It is a commonly known fact that every girl dreams of being sucked into another world where a fleet of bishounen eagerly wait to become her loyal protectors and eventually fall in love with her. Unfortunately, reports of this actually happening to anyone are few and far between, and so most must settle for vicariously watching these events befall animated characters on their TV or computer screens. Harukanaru Toki no Naka De: Hachiyou Shou (or, as I shall be calling it from now on, Haruka 8 ) is one such series, charting the adventures of destined heroine Akane Motomiya in the mystical land of Kyo.
As the opening of the first few episodes is eager to tell us, the land of Kyo was once a peaceful place under the protection of the Four Gods (yes, the same gods that appeared in the similarly themed Fushigi Yugi). Unfortunately, everything went terribly wrong when the blonde-haired, blue-eyed demon clan stole the Four Gods and sealed them away, granting them (in principle at least) the ability to invade the land and cause general discomfort for the existing inhabitants.
Of course, where evil is found, good cannot be far behind, and so it is that Akane is drawn into this world to become the Ryuujin no Miko (Priestess of the Dragon God), the very person with the power to save Kyo from the encroaching evil. Naturally, it wouldn’t be fair to expect her to achieve this goal alone, so destiny furnishes her with no fewer than eight bishounen (known as Hachiyou) to aid in her cause.
It is at this point that I would usually go into a detailed summary of the plot, but to be frank, Haruka 8 doesn’t have much of one. Despite having acquired the four gods, Akram, the leader of the demons, not only cannot use them, but chooses to summon Akane, the one person who could put a stop to his plans. Episode after episode, the three other onscreen members of the demon tribe send monsters-of-the-week to occupy our heroes, before finally paving the path for their own downfall in time for the series’ conclusion. Towards the end of the series, a new dimension is added whereby the various Hachiyou angst, discover the power of destiny, and unlock Four Gods power-ups in the form of Yu-Gi-Oh cards. During this stage, the episode count inexorably creeps towards 26, but just as with Mai-Otome, no one seems to care about working on a conclusion until the last possible moment.
The side of good: a land of pretty boys
On her arrival in Kyou, the Dragon God puts eight gems into Akane’s body; each of which are later transferred to the various bishies, marking them out as Hachiyou. Anyone paying even the slightest amount of attention to the screen will have already noticed that not only do all eight bishies feature quite prominently in the OP, but they are also the only named characters who could possibly qualify- nonetheless, it takes no fewer than thirteen episodes for all the Hachiyou to officially gain their gems. Worse yet, at the end, Akane takes back the gems and uses them to summon the power of the Dragon God, begging the question as to why she didn’t use this power in the first place.
In the game, Akane’s main ability was to encourage and power up the more useful but ultimately AI-controlled bishounen, and here she performs much the same role. During early episodes, she seems unable to make the obvious choice between the benevolent bishies of good, and Akram’s “stupid humans” philosophy, and seems able to wander between the two camps remarkably easily.
The typical honourable and dedicated samurai included to ensure that at least one cast member can handle a sword. He’s as straightforward as they come, although I admit that the episode featuring him and the Nue was one of my favourites.
Tragic past event: Some years ago, Yori and his brother went to rescue their ‘young master’; the brother was killed saving Yori’s life.
As Akane’s classmate and one of the two Hachiyou who come from the ‘normal’ world, he considers himself to have a prior claim on Akane, to the extent of becoming angry and violent when any of the other Hachiyou appear to be getting close to her. Banking on the fact that six of the Hachiyou will be left behind when they return to their own world, and that the seventh (Shimon) will defer to him, Tenma anticipates few obstructions along the path to becoming a wife-beater.
Tragic past event: His sister, Ran, went missing some years ago; Tenma was forced to use Akane as a substitute.
A Kyou general and something of a ladies’ man, Tomo is intended to be the typical laid-back character with an “I don’t care that my country is being destroyed, but I do care about you, Akane” attitude. In all honesty, though, it doesn’t have to be women to light his fire- just look at the meaningful glances he shares with Takamichi
Tragic past event: None, at least that I can recall.
A studious type, and the submissive to Tomomasa’s dominant. His frequent encounters with Shirin are symbolic of his struggle to reject women and embrace his homosexuality.
Tragic past event: A bastard son, he was sent away from his original home at age five, and decided to make himself useful and likable in the eyes of his new family by becoming overly studious. When his adoptive mother died some years later, Taka realised the perils of forming attachments to members of the opposite sex.
Taka struggles to admit his feelings for Tomo.
Abe no Yasuaki
An Onmyou mystic, and most useful member of the Hachiyou, able to defeat demons easily even without the Yu-Gi-Oh card power ups (all he needs is a set of beads). He usually waits just off screen to clean up the mess that the other Hachiyou get themselves into. Easily the best character of the bunch, although his “discovering human emotions through Akane” story thread is rather clichéd.
Tragic past event: Yasuaki isn’t human; he was created a few years ago by the famed mystic Abe no Seimei.
The Kyou emperor’s tragic and effeminate brother, Eisen gave up the courtly life for seclusion and a flute. Nonetheless, no amount of music or cold showers can fully erase the feelings he has for his brother.
Tragic past event: Leaving brother dearest behind.
The second Hachiyou to come through from the normal world, Shimon is quiet, shy and essentially powerless. Shunned by the people of Kyou because of his physical resemblance to the demons, Shimon spends most of his time in a background role.
Tragic past event: Never having any friends aside from Akane and Tenma; getting bullied at school.
A spiky-haired hothead, Inori sees the world in black-and-white, although he can switch from one to another with remarkable speed; for example, at the beginning of one episode he accuses Shimon of being an evil demon, yet by the end of the episode he regards him as a good friend.
Tragic past event: Being driven out of his home village because his sister was having a relationship with a demon.
A member of the Star Clan and the series’ Hinoto/Tomoyo, her main purpose is to stay at the ‘home base’ and handle exposition sections. In the final episode, she decides to briefly travel with Akane to the final boss confrontation, only to accomplish very little of worth.
The side of evil: echoes of Tokyo Mew Mew
The demon clan supposedly consists of a race of blue eyed, blonde haired people (perhaps Nakago’s brethren), but from the four we glimpse onscreen, the racial variation is somewhat more varied than that. As with TMM, only a handful of antagonists are glimpsed onscreen in anything other than two-second flashbacks; the bulk of the demon population resides offscreen at whatever location housed the female dragons in the first Spyro the Dragon game.
The masked leader of the demons, he is the pioneer of the ‘taunt and teleport’ technique. Since the writers never explained him what exactly he was supposed to be doing, he took to watching anime from an early age, favouring both Gundam (hence the blonde hair and mask) and Tsubasa Chronicle (explaining his Fei Wong magic CCTV approach to villainy). If he does in fact have a goal in the anime, it seems to be to start with everything he needs, and gradually lose it.
Tragic past event: Becoming the leader of the Demon Clan and having to hide his bishie good looks behind a mask.
Akram prepares to reveal that he is more bishie than any Hachiyou.
Tenma’s sister, Ran randomly shows up mid-series as Akane’s ‘twin star’, the evil priestess of the heretofore unmentioned Dark Dragon (begging the question- if Akram had Ran, why summon Akane?). Bitter that she does not get her own bishies, Ran switches from good to evil at the drop of a hat; although in the final battle she is easily subdued when Takamichi whispers but a single sentence to her. Her ‘special attack’ involves creating weak butterflies of evil, and she also transforms the Yu-Gi-Oh cards into dark versions of themselves, at least until the Hachiyou easily purify them.
Tragic past event: Getting abducted and taken to Kyo some years ago; what she did between then and the events of the series are not clear.
Sefuru is the only subordinate to actually have blonde hair and blue eyes, which is ironic since he is actually half-human. The youthful and impulsive one, he spends most of his time as a teen rebel- angry at the establishment and summoning monsters of the week to vandalise it. Although he seems disinclined to return the friendship that Shimon offers him in a later episode, his loyalty to the demons is ultimately pointless when Akram cancels his contract.
Tragic past event: Abandoned and shunned for being half-demon, half-human.
The token female of the demon clan (with brown hair, no less), Shirin is the seductive mistress of darkness whose feelings for Akrams shall never be returned. Her main method of attack involves entrapping men in her web (usually using a secondary demon or undead), but unfortunately she chooses to target Takamichi the most, little realising that this is just the struggle he needs to come out of the closet. Later in the series, Shirin is abandoned by Akram since he has no Yu-Gi-Oh card for her, and she is forced to wander around in a semi-psychotic state until finally claiming her beloved at the end.
Tragic past event: None, her tragedy is in the present, where Akram abandons her in an effort to streamline the team.
A distant cousin of Utawarerumono’s Genjimaru, Ikutidaal is another character who switches sides with alarming regularity; one minute he’s fighting our heroes, the next he is aiding them, or at least standing aside and doing little to obstruct them. The reason for his dilemma stems from his relationship with Inori’s sister, which results in much angst and a child by the end.
Tragic past event: His entire relationship with Inori’s sister seems to have been dogged by the prejudice of others.
An ending for every bishie
Once the painful procession of angst is over, and the forces of evil have been shown how wrong they were to ever oppose the heroes, the series ends with Akane sitting under a cherry tree in her own world before getting up to greet whoever earned the highest relationship score. Who was the lucky bishie? Well, as the DVDs reveal, eight separate endings were created to answer that question, one for each Hachiyou.
The endings are particularly cloying and repetitive affairs, consisting of an opening scene in which Akane greets the Hachiyou in question, before dissolving into a montage of flashback scenes accompanied by a voice over in which the bishie fawns over Akane, explaining how she revealed the power of love to him. There is one unexpected bonus to these endings, however- for April Fools one fansub group created a hilarious joke ending for Akram using stills from the game and a retooled dialogue track. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to call this the worthiest thing to emerge from the Haruka franchise thus far.
Akram invites Akane to a “land of pretty boys”.
And so, my relationship with Haruka 8 has come to an end- or has it? There are still manga chapters to be released and OVAs to be subbed, and I may well partake of both. They will have a long road ahead of them, however, if they wish to restore my faith in this disappointing series.
Kuruizaki – Haruka manga, endings and miscellaneous resources.
C1Anime – Although I was ‘forced’ to watch the second half of the series with French subs, you can now watch the entire series with English subs thanks to C1.