Chouyaku Hyakuninisshu: Uta Koi Review

This is review number ninety two and holy crap, I’m close to a hundred. I’ll be reviewing a Summer 2012 anime this time. It’s Utakoi and its thirteen episodes long. It’s a historical anime and it’s really hard to follow. It’s a bit difficult for a twelve episode anime that are mostly a single story about certain people. This anime had twelve stories about a lot of real historical people. Are you prepared to watch that kind of anime? Let’s read on.

Story

Utakoi details a selection of romantic poems from the Hyakunin isshu anthology. It’s twelve individual love stories about certain people during the Heian era.

Taking the Pants Off

Utakoi is pretty hard anime to watch. You need to attack it at a certain way that is unlike other anime. The anime is about the love poems in the 100 poems compiled in the Hyakuninisshu anthology. I’m not familiar with it but it’s the same poems in the traditional card game, karuta, which was heavily discussed in the anime Chihayafuru. I only know those poems I still remember after watching that anime but I remember one episode where they discussed the love poems and the history behind them. That’s as far as my curiosity goes for the anime. If you want to enjoy the anime then I suggest brushing up on the Hyakuninisshu anthology and read the poems. After reading them, try deciphering their meaning and then try watching this anime. The poems are very nice and the interpretation the anime offered was pretty brilliant that you might try your hand at making some poems yourself. The anime is about the history behind the romantic poems of the Hyakuninisshu anthology but it’s also a Historical anime. This is where I was tripped by the anime because I do not know who the characters are but I bet Japanese viewers know them pretty well. This made the anime pretty hard to watch because not only do I need to know about the Hyakuninisshu anthology, I also need to know about their authors and who they are when they were alive. That’s alienating much, right? It’s not like there isn’t enough weaboo in this world, you need to turn regular anime goers into one too. I watched this anime with no idea of the Hyakuninisshu anthology and the authors. All the names flew over my head because it only confuses me. If you plan to watch this anime then be prepared. It’s complex in a bad way.

I just picked this anime up because it was on the seasons list and I didn’t bother to see a description of it. The anime is confusing at first because of the names, the skipping timelines and very little introduction to the Hyakuninisshu anthology. You are expected to know the anthology and you are expected to know the characters because it’s part of Japanese history. For a Filipino like me who don’t give a crap about the history of japan, I do what I always do when I watch historical anime: I remember the faces. It won’t work in this anime because the way it introduces characters is fast and they just quietly come into the stage without any introduction or if there were, it’d be very little with no help at all. I was really overwhelmed and I’m telling you this now because you might be overwhelmed as well. Here’s a way to look at the anime. It starts with the author of the anthology breaking the fourth wall talking about the poem and the author of it that will appear in the episode. You watch a fast paced love story and then you will see a scene where the poem is being recited then the anime ends. The most important thing to remember about this anime is that it was all about the people inside the Imperial court. The place is huge and a lot of the authors served under the emperor or his wife so they are stuck in the palace most of the time or they were busy doing their duties as someone serving under the emperor. They recite poems as a form of hobby and a way to talk to each other in a highly intellectual way. All the authors had a chance encounter of love and they expressed their feelings through poetry. Those poetries stayed in the palace and were compiled by the narrator dude. The poems all happened during the Heian period. That was a good 400 years long. It was the time where poems and other forms of literature where at its height in the imperial court. If you plan to watch the anime then prepare for some time skips because the story will move free flowingly with no proper structure.

The anime is a Romance anime. The thing to focus on is the love story of the anime. I suggest stripping away all the names and just remember the faces when the story is being told. All of them are pretty nice and the fact that it actually happened is even sweeter. All of them are unique but they share some commonalities. The characters in the anime all have a social rank tied to them and their family name is very important because they carry the legacy of their parents. Societal pressure is a big theme in the anime where arrange marriages are common, a lowly rank official cannot go after a highly ranked one and the stories are very mature. The love stories in the anime aren’t all cute and cuddly like Kimi ni Todoke. It has a slice of realism in it and not all the stories end happily ever after. In fact, even the ones that end happy often don’t sit well with me because of the way it unfolded. Some of the love stories are bitter sweet, some are unrequited love, some are about love for a friend, some are about forbidden love and some are about eternal devotion to your other half. The maturity of the stories is because of the historical background behind them and the other genre of the anime: Josei. It’s a genre that often centers on the everyday life of a woman and in this anime, their encounter with love is highlighted.

Each episode in the anime has one or even two short stories about love. I do admire all of them because they were all unique and it interprets the poems pretty nicely but it also hurts the anime. Every episode has a new love story in it so you really have to focus on them to appreciate them but twelve episodes of knowing the characters, the status quo, the setting and the love story can get tiring. Not all the poems are cleverly crafted as well so there really isn’t much to tell and twelve individual straight forward love stories can get boring. Trying to adjust to the new love story is also a bother when you can just watch a twelve episode anime with one love story in it that you can focus on. The anime is only interesting if you know the characters, after all, and I don’t know the characters so the appeal of the anime where historical figures encounter love is lost on me. All I can go on is the stand alone love stories and how they unfold.

The anime does have recurring characters and after you’re used to the pacing of the anime then you can easily follow it. The first half is about the early Heian period and it has some recurring character. The love stories in the first half is actually a progression and some of the characters that appeared in the previous love story is featured in the next or if not, then they will most likely appear later on. You have a chance to know the characters and get used to their personality before a new love story is introduced. I’ve only noticed this pattern after watching the first half so if you plan to watch this anime then pay extra attention to the faces because they will most likely appear again. Some main characters of one love story will most likely be a supporting character in another love story. The first episode of the anime focused on a character named Narihira and he soon becomes a supporting character in the other stories of the first half. Some characters also have two love stories to tell and one of them even have three so they often eat up two or three episodes detailing their story and its a chance to understand the characters much better. As I said before though, it’d be a great help if you know the history of japan and the characters importance in it. All the personalities in the anime would be enjoyed fully if you understand the background. It’s like watching Axis Power Hetalia (the director of Hetalia directed Hiiro no Kakera btw, I hate him.) where the stereotypical jokes would only be funny if you understand them and the relationship of the characters would make more sense if you understand the history behind them. That shouen ai love story of Germany and Italy isn’t exaggerated if you know the history of those two countries (and their blood trail). The same goes for Utakoi. The characters are much better appreciated if you know the history behind them.

Utakoi is a nice anime because you get a look at the history behind the love poems of the anthology and the poems themselves are brilliantly crafted. The anime is too Japanese though for any non-Japanese to enjoy unless you’re a weaboo. The love stories themselves are not for everyone so it has a very certain niche. It caters to Japanese obsessed freaks, the Japanese themselves who are interested in mature love stories of historical figures and certain reviewers like me who tries to make 1000 reviews. Oh, I’m alone on that one, huh.

Sight and Sound

The character designs are pretty nice. The men are your typical bishoujo characters and the woman is the mature type with no hint of moe or anything crazy like that. The anime stayed true to the people of the Heian era making sure the clothes are right and the hair style is appropriate. I love the clothes the characters wear because it is very enchanting to look at. I don’t understand putting heavy clothes on people but what do I know. The one thing that seems odd to me though is the heavy outlines of the characters making them standout to the background. It’s too heavy outlined and it’s like the anime is trying to be cartoonish other than being serious. The anime also has scenes where the narrator guy is in modern setting doing weird stuff like delivering newspaper of at the beach while he introduce the stories. I guess it’s funny but I don’t really understand its importance. The anime should’ve tried to be serious with the art style to match the finesse of the era.

The background is pretty nice. There are some scenic shots that looks like it came from an expensive Japanese painting and the subtle beauty of nature is really emphasized in the anime. The poems describe nature so the anime matched that with gorgeous sceneries. There are some nice scenes of sakura blossoms and other beautiful flowers that really enhance the mood of the anime. The love stories are so much better with the accompanying visuals. The anime could use more though because the overall quality of the anime isn’t really that great and that affects the sceneries as well.

The OP song of the anime is “Love Letter from Nanika?” by ecosystem. The beat of the song is really unique and that’s what I really expect from the famous indie band. The song starts out slow then picks up pace with a very wonderful chorus. The OP sequence summarizes the anime. It featured all the couples and it was a bit overwhelming at first but you can use it a as guide map for later episodes. The setting is featured in the anime and the romance appeal of the anime is very strong in the OP.

The ED song is “Singin’ My Lu” by SOUL’d OUT. The song is a mix of Japanese with nonsensical English which is supposed to make the song cool or something. I dunno, it sounds stupid to me but the beat is catchy. It’ stupid but it’s catchy. The band does have an impressive vocal singer so it’s all good. Seriously, “I’m just singing loose, singing la, setting loose, every la.” What the hell is that?

Overall Score

5/10 “Nice love stories but the anime is surprisingly complex to be appreciated.”

Like I said, if you like Japanese history then you’ll love this anime but an anime should be able to paint a picture that can be understand by everyone, Japanese or not. I see a lot of Historical anime but the backstory never hinders the enjoyment. This anime depends on the backstory so you need to know its history first to appreciate it.

Thoughts~

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