Album Review – Hakuoki Opening Best

Hakuoki Opening Best ~Kakyou Shuu~

Hakuoki Opening Best
Game “Hakuoki” Opening Best ~Vocal Collection~
ゲーム「薄桜鬼」 オープニングベスト ~歌響集~ (Game “Hakuoki” Opening Best ~Kakyou Shuu~)
YOSHIOKA Aika, mao
30 Tracks
Team Entertainment

Summary:

The theme songs of the Hakuoki series — from the original PS2 game to the PS4 port of the remake — are gathered together in one collection.

Review:

I’ve been a Hakuoki fan for a while, but I can’t say I’ve ever paid a lot of attention to the opening cinematics. I usually watch them once, think it’s nice, and then play the game. Not like a lot of other pre-title screen movies where I want to hear and see them again and again.

But… curse this song.

夜の嵐が唸りをあげながら
今宵 薄紅(うすくれない)の花びらたちを散らしてゆく
あゝ 思わず両手 掲げて 受け止めてゐた
天に向かひて 光を乞ふみたいに

As the nighttime storm roars even louder
Tonight, the light pink flower petals scatter in its midst
Ah, I unconsciously raised my hands high to catch them
But they head to the sky as if yearning for the light

さう貴方といふ さう希望だけは
散らせはしなひと
あゝ 信じて信じて信じて生きる
どんなにどんなにどんなに昏(くら)き
向かひ風に煽られても 抗ひて

Yes, you who are, yes, my only hope
Have not been scattered
Ah, I’ll believe, I’ll believe, I’ll believe you’ll live
No matter, no matter, no matter how dark it looks
And that even when fluttering in the headwind, you’ll resist

嵐の中で咲く桜よ 燃え立つ熱き命
闇を照らし今をひたぶるに強く生きる華よ
嵐の中を往く貴方は私のたったひとつの光る志
此の身が果ててもついてゆく 風の彼方

O cherry blossoms that bloomed in the storm, whose existence burns intensely
Now illuminate the darkness as flowers who live with such determined strength
The you who goes into the storm is my one and only shining aspiration
Even if this body reaches its end, I’ll follow you to the other side of the wind

When I first heard it as the opening to Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms, I was enthralled. I knew I had to get “Arashi no Naka de Saku Hana”. Part longing ballad, part power ballad, and heavy doses of mystery and longing make for a beautiful song. I find myself humming it at random times.

So, that led me to this compilation, released for the series’ 10th anniversary. As the title makes clear, this 2-CD set full of openings from various Hakuoki games. This includes the games that were released in English and many more, from the various ports of the main game to the spin-offs like SSL. Also included are two bonus tracks, the openings to the first and second anime seasons. This makes each CD 15 songs long. All tracks except one are sung by the same singer, Yoshioka Aika. I guess maybe she was too busy or ill to do the song for the Warriors of the Shinsengumi PSP game, which mao sung? Or maybe they didn’t want to use her because it was a completely different type of game? Regardless, this also means that no ending themes are included. I haven’t found anything about a Hakuoki Ending Best, so if one hasn’t been announced by now, I doubt it’s coming. Plus, well, with the new Hakuoki fandiscs, this is no longer a complete collection anyway…

I’m not going to list all 30 songs, but you can browse them here. Out of curiosity, I did look up to see what Amazon says is the most popular purchased tracks on the set. The songs are “Harari” (Track #1, PS2 theme), “Chiranai Hana” (Track #4, DS theme), and the last three songs on the second CD: “Isshin ~Chi no Hate Made~” (PS4 theme), “Izayoi Namida” (anime 1st theme), and “Mai Kaze” (anime 2nd theme).

The anime songs I understand, and the PS4 is the most recent Hakuoki game. Lots of fans probably started with the PS2 game, so maybe the song is full of nostalgia. But I was really, really curious as to why “Chiranai Hana” was downloaded so often. So that was the song I was most curious about before I listened to the CD.

Some of what I’m going to say is going to depend on your familiarity with the Hakuoki series and/or your Japanese skills. But even then, even a casual anisong or J-pop fan is going to pick up on my comments.

First off, almost every one is performed by the same woman. Don’t get me wrong: Yoshioka has a lovely voice, but she’s not the type of artist to do everything from bubblegum pop to rap. Second, these are all opening tracks, and there are only a handful of different Hakuoki games once you take away all the ports.

And that’s the bigger drawback. The actual songs do have some range, but they still fall into easily identifiable groups. Suddenly hear a modern, peppy, J-pop song? It’s almost assuredly the opening to the minigame collections. Hear the words “kaze” (風, wind), “sakura” (桜, cherry blossom), or “hana” (華, flower) a lot? Chances are that it’s one of the songs to the main game. Some of the songs I recognized from playing the matching games, but by the end, I could pretty much guess which game it came from just from the tempo or type of song.

Just like any compilation, there are some winners and losers. But when they start running together, it’s hard to pick out the standouts and the failures. That’s why I so looked forward to openings from the less recycled Hakuoki games — like Urakata Hakuoki or even Warriors of the Shinsengumi‘s song with mao. They helped shake up some of the repetitiveness. The album isn’t arranged so that all the same type of songs are right next to each other; however, after a few tracks, you’ll be thinking, “Hey, this reminds me of that song from a few tracks ago…” And then’ll you’ll say the same thing for the next. And the next. By the end, I was convinced that small doses of this album were best.

Speaking of the best, my favorite track is still “Arashi no Naka de Saku Hana”, but the last five tracks on the second CD were a nice stretch of songs. The combination of the anime openings (made with a larger audience in mind) and the recently made songs just can’t be beat.

“Aozora Button” (Track #5) was one of those J-pop idol songs that I didn’t really care for upon first hearing it, but I kept humming the “sha la la”s afterward. The track before it, “Chiranai Hana”, was one that was easy to forget since it was pretty bad. It reminds me a bit of enka, which I’ve heard is like US country music in the fact that you like it or hate it, so maybe that’s why Japanese fans love the song?

As for “Harari”, Yoshioka’s vocals sound pretty powerful here, which may be because she was still fairly young at the time. “Yume Sayaka” (Track #14) on the other hand had a really weird percussion beat, but it did sound like something from a musical performance.

Otherwise, a lot of your enjoyment of this set will come from whether you like the traditional Japanese influences and Yoshioka’s vocals which fit that style perfectly. If you’re more of an idol or rock fan, her style won’t suit your tastes.

Final Comments:

Hakuoki Opening Best is best when you’re only listening to a few tracks at a time. That being said, the album is about the cost (or even cheaper) than buying the individual songs. But if going that route, it’s probably best to rip the songs and put your whole music collection on shuffle. Otherwise, just buy digital versions of the few songs you really like.

The album is available to stream on Apple Music, and most of the artist’s songs are available to purchase on iTunes.

Apologies if the translation to “Arashi no Naka de Saku Hana” is wrong. Classic Japanese is hard for someone who doesn’t even know modern Japanese… Kanji from here.

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