Hakushaku to Yousei is not exactly the show of the moment, but it has a certain charm, especially for viewers who, like me, don’t watch many shoujo romances. Besides, I have what you might call a semi-professional interest in Britsploitation, and if 2008 had a Britsploitation anime it was this one. (Apart from the adaption of Black Jeeves, but I’m not watching that.)
Like Geass‘s Britannia, Hakushaku‘s Britain is a world of aristocratic etiquette, fabulous dresses and even more fabulous young men. Hakushaku‘s not set in an alternate history like Geass, but it still feels unfair to ask it to be realistic or even convincing (an important distinction, there) provided that it’s enjoyable. Maybe the show’s insulated from from that kind of criticism by its cheerfully absurd premises: it’s partly a good-natured (and only moderately too twee) ram-raid on folklore and presumably, given the number of thrusting young bucks featured, partly a piece of more prosaic wish-fulfilment.
There’s a scene in the fifth episode in which Edgar – who seems to be the Main Boy – and Lydia converse in the grounds of Edgar’s mansion. Said mansion seems to be either in London or within a short distance of it, since Edgar’s just held a ball there as part of the Season (Hakushaku‘s script preserves the English word). What’s interesting here, if you’re as interested in the show’s setting as I am, is the background:
Houses, and big ones, though not nearly as big as Edgar’s. Moreover, their upper-storey windows overlook his garden. Unlike a lot of grand houses I’ve seen in anime, this one isn’t on top of a hill or seemingly surrounded by unseen, utterly flat plains in every direction. To me the surroundings of Edgar’s house look, well, proto-suburban. But what’re these objects lurking here?
These are too numerous to be church spires, unless the local diocese has some really interesting parish boundaries, and too tall to be domestic chimneys. I think we have factories on our hands. Factories. Dark satanic mills! Prisons of the Great Unwashed!
My excitement’s misplaced: I can’t imagine Hakushaku becoming an industrial novel, and I certainly don’t want it to. We’re only talking about the sight of chimneys in one shot of one episode, and even if the show did inexplicably take a trip to Coketown it wouldn’t be Grim Social Realism, it’d be a jump from one stereotype to another.
That’s interesting in itself, though: one stereotype is peering into the other’s gardens. The interaction of artifices is something of a running theme for the show. Edgar tries to construct a titled identity for himself and his efforts put the ‘wrong’ star on the hilt of the sword that’s meant to validate his claim. The fairy queen sends him a ring which is meant to stand in for the Moon (don’t ask) as an engagement gift, but it doesn’t seem to matter very much to her emissaries who the bridegroom is. All of this fakery reaches a pleasing culmination in the eleventh episode, when we see two claimants to the title of Blue Knight Earl asking a banshee to judge between them, unaware that the banshee herself is an impostor. (Or should that be ‘an impostrix’?)
What distinguishes the original from the copy? And does it matter, if the fake performs as well (or better)? These aren’t idle questions: how do we (or, more to the point, how does Lydia) tell feigned affection from the real thing when dealing with an accomplished liar like Edgar?
I suppose the garden in which that scene from the fifth episode takes place is itself artificial, as any garden is. There must be some way to tie this to the contrast between the false Bower of Bliss and the true Garden of Venus in The Faerie Queene. It’s been a while since I read the second and third books, however, so I’ll just have to throw that into the post without development – I guess this lit-peen thing is mostly about convincing artifice too.