Posted on 26 September 2012 with categories: Anime Reviews, Uta Koi



Anime is a commercial medium. It has to be catered in a way in order to attact sales, so concessions have to be made with the premises that get adapted. With that in mind, there sometimes just appear series that make me really glad that they got made, while avoiding all this. Uta Koi is one of these. It’s based on a manga that wasn’t even officially published at the beginning. It’s about freaking poets in the 10th century. No marketeer in their right mind would usually pick this up immediately, and yet the anime of Uta Koi has been made, showing that yes: we can still get things that aren’t catered in any way.

And really, Uta Koi is such a fascinating series. Very rarely we see series that also end up strengthening other completely unrelated series. This show attempts to show the mindset of famous poets as they wrote the various works that were used to compile the famous collection of 100 poems. Yes, the same poems that were used in Chihayafuru. This series gives such a wonderful background to all of the poems that appear in that series, adding even more depth to them. One episode in this series is also dedicated to the author of Genji Monogatari. It’s such a wonderful opportunity to see something about the people behind the stories for once, making this show without a doubt the most unique series of the entire year.

Now, as for the actual execution, there is also something interesting going on, plus a number of things that take a bit of time getting used to. Most notably the animation is quite bare-bones: the character-designs here are very intricate and detailed, but the downside of this is that they’re very hard to animate, and the budget for this series is not big at all. This leads to great drawings that move around really akwkwardly, and that sometimes don’t move at all. On the flipside, this series is wonderful in the audio department. Voice acting is top notch and the huge cast of characters are all very well delivered. The music also is really good and fits the romantic setting perfectly.

Now, Uta Koi is a collection of stories: every episode tells a different one, sometimes even two, so this show does not have much time to dedicate to each of its characters. Some of the characters end up forgettable this way, and it does have a tendency to get a bit cheesy in its worst stories, but there are also more than enough characters that make an impact. It’s not a series that thrives on hard-hitting storytelling, because the animation simply is not good enough for that, and a lot of the stories are strangely focused on forbidden relationships. It’s biggest strength is definitely how well it provides background.

But it’s nevertheless an excellent view to how life was in the upper classes in those days. Being a woman basically sucked, and this series has many stories dedicated to that, but also focuses on how these women found their inner strengths. Court politics also are very much present in here, not to mention that one episode in which it deliberately takes the piss out of everything it stands for. If you’re looking for something with historical depth and don’t mind a lot of awkwardness, then this is a fine choice.

Storytelling: 8.5/10 – Episodic, but very well laid out, moving though time across various poets.
Characters: 8/10 – Huge cast, so there are a number of forgettable characters, but also a bunch of great ones.
Production-Values: 8/10 – The animation is having a lot of trouble and looks awkward. The music and voice acting are brilliant though.
Setting: 9/10 – An utterly wonderful look at poetics of 1000 years ago and the people behind famous poems and stories.

Suggestions:
Chihayafuru
Genji Monogatari Sennenki
Aoi Bungaku

Posted on with categories: Uta Koi

Ah, of course. With the series going through time like that, the only logical story to end with would be the one about Fujiwara no Teika, the guy who composed everything. A very fitting end, both in its themes, and execution.

Also, with this the creators found a nice explanation of why al lot of the poems are about forbidden relationships: Fujiwara no Teika was in one himself. It’s of course debatable how true to history this was, but for the series Uta Koi it fits perfectly. It’s great to finally see that annoying guy who kept making the most bizarre cameos in each episode to have a bit of depth, and to show an interpretation of what his life was about.

What’s also interesting is that the animators actually tried to have some good animation, at the point where Teika and his first love have their big moment. It’s interesting to see in an animation that was otherwise filled with jerky animation and still frames to really create a dynamically moving scene like that. Okay so it again had budget issues, but it’s the intent that definitely was appreciated.

Overall: great show. Please make more series like this. And now it’s just a season’s wait for Chihayafuru 2.
Rating: 5.5/8 (Excellent)

Posted on 23 September 2012 with categories: Uta Koi

They may have been one of the best episodes of Uta Koi yet. In any case the emotional impact it had on me was one of the highest. It’s one of the more whimsical stories of the season (yet again of a love unfulfilled), and it also has this energy that was very addictive, and emotions kept changing from one to the other.

Also, what I really liked is how this episode basically told the same story twice: once from the perspective of the guy, and then from the perspective of the girl. The guy’s story was focused on how he met her, and his struggles to restore his family name that eventually failed, while the girl’s story was that of a young empress falling in love and being unable to do anything to get together due to society. Once again with Uta Koi establishing that there was no such thing as freedom back then.

On a side-note: this episode had a few cameos from Sei Shonagon. Slowly, we’re moving further down history, and that’s the red thread connecting all of the episodes together here. Apart from episode six perhaps.
Rating: 6/8 (Awesome)

Posted on 12 September 2012 with categories: Uta Koi

Uta Koi already was a great series to provide background for Chihayafuru while we wait for the second season (Winter 2013, hell yeah!), but this episode showed a little detour. A detour into Genji Monogatari, to be exact. This episode was entirely dedicated to its writer: Murasaki Shikibu, offering its own interpretation of what her mindset would have been like while writing it.

Once again, this episode fits itself into the “being a woman in history SUCKS”-themes. Murasaki managed to avoid this fate, but a close friend of her according to this episode’s interpretation did not, and ended up being a captive in a marriage. With that in mind, I can see how that would result in the creation of such a romantic drama as with the Tale of Genji, although it remains a bit strange for her to at the end simply say that she wants to tell a story about female strength. Sure, it’s one of the themes of the Tale of Genji, but there was much more going on in Genji Monogatari, especially considering all that the girls and women went through. A few of them died quickly after giving birth after all.

What’s also daring is that they turned her of all people into a lesbian. I mean, I paid close attention to the OP and noticed one female couple amongst the different people who passed the screen, but I never imagined that this would be the author of Genji Monogatari. It’s an interesting idea, especially considering the contents of what she wrote about. This kind of meta-fiction is what makes Uta Koi so good and special: showing the mindsets and thoughts that were put into works of fiction and poetry. I have no idea how this happened, but nevertheless I’m really glad they made this.
Rating: 5.5/8 (Excellent)

Posted on 5 September 2012 with categories: Uta Koi

Dressing up like towers… I get that kind of symbolism. The silly fifth episode had a great point to make. But why, dear god WHY, did you stuff Fujiwari no Teika in a tutu and make him perform bad ballet? Just… what was the meaning of that?

After that the episode started, and I actually found it among the better episodes of Uta Koi. It still is about Sei Shonagon (probably the last at this point). Whereas two weeks ago we saw stories from her past, and last week we saw her own romance, this episode shows some stories from after that, and how she dealt with the death of the important people around her. I like how this was all told from the perspective of yet another poet.

Especially the second half of the episode had some very good chemistry between Sei Shonagon and this poet, which can be attributed to both very good dialogue, and a very good delivery from the voice-actors, combined with some of the best tracks of the series. It’s here where the storytelling brings all of those together. If only the show had a bigger budget then it would be even better.
Rating: 5.5/8 (Excellent)

Posted on 28 August 2012 with categories: Uta Koi

Sei Shonagon again, this time with the focus on her actual romance. This definitely was an episode for dialogue, because the two of them loved making quibs to each other and there were a lot of tongues in cheeks this week, along with nice historical details like how hats played such an important role in those days.

A difference between this episode was that it wasn’t necessarily about the constraining environment in which people lived back then, but instead it showed a different side of how things went on for the nobles and poets of those days. Sei Shonagon is a woman who has enough influence over people to make a difference.

Overall, Uta Koi has painted this nice picture of who the authors of the 100 poems were. It doesn’t stray too long on one of them, but it also picks a few of them to give a bit more attention than the others. Whether it’s the most exciting show though… that is unfortunately not the case. The fact remains that the acting still is quite wooden (although this episode wasn’t the worst example of that).
Rating: 4.5/8 (Good)

Posted on 21 August 2012 with categories: Uta Koi

One thing that this series has made clear by now: living in history sucks. Especially for women. The women featured in this series were great poets… and yet most they do is sit in a room and wait for their loved ones who are often gone for years. This episode was all about that. To the point where relationships just fell apart because of that.

And once again, this series actually links all of the poems together. This episode was about the poet who was the servant of one of the characters from last week, and it first shows a failed relationship she witnessed, and then a relationship she was in herself. Next episdoe seems to continue with her even more. Seriously, watching Chihayafuru’s second season is also going to be a treat now that the background of the characters has been fleshed out so well.

Something I did notice during the past weeks however was that the music isn’t as striking as what it used to be. Especially in this episode it was rather in the background, and most of the standout tunes that caught my ear in the first episodes are gone now. I do hope that the creators saved something for the final episodes, because a correct use of music is also a skill that can make an anime much better when used correctly.
Rating: 5/8 (Great)

Posted on 14 August 2012 with categories: Uta Koi

After compiling the preview for the next Fall Season, I just realized how special this current season is. Sure, it may not shine in the quantity department, but what really makes it stand apart is the imagination in its premises, compared to next season in which everything sounds surprisingly similar. And among those series, Uta Koi once again showed that it stands among the most imaginative and different shows of the season.

This episode contains two romance stories in one again, just like in the first episode, and they’re about the members of the Fujiwara clan (which appeared to be quite big). One story revolved around a guy who died early, the other about a guy who had a full life. The first story was about living life to the fullest, and the second was about long-term relationships and fear of faithfulness. I can understand why the two of them were compiled together, because they contrast very nicely with each other.

Still, this series remains kindof silly. I mean, I’m not sure who found it a good idea that the way to flesh them out would be a random test of courage, which turned out to be a silly joke by an old man. I mean, I get the historical significance of the romance and the stories around that, but the thoughts behind that test of courage seem a bit lost on me. Out of all of the things to highlight the difference between the two main characters of this episode… why that?
Rating: 4,5/8 (Good)

Posted on 8 August 2012 with categories: Uta Koi

Okay, which monkey was the one who introduced crack to the writing staff of this series? What on earth did I just watch for the past 20 minutes?!

Seriously though, this was just amazing. Uta Koi already was the single most original series of the season, but this episode was just one giant middle finger to just about every anime storytelling convention. This was just outright bizarre from start to finish, it was completely silly in every single way, and it was glorious. People need to make more filler episodes with the mindset of this episode.

I think every single one of us made some sort of Yugioh joke when we first learned of Chihayafuru. I mean, from the outside a series about a card game does seem awfully similar if you’re unaware of any sort of context. I however never could have expected that a year later,this series would come along and actually transformed the 100 poems into flippin BATTLE CARDS, complete with its own set of rules and powers, leading to bizarre situations in which someone was able to summon himself on the battlefield to do massive damage.

I love how this episode made a complete fool of itself (the grand prix had me in stitches as well), but at the same time it didn’t skip on the historical references. This episode also introduced a ton of new characters and famous figures. Did any of those make an appearance in the OP though? How many more of those guys will this series introcuce?
Rating: 6/8 (Awesome)

Posted on 31 July 2012 with categories: Uta Koi

When I first saw the OP of this series, I thought that every episode or half-episode would focus on a different romance story, based on the 100 poems. I did not expect so many recurring characters. This episode in particular introduced no new ones. Beyond that, this was a really unique episode, in that it clearly stepped away from conventions.

Rather than being about romance again, this episode actually felt like a lecture: it had three of the great poets just talk together, after which it explained why they were seen as the great poets. Right now, poetry is ancient, but 1000 years ago, it was still struggling to gain popularity, and it’s these six apparently who managed to increase its influence, solidified by that Tokyo Tower and Sky Tree. This episode took on quite a philosophical direction when it showed some of them at a point when they were unaware of the influence they’d have, and shows them talk about their inspiration.

It really makes me wonder though: I tried to count. There are still around 23 characters who appear in the OP and who haven’t appeared in the series. I assume that this series will be just 12 episodes, so what on earth do the creators plan to do with them?
Rating: 5/8 (Great)

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  • Bam
    (Tuesday, May 5. 2015 10:42 PM)
    @Emma: That fan poster is much better than the real screenshot of Leto’s joker, which has too many tattoos that feel out-of-place for some reason, and that grill in his mouth which is just stupid.
  • Emma
    (Tuesday, May 5. 2015 01:14 PM)
    Additionally Hammill’s joker got both sides of the character down perfectly.
    My favourite depiction of the joker though is definately in Grant Morrison’s arkham asylum graphic novel.
  • AidanAK47
    (Tuesday, May 5. 2015 12:56 PM)
    @bam, Ledger was the best possible live action joker. But Hamell is the real joker to me. When you read jokers lines in the comics, you hear Hammill. Still that fellow in batman arkham origins didn’t do too bad a job.
  • Emma
    (Tuesday, May 5. 2015 12:19 PM)
    @Bam: I remember loving the hell out of that old animated Batman movie from the 90s, mask of Phantasm, that mystery of Batwoman one was worthwhile also.
    Here is the new Jared Leto joker: http://static1.squarespace.com/static/51b3dc8ee4b051b96ceb10de/t/54870f57e4b074be5ade38ad/1418137431644/jared-leto-as-the-joker-in-suicide-squad-fan-art
  • Bam
    (Tuesday, May 5. 2015 12:06 PM)
    Also it was neat for FF9 to include summons as a plot element. They always existed outside of the story, as most of that series’ battle mechanics seem to happen in a bubble separate from the actual stories.
  • Bam
    (Tuesday, May 5. 2015 12:03 PM)
    *@Emma lol
  • Bam
    (Tuesday, May 5. 2015 12:03 PM)
    @Joker: he definitely had the quintessential Joker laugh. Ledger was good, but also a lot grirrier due to the film’s tone. That whole animated series is one of main reasons why Batman is still so popular even with the 90s kids who cared very little about comics at that point.
  • Emma
    (Tuesday, May 5. 2015 11:02 AM)
    @Bam: I feel the same way about Mark Hammill voicing the joker.
    As for FF9, I really liked that games take on the Alexander summon.
  • Bam
    (Tuesday, May 5. 2015 09:45 AM)
    @K-off: That’s pretty cool. Conroy is easily the best portrayal of the Dark Knight- as somebody who got the Batman/Bruce Wayne dichotomy down like no other. The trick to get their attention is to be real with them, since they’ve heard every possibly fan praise a million times. I still remember how Maynard’s eyes lit up when my friend screamed “Hey Maynard! You’re a Tool!” at a Napa wine-tasting function he was hosting. You can always bank on weird.
  • k-off
    (Tuesday, May 5. 2015 07:17 AM)
    Very exciting, got to chat with Kevin Conroy in Vegas. I dropped 40$ to get a signature, but I met him afterwards outside the convention hall and talked some generic “fan-to-celebrity” talk, telling him how much I respected his work. I ain’t complaining though.

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