Born from a much loved, but lowly ranked concubine, Genji Hikaru is called the Shining Prince and is the beloved second son of the Emperor. Although he cannot be an heir to the throne of his father, Genji spends his life surrounded by every pleasure and love. And yet, his one longing in love is something that even the power of an Emperor can never give him.
One guy going around seducing various women may seem like a pretty dodgy premise for an entire series. But it manages to avoid being just a trashy harem anime by delving into the characters of each of the women and Genji himself.
If you've seen some of the previous work of director Osamu Dezaki, you will recognize his style in this series: a lot of pan shots and still frames with artful use of filter effects. Apart from helping make a fairly limited animation budget look good, this technique also punctuates the emotion or intensity of a scene and highlights the beautifully rendered costumes
and environments. It's almost like watching a shoujo manga come to life. Even when I found myself thinking "What is he doing? Why is she angsting so much?" I couldn't help but be caught up in the emotion of the scene.
Basically, if you're the type who likes romantic period dramas with lots of gorgeous costumes and soap opera relationships and a bit of political intrigue, then this is absolutely the anime for you. If you're not necessarily a fan of those things, but can appreciate an artistic and well-made interpersonal drama, then do check it out anyway.
This is an underrated gem. The visuals are stylized, but quite beautiful and well suited to the subject at hand. Centering on the amorous encounters of Hikaru, the series does in fact feature several intimate scenes, but they are not explicit and to focus on them is to miss the larger point of the work. This is ultimately a poetic, lingering examination of longing, attraction and the multi-faceted nature of love, all set to a dramatic and moving soundtrack.
As a long time fan of the book, I suppose it's only fair to split this review into 2 parts, one for the people who have read the book and one for the people who haven't.
For those who haven't read the book.
First of all, read it, it's good. It's a tough book though, it's a 1400 page monster that sometimes skips 8 years only to spend 70 pages in the exact same location and time. And of course, it's written in the 11th century in the extremely stuck up yet overly emotional Heian court. It's a completely different world with strange traditions and societal expectations.
Something that a modern anime adaptation of only 11 episodes can hardly do justice.
And you'd be right to think that, but fortunately this book doesn't really try to completely adapt the story. If you really want to read it before watching it, it adapts about 25% of the original story, if you're at chapter 12 (of 54) you're caught up to the anime, in case you want to read the source material before going into the anime.
Back to the review, the Heian court was weird, it feels claustrophobic, the definition of love was certainly different from our modern view on it making it probably a bit uneasy to watch at times. But at the same time the anime feels dreamy... These things are qualities it shares with the book and although the book does it a lot better, I think you can certainly get a general idea of how the book feels. So certainly give it a try if you're interested in the book, interested in Heian culture (it does take some creative liberties with Heian culture though) and interested in more dreamy romance anime.
For those who have read the book:
I suppose you fellow fans of classical literature have read the Illiad? If so, I'd like to make some comparisons with the Illiad's adaptation in modern media (the film Troy) and Genji Monogatari Sennenki.
Troy is kind of hated amongst fans of the Illiad and with good reason. It hardly counts as an adaptation, they got some parts right, but sometimes they slaughter things the Illiad actually stands for. It's subject to heavy censorship (Patroklos being the nephew of Achilles? Are you kidding me?) it turns Agamemnon and Menelaos in these moustache twirling villains and Paris is not a prick in it... You know... That stuff. It does that for a reason, a bad reason of course, it wants to adapt 2700 year-old source material for a "modern audience", that might not be able to get what's going through the characters who are all kind of awful in the poem, but you also kind of understand them.
However, it does work as something else, a big easter egg for the fans of Homer's work. When watching through it, I just had my moments like: hey I remember that happening in the Illiad but 1000 times better! Ajax the greater also fights Hector! Stuff like that, so I can understand why someone might get some enjoyment out of Troy.
Is Genji Monogatari Sennenki as bad an adaptation of Genji as Troy is for the Illiad? No. I can actually see why some would describe it as a rather accurate adaptation. But I can also completely see that a long time fan of the book can hate the anime for not getting it right. The biggest victim of modern adaptation disease would probably the Genji's character. His character is there, don't worry, he's still the same childnapping pretty boy you spent 1000 pages with. I've always seen Genji as a bit of Buddhist antagonism you know, always aiming higher and ending up being miserable once he's reached those hights. I'd even say it's a main theme in the book. This specific trait of Genji cannot be found in the anime. instead his actions make sense in a different way, something I shouldn't go too deeply into or I might spoil some more unique traits of the anime. Furthermore, they take some huge creative liberties to tie some stuff together and they only adapt about 25% of the story.
Just like Troy, they do try to cencor some of the more outrageous things Genji does. I mean, of course it does, Genji is simply a creep in the Murasaki chapter.
What I still like about the anime though is the feel of it. The cover of my translation of the book describes it as a "claustrophobic shadowplay", I feel that too in the anime. It's framed dreamy and kind of fague. It feels like an impressionist painting at times. Perhaps that's due to the low budget of the anime, but it actually kind of fits the slow pace of the book.
I'm certain that a fan can get enjoyment out of it, but don't go in expecting a great adaptation. It's fine. It has easter eggs for those who read the book and you might enjoy that kind of stuff. Just like Troy is able to do with the Illiad. But rest assured, it's really not as bad as Troy!
If you are familiar with the "Tales of Genji", this is pretty much a anime adaption about it. While there is a bit of inaccuracies with it especially in the closing of the anime, certain things hold true such as Genji is playboy from the Heian period and is in love with his stepmother who is technically not that much older than him.
My initial reason for watching this anime was to understand the text form of the story better since reading wasn't always my strong point especially when there are many other classes which had my priority (and the fact that anime was enjoyable). Having
watch through the first 5 episodes, I was impressed on how well they kept up with certain facts such as the women he had slept with, the look alike of the women (central theme of the book if you ever read it).
Not much can be said except that I wish they didn't use modern animation to portray a Japanese classic, but rather use something from "Samurai Horror Tales" to make it more nostalgic. It was quite interesting how the anime portray some aspects of it such as evil spirits and some part of Japanese culture during that period.