Heike Monogatari will probably never become a classic in the eyes of most anime viewers. However, that doesn’t make the show any less beautiful.
Warning: The following contains spoilers for Heike Monogatari, available for streaming on Funimation.
As the fall 2021 anime season draws to a close, some anime titles have already been released, including the almost criminally under-watched title. Heike Monogatari (Heike’s story). Starting airing in September 2021 and airing its final episode in late November – about a month earlier than most other anime shows in the fall 2021 season – the series is unique for a number of reasons.
Unfortunately, its uniqueness is probably what contributes to Heike Monogatari being so under-observed in the first place. The series has a distinct look and feel that easily sets it apart from most other anime titles, both currently airing and completed. However, this also means that it falls just outside of what can be considered mainstream, despite being produced by Science Saru (Ping Pong Animation, Hands off Eizouken!) and directed by former Kyoto Animation member Naoko Yamada (K-On!, Ring! Euphonium, A silent voice).
A historical anime, Heike Monogatari is based on accounts of the struggle for domination of Japan at the end of the Heian period between two clans: the Taira / Heike and the Minamoto. Although the majority of the main characters are based on actual historical figures, the story is told through the eyes of the fictional Biwa, an orphaned lute player who had the ability to see the future with one of her eyes. . Supported by Taira no Shigemori, she becomes the narrator of the fall of the clan.
Heike Monogatari may have already been at a great disadvantage for two reasons. The first is that, as mentioned earlier, the series started airing almost a month earlier than most of the other shows in the fall 2021 season; it arrived too late to be categorized as a summer anime, but edged out its fall anime peers. Fans who are used to looking for what to watch at the start or end of a given season might therefore have missed the premiere altogether, unknowingly excluding it from their potential weekly lineup.
The second major reason is that, as a historical anime, Heike Monogatari would probably never have achieved the same level of notoriety and popularity as, say, a shounen action piece, or even garner the same kind of attention as some of the non-shounen titles that aired in the same season (e.g. , the game based on Takt Op. Destiny or the original PA Works anime Aquatope on white sand). Perhaps in part because the topic can be seen by many viewers as somewhat dry, historical shows just don’t tend to do as well as their action, adventure, romance, or romance counterparts. comedy.
Plus, even as a historical anime, Heike Monogatari goes against the trend of what generally does well in terms of audience. Historical shows that have attracted a larger audience frequently take place in the Edo or Meiji period – Rurouni Kenshin, Gintama, Samurai Champloo Where Peacekeeper Kurogane, to name just a few examples. Conversely, titles set in the Heian period (794-1185) are much fewer and more widely spaced, and generally nowhere near as widely viewed; Otogi zoshi, Shonen Onmyouji, Genji Monogatari Sennenki and Chouyaku Hyakuninisshu: Uta Koi all go well under the radar of the majority of the public.
However, it would be doing a disservice to cancel Heike Monogatari like dull or dreary. Even for those who know nothing about classical Japanese history at all (or who do not want to search for the story on Wikipedia), the fate of the Taira clan is clearly inevitable; however, it is this Shakespearean tragedy that unfolds that makes the show so fascinating. Like watching an oncoming train crash in slow motion, the audience, along with Biwa, witness a civil war that literally established the national colors of Japan: the blood red of the Taira standards and the white of the Minamoto.
The drama of the series is further enhanced by its well-rounded characters. Very few of the cast are viewed as categorically evil or as role models – they’re just people, each with their own strengths and flaws. Some play an active role in orchestrating the unfortunate events of the Taira, while others – especially the female characters – are taken by the tide.
Stylistically, Heike Monogatari is also a step away from the mainstream, standing out with its fine, subtle line art and uniform yet vivid color palette. With the distinctive character designs, the artwork is somewhat reminiscent of Japanese woodblock prints, but with a contemporary twist thanks to its fluid movement and precise camera work. Viewers might well remember Science Saru’s Masaaki Yuasa, whose signature visual style is certainly present in the series even though Yuasa himself was not directly involved in its creation.
While he may not have managed to make waves this season when it comes to overall popularity, Heike Monogatari is more than worth a look, especially for fans looking for something a little different from the norm. What the series lacks mass recognition it more than makes up for in its tragic beauty.
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