Posted by psgels on 24 July 2009 with categories: Anime Reviews



I’m a big fan of folklore, so I was looking forward to checking out Otogizoshi, and I must yet again praise Production IG to come with original and new premises. The thing that makes this series special is that while it starts in Japan’s Heian era, the second half of the series takes place in modern day Tokyo. Even though the story and atmosphere of both are completely different, they mix really well in the end.

The Heian arc is really folklore, as traditional as you can get in anime. It’s a tale of honor, samurai and bandits as we follow the female protagonist as she pretends to be her dead brother in order to save the kingdom. It’s got a very tight atmosphere, almost horror-like, and it’s full of sword-battles and the like as the story that offers a deep look into the practices Onmyou evolves.

The Heian arc however suffers from a stereotypical cast of characters. It just spends too little time into fleshing out the characters, and so they never really grow beyond their arch-types, as likable as they may be: Hikaru is your average protagonist, always trying to do the right thing, even though it’s not in her own best interest, then we have your typical loyal guard, the womanizer who turns out to have a heart of gold and the annoying brat. They definitely have their charms, but they just don’t feel like dynamic characters and the end result becomes a bit cheesy. Especially the villains suffer from this: only the mid-bosses are sufficiently fleshed out. The minor bad guys are just a bunch of screaming paper bags with swords, while the main bad guy is your stereotypical evil overlord who wants to destroy the world because he believes humanity to be rotten. Been there, done that.

Then the Tokyo arc, that takes place 1000 years after the Heian arc. The common opinion of this arc seems to be that it’s rather boring compared to the previous arc, but I disagree: it’s the Tokyo arc that really breathes life into this series. For once, it’s much quieter than the over the top Heian arc, and instead it develops into a modern-day mystery series.

The creators here really take their time to let the mysteries slowly build up, and slowly but surely you’ll get an idea of what’s going on as the links with the Heian arcs are made and developed. But what also made this arc better was the cast: the characters for this arc get plenty of time to get fleshed out, due to the slower pacing, and we really get to know them this time. The Tokyo arc takes a long time to get going, but it’s perfectly paced and knows exactly how to use its time to close off with a great conclusion that doesn’t try to be anything more than it is, unlike with the Heian arc.

The visuals in this series also rock. The character-designs are really well done, especially for the Tokyo arc. they’ve got a really realistic feeling, as opposed to all of the moe and overly cute series you see nowadays. Hikaru isn’t moe in anyway, and yet she looks great, and the same goes for the rest of the cast. They really make for a lot of great art throughout the series, my personal favourites were the flood scene and the earthquake scene. I’m not sure who animated those scenes, but they were full of creative visuals and made a lot of impact.

And yeah, despite the flaws the Heian arc most definitely isn’t bad. It’s a tensely told folklore, and the Tokyo arc that follows it makes it even better when it puts a modern touch to it, if you don’t mind a bit of slice of life here and there, of course.

Storytelling: 9/10
Characters: 8/10
Production-Values: 9/10
Setting: 8/10

3 Responses

  1. Ialda says:

    I had my doubts too about the Tokyo arc, at first, but finally it makes sense : an otogizoushi is a compilation of medieval short stories, and while the Heian arc is a “classic” otogizoushi (whith several references and figures from well-known japanese folk tales), the Tokyo arc can be seen as a new form of “otogizoushi” with rumors and urban legends as a modernized kind of folk tales.

    I really loved the series, minus one minor detail : modern Hikaru seem to me really less interesting, more passive and soft-spoken than her Heian counterpart. On the other hand, seeing all these characters we learned to appreciate in the first arc and left dying back in Heian-kyo “coming back” and living together was kind of heart-warming.

  2. 4155580 says:

    I couldn’t stand this show after falling asleep throughout the Heian arc, pretty much for the weaknesses you listed.

    After your rock-solid recommendation on Fancy Lala tho, I’ll give the second arc a chance. :)

  3. ancalyme says:

    I liked the Heian arc better than the Tokyo one – possibly because I like Mansairaku type villains. The characters didn’t seem to shine as much in Tokyo, either.

    It was a neat anime, tho’.

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  • Bam
    (Wednesday, Mar 4. 2015 12:44 AM)
    @Ebod: while it would definitely be ideal if a Japanese actress like Yukie Nakama or Keiko Kitagawa played the role of major Kusanagi, Hollywood practices make it very improbable. So the options left are either Asian actresses that are known in Hollywood such as Rinko Kikuchi, or American actresses of Asain decent like Natalie Mendoza or Grace Huang.
  • Ebod
    (Tuesday, Mar 3. 2015 08:22 PM)
    V for Vendetta for me has always been a more “literary” work than Watchmen, but Watchmen is spectacular because it’s a story that can only be told in full scope in the comic format. While I feel like many major themes and events from V for Vendetta could easily be adapted into, say, novel format, the same could not be said of Watchmen. Also, the racist whitewashing Hollywood does of Asian characters really has to stop.
  • Bam
    (Tuesday, Mar 3. 2015 06:30 AM)
    Watchmen was deemed ‘unadaptable’ for about thirty years, so just getting what Snyder got out of the material is a huge success; it is said that what he did was to write a book version of Ingmar’s Holy Mountain. Watchmen is the only graphic novel to ever win a Hugo award and is easily the most intricate and multilayered Alan Moore comic, so it’s no surprise that it continues to top ‘best comics of all time’ charts to this day.
  • Bam
    (Tuesday, Mar 3. 2015 06:20 AM)
    I beg to differ. Doctor Manhatten is the most intriguing character of Watchmen and the comic is a giant in ,not only in the comic world, but the history of literature itself. It is a deconstruction of superheros and Dr. M shows how afraid the world would really be when faced with a ‘superman’ and how a creature in such a higher realm of time and perception would show apathy toward humans and their foolish struggles.
  • Bam
    (Tuesday, Mar 3. 2015 06:15 AM)
    GitS just won’t work. Maybe in a world before the Matrix, but not now with so many elements of it borrowed liberally by so many franchises in various mediums. Scarlet Johansson is decent in roles that fit her. She was enjoyable in Lost In Translation, but race aside she has nothing in common with Kusanagi. This is a travesty and the franchise is dear to me so it especially burns my ass.
  • Emma
    (Tuesday, Mar 3. 2015 06:10 AM)
    While I am no fan of man of steel, Nolan and Snyder, just about anyone would have a hard time taking a difficult character like superman and making him work on screen.
  • Emma
    (Tuesday, Mar 3. 2015 06:08 AM)
    Apart from Veidt and Rorshach I could never get into the characters all that much in watchmen. I also found the film overly long and mediocre acted for the larger part. But to each there own. For Alan moores works I always preferred his Miracleman, swamp thing, V for Vendetta stories.
  • Bam
    (Tuesday, Mar 3. 2015 06:06 AM)
    Nolan can produce the action plus personal and dark story that Alita would need, and he also brings talent such as composer Hans Zimmer and Cinematographer Sally Pfister to the table. Him and Snyder have too much combined integrity to make a mockery out of Alita like Spielberg did with the GitS license.
  • Bam
    (Tuesday, Mar 3. 2015 06:03 AM)
    Well Snyder has respect for his source materials and that is key in anime-to-film adaptations. Hell I’m a big Watchmen fan and I thought his version was (almost painfully) close to the comic. You’re not going to get that anywhere else in Hollywood. Also the combination of Nolan/Snyder is quite different than them individually.
  • Emma
    (Tuesday, Mar 3. 2015 05:34 AM)
    And directed it as a co-production with America, using a Japanese cast.
    Yeah…this is impossible…

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