs are very Disney villain esque, big and brooding with with heavy drums and strings. Sannan sees no hope in his future and confines himself from the world. His songs also have a vampiric organ, very fitting for his position as the first vampire.

Chikage Kazama [Portrayed by Suzuki Shogo] – The leader of the demon clan who united the west, Kazama is a proud demon who wants to take Chizuru as his bride, making him the de facto villain of the story (Except for the times when Chizuru wants to be with him) his songs are rock songs that are both foreboding and have a fast tempo. He may hate fighting but his is incredibly powerful and can cut down a human incredibly fast

Saito Hajime [Portrayed by Matsuda Ryo in Hijikata-hen, Okita-hen, Saito-hen, and Kazama-hen. Portrayed by Hashimoto Shohei in Toudou-hen] – the strong and silent type, Saito is loyal to the Shinsengumi if nothing else. He rarely shows his emotions to anyone, not because he hides them to keep a stoic appearance, but because he himself doesn’t understand how important other people are to him. He rarely has a song to himself, nearly every song he has is a duet with another character.

I’d once again like to reiterate that I know literally nothing about music, pretty much all of what I just said are reworded statements from friends about the musical styles on display

Each character having a different style of music leads to incredible duets where two characters will fight and sing with their own musical styles. Two great examples of this are in Toudou-hen when Kazama and Heisuke co-operate to kill nationalist vampires in the streets (I swear it makes sense in context) and Heisuke’s upbeat music clashes with the more imposing music of Kazama’s, and in Hijikata-hen when Kazama and Hijikata have their duel (Yes both of these examples are about Kazama but he’s the main villain it kinda comes with the territory), the Shinsengumi’s leitmotif and the demon clan’s play back and forth as the two silently hack away at each other, the music emphasizing how these two men could never see eye to eye

Now that I have talked to you about the characters and what makes them tick, it’s time to talk about how the musicals introduce them to you, with their main theme Yaisa Yaisa Yaisa.

Yaisa Yaisa Yaisa is a perfect song and the best introduction the musicals could have asked for. It’s always the first or second song that plays and has the entire cast sing, every character gets only one or two lines, but their character is expressed perfectly through those lines. Okita’s desire to fight until the end, Heisuke’s desire to keep everyone happy, Sannan’s fight against madness, all of it is in this song. The Shinsengumi’s upbeat melody getting briefly overshadowed by the imposing melody of Kazama’s theme before reaching the final chorus is breathtaking. The basic melody of the song is the same in every version of the musical, but the instrumentation of the song changes to better fit which character is the protagonist of that version of the musical. I genuinely cannot do the song any service by describing it here, so for the only time in this article I shall link the song

I cannot stress enough how amazing the acting and choreography in these musicals are, any time a sword fight happens every movement feels deliberate and every sword strike has a visceral feel. Most of the time the sword fights exist for some awesome action, like in the first song in the first musical, Don’t Forget My Style from Saito-hen.

Don’t Forget My Style is incredible, both as a fight between rivals and as a song. With how fast the wooden swords fly it’s amazing how the actors didn’t accidentally smack each other in the mouths and interrupt the song. The part where Okita grabs Saito’s sword mid swing with his hand gives me chills to this day, it’s amazing

The nameless extras and the amazing stage especially deserve credit in making the songs as visually amazing as they are musically. The center of the stage spins in several songs, which helps the illusion of characters moving all around during fights as well as lets the scene conveniently dispose of dead extras without needing them to walk away. Whether playing mindless maniacs or rouge samurai the extras do a great job of being both threats to attack our protagonists or fodder to be cut down, or you know, to start backflipping and cartwheeling during a song about how the hope of days gone by has faded

He’s not evil, just quirky

Speaking of that, talking about the emotional parts of the musicals is…hard. On their own each musical is just a nice two and a half hour action musical. However, when they’re all together they form an emotional tapestry despite all telling the same story. Without telling the whole story, I’ll highlight some cross-musical callbacks and moments that make this one of my favorite works of art

In Hijikata-hen Sannan sings the above mentioned song about how all hope is lost and how he’ll seek out blood. This song later gets a reprise later in the same musical when Sannan rejoins the good guys. However, in Toudou-hen Sannan doesn’t turn good again and remains evil. The song is never sung in Toudou-hen, but the melody of it plays several times, always interrupted by other songs from Sannan about how he’ll rule the world or how he feels betrayed. The song represents Sannan losing all hope, but that lack of hope is what would have kept him with his friends and away from the darkness of demons.

In Hijikata-hen Hijikata sings an amazing song about how even if he is a fool for fighting when he is a fake, he needs to continue, because they climbed up this steep hill chasing a foolish dream and if they stopped now they’d do nothing but fall back down to where they started. In Kazama-hen the leitmotif of this song gets to play again, I won’t spoil when it does, but the hopeful guitar riffs of the original song feel like a knife to the gut when you hear them

The last forty minutes of Kazama-hen as a whole are one big love letter to anyone who has watched the previous musicals. The next few paragraphs are one huge spoiler, so feel free to read past them.

Spoilers start here and end at the next sad Hijikata picture

Heisuke and Chizuru meet up in the middle of the war and she learns about what Sannan is doing, and Heisuke immediately knows what he needs to do. He has to put down his friend. We get a reprise of a song from Toudou-hen, but the context has been warped. The happy upbeat instrumentation? instruments of the song completely contrast with Heisuke knowing he and Sannan are at the ends of their lives. These happy instruments are the final bits of joy in the musical. Heisuke confronts Sannan and his army of 200 vampires (The amount of extras on stage is around 6 or 7, a large amount for these musicals), however in contrast to Toudou-hen, Sannan does return to the side of good. We get an instrumental reprise of Sannan’s theme from Hijikata-hen, but mixed in with the melody of Yaisa Yaisa Yaisa. Things seem to finally be looking up, but it isn’t meant to last. The two just cannot fight all of them off and eventually succumb to pure numbers. “Even now I’m afraid of dying” sings Heisuke as he and Sannan fight to their last breath.

We then transition to Hijikata and Saito, having their last talk of the show. It’s a somber moment as these two warriors reminisce about the past. “Do you remember the first time?” Asks Hijikata, as he and Saito think back to the first time Saito and Okita dueled in the dojo. In story, they’re thinking back on happier times, but we the audience are also being encouraged to think back, back to the first time, the first musical. Don’t Forget My Style. Don’t forget the era of the Shinsengumi.

Hijikata and Saito part ways, once Hijikata has left the enemy forces catch up to Saito, and the Shinsengumi’s final ballad begins, and something extremely unexpected happens. I began to cry. I had previously watched 4 musicals of these characters, and now I was seeing the end. The last time they would be singing. Saito and Okita sing reprises of the first songs from their musicals as they fight to the end and are eventually struck down

At the beginning of Hijikata-hen, Hijikata’s first line is “Those who want to die, step forward!” He says that same line in this final medley. However it is spoken much quieter in contrast to how he yelled it in Hijikata-hen, this isn’t a heroic last stand. It’s a tired man who hasn’t given up on his dream.

The musical isn’t over yet though, and I won’t spoil the last 10 minutes for you. They need to be experienced first hand, but the tears never stop.

Spoilers end here

Now, I can go on for pages upon pages about specific scenes in the musicals and how they’re amazing, but I think I’d just be rambling and the greatness of the scenes really cannot be conveyed via text. So allow me to instead talk about what these musicals mean to me, how they changed my life.

I first saw them in High School and didn’t think too much of them other than I loved the action. However, when watching them again in my 20s, I felt different. Very different. I rediscovered them and rewatched them when I still identified as a cis male, but I would keep watching scenes involving Hijikata and Kazama a lot. Hakuouki played a major role in me realizing that I was as equally capable of being attracted to men as well as women. Nowadays I’m much more secure in my gender and sexual identity being trans and bisexual. These musicals were a major stepping stone in becoming secure with who I am and I’ll always be grateful for that

He’s so hot!

To close this off I would like to give some advice about what order to watch the musicals in

  1. Hijikata-hen: Start here. Hijikata-hen feels like the one written with newcomers in mind the most, with songs from Okita-hen and Saito-hen making reprises and doing a good job at explaining who most of the characters are. the singing is also the best the musicals ever got and I would say this is the best one
  2. Okita-hen: Okita gets the least amount of focus in Hijikata-hen and honestly just vanishes from the plot partway through, experiencing this second will give you a good idea of Okita’s character in the following musicals
  3. Saito-hen: The first and the worst of the musicals, the singing is very rough with some gems like Don’t Forget My Style glistening through in the end. Worth watching for the emotional callbacks in Kazama-hen though
  4. Toudou-hen: One of the more standalone feeling of the musicals as it focuses less on the overall plot and more on the friendship between Sannan and Heisuke, has some of the best songs in the musicals as well
  5. Kazama-hen: Pure emotional turmoil, this masterpiece must be watched after all the others to fully be appreciated, constant callbacks to the previous musicals and one of the most emotional finales I have seen in fiction

And that’s all I really have to say about Hakumyu. It’s one of my favorite pieces of art ever and easily my favorite version of the Hakuouki story. It affected me emotionally much more than the original VN, the anime, or the movies. I encourage anyone reading this to seek out and watch these musicals. Finding fansubs for them isn’t the easiest thing, but if you search the right parts of Tumblr and Livejournal you will find them. These musicals are very dear to my heart and I hope I have convinced at least one more person to take a chance and watch them

Thank you for reading my article. If you would like to read something else I wrote involving a member of the Shinsengumi take a look at My top FGO servants

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