First Impressions: Uta Koi

Love and Poetry. Like Chocolate and Strawberries

Japanese poetry bursts with vibrancy as it describes natures and matters of love. With romance powerhouse Kenichi Kasai (Nodame Catabile, Honey and Clover) directing Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi, does this series sing a pretty love song?

First a little lesson so you can’t say I didn’t teach you anything. Historically Fujiwara no Sadaie is responsible for compiling the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, the anthology which this series is based on. While Ogura is considered the most famous of the Hyakunin Isshu it isn’t the only one. The word literally translates into “one hundred people, one poem each”. The document itself is in rough chronological order of when each poem was produced dating from the middle to late Heien period, circa 1235 AD.

The impact of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu on the poetic tastes of Japan has been felt into the early 20th century. A part of its fame comes from the battle between the different branches of Fujiwara’s family for his legacy. The famous poet was a little bit of a play and fathered 27 children with various women. These children split themselves into three houses. Constantly fighting over Fujiwara’s original manuscripts and land, the master poet never left the Japanese public conscious till nearly all three houses were extinct. But by then, Fujiwara had been cemented as a legend.

Typically each poem follows the tanka poetic form. Each line has a fixed syllabic count that goes as follows:

Hues of the flower   (5 Syllables)
Has already faded away, (7 Syllables)
While in idle thoughts (5 Syllables)

My life passes vainly by, (7 Syllables)
As I watch the long rains fall. (7 Syllables)

The first three lines are the kami-no-ku, or the upper verse, which became the basis for the haiku form. The last two lines act like a heroic couplet for a sonnet, giving punctuation to the piece itself.

At first tanka poetry was written to express personal concerns regarding the poets private life, but during Fujiwara no Sadaie’s time the use of the tanka had become much more widespread and was used more frequently to capture the imagery of nature.

This scene must be adult for all the skin being shown.

Episode 1

It’s hard to ignore the beautiful artwork that is reminiscent of Japanese block printing. There is exquisite detail in the setting with a particular attention to foliage in the background. Textures in the foreground consist of bright colors on simple patterns that stand out against the watercolor environments.

After the opening sequences I really thought I was in for a treat. I had seen some of art from the manga and was pleasantly surprised at how they were translated to the small screen. Sadly, all I really saw were missed opportunities.

After Sadaie’s very seductive introduction we are given a very uninspiring story. It’s not that the writing was terrible or that the pacing was choppy. Saori Hayami (Takaiko) and Junichi Sawabe (Narihira) just give very wooden performances that don’t sell their illicit aristocratic love affair. I couldn’t feel the chemistry between Narihira and Takaiko and that diminished the impact of their ultimate fate. They were torn apart.

More so than not the episode felt like half a story. Now I know all the bases were covered in regards to what a story entails: a beginning, a middle and an end. Now I’m not a staunch conservative when it comes to structuring a plot, hell in media resis one of my favorite literary devices to use. There is always time to get to the back story later! The problem is when going with a serialized format you always want the viewer to feel fulfilled at the end of each episode. Uta Koi’s first episode lacks an emotional or moral bite that would give it the punctuation that it needs.

Yukihira, Narihira’s older brother, is brought in as a foil for his sibling. Where the younger one is a playboy and a slacker, he’s a devoutly loyal husband and a hard worker. It isn’t an effective use of the device because each of these characters are given context through their relationships with their respective partners. Both of which display what we are expected to believe is true love. The differences in the outcomes of these two relationships is not related to the brothers’ personalities but the circumstances in which the romance occurred. With such a focus on the insignificant differences between the characters it’s hard to glean what the story was trying to tell us from a moral or emotional perspective.

You can say I’m being dense for not getting at the deeper poetic meaning, but the elements of intense love that are highlighted by episode don’t leave an impression because of the nonchalant storytelling.

A realization of love

Episode 2

Sadaakira is a boy emperor known to history as a tyrant. The episode somehow manages to encapsulate his growth from an insecure adolescent to an adult that learns to come to terms with his feelings. His story and his romance with Yasuko are the most palpable of the series so far. The chemistry the first installment lacked is here.

A strong theme drew this episode together and gave it the direction the first outing desperately needed. This episode tackled identity, both public and personal, and coming to terms with it. Two halves of Sadaakira are shown, one as the tyrant, the other as the poet. Essentially, we learn both of these parts are the same, stemming from the same doubts. Our judgment of his character came from which lens we framed him.

Yasuko is the audiences avatar in this tale. She has seen both sides of him just like we have. When she learns to reconcile the two, her understanding eventually paves the way for love between her and the former ruler. The pacing of this revalation is pitch perfect and makes for a great chapter.

Sadly, It’s a shame to see so much of the artwork recycled at this point of the series. The small details that gave the settings flair have lost their luster this time around. What I found really odd was the snakes being censored. I understand their shape is reminiscent of a flaccid member of the human anatomy, but seeing them blurred out just took me out of the experience. They unintentionally broke the fourth wall.

In this outing I’m happy that the story telling has improved but the voice acting is still sounds unnatural and out of place. Uta Koi has been billed as liberal interpretation of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu so I don’t see why the script writers are confining themselves to the formalities of proper Japanese. The drama and dialogue become in-congruent. I can see how this can create difficulties for immersing the viewership once the novelty of its premise has worn off.

It’s rare for a series change so rapidly in the quality of its storytelling. It’s more rare for an Anime to draw such an emotional reaction from me when it used to be tepid at best. The third chapter in Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi took me to a very dark place and never wrested its grip from my shoulders. In sections like these I will be go over what I think about the Anime as well as what the implications might be to everyday life. I’ll throw in some personal examples as well. I hope you enjoy these sections and give me some feed back!

Let the winds of heaven
Blow through the paths among the clouds
And close their gates.
Then for a while I could detain
These messengers in maiden form.

-Monk Henjo

Distance makes the heart grow fond.

They say that sometimes if you love someone, you have to let go. It seems so counter intuitive in all honesty. Shouldn’t we be there for the one we love and vice versa. Isn’t there some pact our souls make when we decide to be together? Isn’t there some sort of unspoken promise that has to be honored? Isn’t love enough?

These thoughts sift through your mind, collect at the corner of your eyes and flow freely across your cheeks as the dreaded moment comes. The moment you decide to let go. On his hundredth night, Munesada begins to tear the sash from Yoshiko’s body. Betrayed, he opens up to his carnal desires to free himself from having to make a choice.

But I guess love is a powerful force. Sapping his strength, the emotion lays him as a heap atop her. Exhausted from fighting for so long, he can’t even muster tears as he lies there. He knows that he has to let go. Yoshiko want’s her freedom, and she asked the only person that could give it to her. Munesada is her only attachment to the life society has prescribed for her.

Relationships are as much about personal growth as they are about comfort and stability. These three form the foundation for happiness. When a relationship threatens one of these qualities, people will often seek freedom from that sort of involvement. As a significant other, it is our job to communicate that feeling, and respect it when it is directed toward us. Yoshiko’s growth is threatened by her attachment to anyone outside the palace. She cannot bear the thought of stagnating into a simple house wife, even if it is for the one she loves. This might seem selfish at first, but aren’t Munesada’s demands self serving as well?

It’s when we realize this truth, that our desire to chain someone against their personal wishes is a selfish act, that letting go is the only noble course of action. It is the only solution to promise a brighter future for both people involved.

The counter argument is a simple one: you’re protecting the person from making a decision with negative consequences. We say this is a Utilitarian justification, a system of ethics and morality where we use the good or bad effects of any action taken when deciding whether or not we should participate in said action. Justifying this point of view is actually harder than it looks. How can you, a non omniscient actor in the world, possibly know what the consequences of an action could possibly be? There is no guarantee in your choice, only probability.

Was I bitter when my ex of two years took a flight to L.A. to pursue her ‘acting’ career? I was. Did I stop her? No. Do I regret not taking the next flight to bring her back ‘home’. A part of me still does. Even though I had a gut feeling that she was probably going to fail, I had to believe in her. I had to let her go. Regrets are a realization of love. I think someone important said that.

Either that or I just made it up.

When looking at Henjo’s poem, the only solace he can give us is this: lets hope circumstances change. All you can pray for is the best. If you are truly what’s right for your partner, then a cloud will come and keep her near. I think it’s harder to live with resentment than pain. No one famous said it. I just believe that.

Closing Thoughts

Uta Koi has been a rollercoaster. Its inconsistencies aside, it has been building up to a powerful series. Everyone should give this show a shot because it aims at themes that are so universal. If you’ve ever felt a shade of love there’s something here for you. While my comments considering the first episode might seem harsh, it’s trappings are quickly abandoned during the second and third outings. Remember everyone, Uta Koi will be updated on the Meta Mash this week!

Drop or Not? Not.



We welcome our Guest Anibloggers with open arms to share their take on fandom including Convention Coverage, Editorials and even sought after Recommendations.
Blinklist BlogMarks Delicious Digg Diigo FaceBook Google MySpace Netvibes Newsvine Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter

6 Responses to “First Impressions: Uta Koi”

  1. Joojoobees says:

    Of the four stories presented here, three are about letting someone go, in a way. Only the story of Sadaakira is clearly not about letting go of the one you love.

    Show ▼

  2. Foshizzel says:

    This show is cool~

    (I haven’t watched it)

  3. Highway says:

    I’ve been enjoying this show on the level of “Nice little romantic vignettes.” I’m not a poetry guy, which is maybe a little odd because I *am* a music guy, and can find tons of meaning in song lyrics. But overall, just poetry doesn’t do anything for me.

    And as romantic vignettes, they’re pretty nice. The art is different and very pretty (although why they censored the snakes escapes me). It’s a nice relaxing show to watch.

  4. Furykury1 says:

    Are these 100 poems the same ones used in the Karuta game as presented in the anime/manga Chihayafuru?

    • Kyokai says:

      Yep, they are the same.

      • Furykury1 says:

        OK, it’s nice to hear that I am catching on to many things Japanese.
        I left you a message at MAL about Kara no Kyoukai.

Leave a Reply