The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi

Title: Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi
Genre: Drama/Romance
Company: NAS
Format: 13 Episodes
Dates: 3 Jul 2012 – 25 Sep 2012

Synopsis: A super-liberal interpretation of a series of romantic waka poems from the famous Hyakunin Isshu.  Uta Koi details the bittersweet lives and situations surrounding the poems at the time of their creation, providing the context and scenario for which the poems are composed.

The Highlights
Tragic romances: Great works of art are inspired by great tragedies or heartbreak, and it is no surprise that the back stories are nothing short of bittersweet.
Beautiful poetry: Timeless, affecting poetry that transcends time and translation.
Liberal interpretation: Stories without the stiffness common in historical pieces.
Soundtrack: Beautiful orchestra music flows into the heart with upbeat OP/EDs as a reminder of its liberality.
That middle episode: The best way to transition between eras? F1 Ox-cart racing, Heian Host Club and a game of poetic Yu-Gi-Oh!
Soothing and encouraging mood: Uta koi = Natsume Yuujinchou – Monsters + Historical sonnets

The summer of 2012 brought a plethora of shojo and josei anime that both cradled and toyed with our hearts continuously, but one in particular shall always remain close to my heart: Chouyauku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi. Its a wonderful break from the torrent of high school romance-dramas that meander around their characters’ insecurities, climax on the confession, but fail to depict any of the intricacies of an actual relationship. Uta Koi instead delivers stories that begin with the inception of the romance, and close out with its somber conclusion. As great art is born from great tragedies or suffering, these episodes which chronicle the lives of these timeless poets are nothing short of melancholic and anguished. Though the show focuses on bittersweet reflections and the harshness of reality, it still retains delightful moments of humor, cheer and bizarro comedy.

The series is an anthology of love poems, but also a medley of tender heartbreaks, with nary a happy ending. Romances never seem to go as expected despite mutual affections, as the inevitablity of reality crashes down on the wonderful dream that is love. Relationships flounder due to conflicts with personal ambitions and goals, status differences, sickness and death, and other obstacles that plague both their ancient and our modern lives. As the dust settles, the characters wistfully reflect on the past, and achieve a manner of catharsis with the audience. They learn to push on towards a brighter future, regardless of however sorrowful and regrettable things had ended.

The poems chosen interact with the stories cleverly, with other non-Hyakunin Isshu poems also introduced to rebuff or build the story moral. They serve as mellow backdrops or pained conclusion to the fables, enhancing the story. The historical origins of the poems and stories serve to highlight how timeless the numerous human condition and struggles really are. The characters are effecting and sympathetic, though being a touch romanticized. As with all of the director Kenichi Kasai‘s work, there is a distinct lack of a villain-hero dichotomy despite the crapsack quality of their world, with the focus being on how the characters grow and pick themselves up.

Each episode starts out with the narrators in bizarre modern scenarios that have little to do with the stories themselves. They describe the the tales dressed in a Tokyo Tower outfit, driving around as paperboys, or better yet: while prancing in ballerina costumes. The series being an anthology might cause the stories too be a little short, with the characters switching out a little too fast, leaving just as we were starting to get to know them and form a rapport with them. However, several of the cast reoccur in their respective eras, thus preserving a manner of engagement that would be absent in other anthologies.

Uta Koi is truly something remarkable. It is a rare gem that appears only so often. This show is a must watch for fans of drama, romance or historical dramas, but come prepared to have your heart torn and mended over and over. Mecha and action fanboys need not apply.

The Rating: 9

Reviewed by: Slashe

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