The story is set during Japan's Sengoku Jidai (Era of the Warring States) and centers on Furuta Sasuke, a vassal of the great warlord Oda Nobunaga and a man obsessed with tea ceremony and material desires in his pursuit of a fortuitous life. Having learned from Oda and the legendary tea master Sen no Soueki, Furuta walks the way of the Hyouge Mono.
Hyouge Mono is an anime that I don’t recommend anyone. Not because it is bad, but because it is completely on a different level. It is not a flower you can just buy and later toss. It is a fragile one, blooms in desolate lands, and you need a bit of effort to find it. It will never gather army of fans that scream best anime ever. It will never get highest ratings, most people who watch it will not even like it. They will easily get bored and discard this gem. Then what makes Hyouge Mono great? Not its animation or sound quality. The reasons are characters, superb use of concepts and avoiding a story of struggle between good and bad, black and white. Hyouge Mono is a land of chaos, obsessed not with morality but beauty.
ANIMATION, SOUND AND THE END OF NARRATION
Hyouge Mono has nothing new or excellent to offer in animation and sound departments. Especially the animation has nothing to look forward to. The creators were not aiming to offer an eye candy and rendering characters + story secondary. They had only story and characters, the rest was simply a medium. I don’t mean the anime with good animation are bad, but simply visuals tend to play more important role in getting popularity and a lot of cash. In the sound department, the work is solid. Characters are original and voice actors do great job in fleshing them out. As time passes animation is getting more stunning, and unfortunately past anime age faster than ever before. Perhaps the only way for anime to survive in the long run is not best ever fight scenes, but offering its core: story and characters.
STORY, PLOT AND PHILOSOPHY
The main theme of many anime are simple and straightforward. Many shounen are about helping friends and getting all the best women, Evangelion TV series is about coping with existence, how to deal with life itself. On the other hand, Hyouge Mono is about beauty, aesthetics. But (that is a big but) it does not offer one simple way out, it offers different interpretations, different perspectives. It does not bombard you with stand alone ideas injected to poor characters. Ideas in this anime do not come from outside, but from within: characters and story develop in such a way we end up with something totally different. It is not Ergo Proxy giving references to Derrida, Husserl or Sartre. It is Hyouge Mono that lets its viewers to enter to the world of aesthetics, ideas, philosophy by offering events, plot developments that lead you there. It does not simply throw ideas at your face. That is why Hyouge Mono, a historical samurai anime is on par with most sci-fi, post-apocalyptic works, with Ergo Proxy, with Ghost in the Shell.
CHARACTERS AND THE WORLD OF CHAOS
Anime takes place in the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1569-1603). It is the period after Sengoku (warring states) and Japan is almost united, but who will be the ruler of all is not established yet: you can still hear breath of past era, rebellions, conspiracies and assassinations occur frequently. In other words this is a world close to chaos. People, families can raise and fall; today’s fortunate are tomorrow’s beggars and vice versa. This is the situation that offers characters to shine: their decisions can lead to their demise, interaction among them can change them, but one always has to be cautious. That is why every dialogue in the series is not wasted: they are there for a solid reason and you can see consequences of what they talk later. In short they are not monologues disguised as dialogue. In many anime, especially those trying too hard to be deep, we see characters blabbering, and what they say does not resonate well with their characters, or just can be said by anyone. In short they are ideas masked with characters. Hyouge Mono is not one of them. Characters are not one dimensional, not even two dimensional, they have multiple dimensions, they sustain multiple relations with each other. For instance, Soueki Senno - an old tea master with his own school of art and rather reticent person - treats every person differently, he does so distinct things that if disclosed to all he would lose everything. And more than all I have never seen in any anime before that such an old person undergoes dramatic transformation. Furuta Sasuke – the main character and self-declared aesthetic – is not your usual reflecting on the meaning of life character (I’m referring to most so-called deep anime). He has flesh: he is in search of self without even being aware of that. He does not change once in the series, but multiple times without losing the grasp of his starting personality. All characters – even the supporting ones that appear in few episodes – do have few things to offer and they fit to their place in story perfectly, they can even show original development. Hyouge Mono characters have more to offer other than being multidimensional and developing continuously. They also have intelligence. They are conscious of themselves, of their deeds, they can relate with others at intellectual level. To put differently: even characters do know themselves. That is radically different even from the greatest anime. Hyouge Mono is on a different level simply because it adds intelligence, self-awareness not mere smartness to get the attention of viewers.
ENJOYMENT AND ORIGINALITY
Hyouge Mono has an original voice, so original that even if you dislike you cannot deny its peculiarities. But does it guarantee enjoyment? No. I’m pretty sure that many will not like it. Preferring silence to action, speaking to fighting does not appeal to most. There are scenes in this anime that silence is the main plot device. Reticence has an aesthetic dimension here, holding oneself rather than speaking out everything adds to the world of imperfection (school of imperfection is an aesthetic movement in Hyouge Mono). I recommend you to keep in mind that once someone tried to persuade you Hyouge Mono is a gem so you can revisit it later. Its originality can be understand better if you have watched many anime and undergone different stages of being anime fan (from calling everything the best anime ever to slowly getting bored, then rediscovering again, and so on). Originality can be best understood if you have already conquered lesser mountains.
I will give very high ratings for this anime, and I am sure as hell that a lot of people will disagree with me. But it all comes down to the argument about whether grass root popularity determines the quality of the show. I am aware that this anime is not for everyone. Average anime fan may only enjoy it to a moderate extent, but for those who are interested in the Sengoku Period, this is a must-watch. I for one am familiar with the history and I can safely say that this is THE most well done anime of the year, if not of all-time. Again, I am here to represent myself and not appeal to the people who are not interested, so take my ratings with a grain of salt.
The English subs are updated very slowly and most people are not up to date. At the time of this review I watched 22 episodes out of 39. So I will not give any spoilers. But after these 22 episodes, I think I have a pretty good grasp of the show in general, assuming there's not extreme decrease in quality in the last few episodes.
In my opinion, to FULLY enjoy this anime, you MUST know the history. However, this is not to say that it is impossible to enjoy it if you don’t. I have friends who recently got into it without knowing any of the history at all. But maximum enjoyment is still reserved for the sengoku fans. If you watched the first 4-5 episodes and decide that you don’t like it, DON’T waste your time. Pick something you could really enjoy.
In the following blocks of text I will talk about this anime’s relationship with real history, if may bore you to death of you are not a fan of it, so skip ahead if it makes you dizzy.
This anime does a great job and filling in the gaps of history. There are a lot of things that are obscured in the historical records. The author provides a hypothesis as to how those events have occurred. The main character, Furuta Sasuke, is a real historical figure. He was influential in art but was not as prominent as a samurai as the show suggests. The author's version of Furuta Sasuke provides alternative explanations to a lot of known facts of the other historical figures at the time. If you are familiar with the history, you would find it very amusing and satisfying. Not to mention that the author has a really bizarre sense of humor.
For example, as its first attempt at a major event, this anime takes a closer look at the Incident at Honnouji and the events that lead up to it. The author has an alternative explanation of what really occurred internally without changing the incident's appearance to a common bystander. You still get Akechi Mitsuhide's betrayal of Oda, but with a significantly more astounding flavor of conspiracy.
The anime walks you through the major events of Sengoku from the perspective of Furuta Sasuke, as insignificantly as he was actually involved in these events historically. It starts off with the siege of Shigisan, where Matsunaga Hisahide immortalized himself with his explosion with his Hiragumo. Later it moves on to Araki Murashige’s betrayal in Arioka, the building of Azuchi Castle, Oda’s campaign against Takeda Katsuyori, incident of Honnouji, Battle of Yamazaki, etc. Interestingly enough, the author perfectly fits the protagonist in these important events and creates original stories for him without altering the outcomes at all. Animes these days about sengoku really loves to bend the history to fit the plot, but this is not one of them. It does a much nuanced job at it and leaves the viewer satisfied. At the time of this review, Hideyoshi is engaged in the Kyushu campaign. And many clever interactions between Furuta and historically important figures are depicted.
It should also be noted that although this is a historical anime, it does have its focus on aesthetics and tea art. As much as you think this is just history channel, it isn’t. After Hideyoshi defeats Akechi Mitsuhide at Yamazaki, the anime skips the Kiyosu Conference, the battle of Shizugatake, the siege of Kitanosho, and lands right at the second half of the battle of Komaki-Nagakute(Fans of Hideyoshi battles may be disappointed, but oh well). It has a good balance of tea aesthetics and historical events. Sen no Rikyuu, obviously, will be the focus of many episodes. And the anime will provide a novel approach to the reasons behind his death in the upcoming episodes. I’m assuming fewer people are fans of tea than fans of sengoku, but it really broadens your horizon even if you just half-heartedly listen to their explanation of aesthetics. Personally, I think aesthetics is extremely subjective and is all bull, but knowing a bit of this arbitrary art may serves as a good conversation piece.
Many people either love or complain about the extreme facial expression of the protagonist. I, however, see this as the most fitting thing the author can come up with. I couldn’t find a better way to depict Sasuke’s obsession with his art and his dilemma of balancing art with the way of the samurai. At the end of every episode, you are reminded of this dilemma, and it really is a major conflict of the show. Every decision he makes regarding this has serious ramifications. From the way the show is going now, it may lead to very shocking outcomes toward the end of the series. I can certainly identify with him. In fact, I think the majority of the otaku would find it analogous. For me, it’s like this: Sasuke tries his hardest to be a successful samurai while keeping his passion for his hobby of tea art. I try my hardest to obtain a successful job position while maintaining my passion for my sick hobbies of anime figure collection, dakimakura and other niche otaku stuff. To succeed in this society, you always have to do what is proper to do. But your mind wants what it feels good to do. This internal conflict is present in all of us. This was the main reason I was drawn to the show when I started watching it.
I think the art and music of the anime is very appropriate. Not outstanding, but 100% adequate. I wouldn’t change a bit of it.
In summary, this is THE PERFECT ANIME for any hardcore fan of sengoku. I’m not sure if you NEED to know the history to grasp the sick sense of humor, but I sure did. It had been the anime I look forward to every week since it aired. I have been watching anime for a long time, and for the longest time, Evangelion had been my top anime of all time. It might be a temporal bias, but this anime recently dethroned Evangelion for me and became my top anime of all time. It may be an unfair assessment because the show is not over yet, but I’ll see what happens when the show is over. read more
Social upheaval, constant military conflict and political intrigue are the main characteristics of the Sengoku period; as a matter of fact, it could be described as a chaotic world, a clashing of individuals with vast ambitions. Admist the turmoil, the importance of Aesthetics, a philosophy of art, is not be forgotten, which influences that particular era significantly. Rather than focussing upon the various battles itself, Hyouge Mono showcases the importance of aesthetics, including fantastic characterization of its varied cast of characters. It comes together with a great narrative, along with fantastic and well placed comedy that serve to lighten the atmosphere at appropriate times.
The story of Hyouge Mono is based upon true historical recordings, that takes place in the final stage of the Sengoku period, the Azuchi-Momoyama period from 1573 to 1603: it is at the peak of Oda Nobunaga's power. The anime is a very character driven story, focussing on multiple characters where Furuta Sasuke could be seen as the main protagonist. It is a very accurate historical representation of that time, using the obscured historical records to interpretate the gaps and whole scope of those decades, and very convincingly so. For viewers familiar and not with the setting, may find themselves pleasantly surprised in discovering all the finer details.
What stands out in Hyouge Mono is the fact that it focusses on the importance of ideologies, aesthetics, rather than the all the battles and common themes (the samurai, bushido, glory) audiences are so accustomed to see. It certainly glances over such battles, as it is necessary to understand all the different conflicts that takes place. Special attention is placed upon the tea ceremonies and art, in particular that of simplicity and imperfection, all fundamental to understanding the story and the authors interpretation. It replaces action with meaningful dialogues and silence: both are used to enhance and highlight certain scenes, be it to enforce an emotion or ideal. Consequently, this naturally affects the pacing of the anime: while it has a magnificent start, the "slow" pacing drags out occasionally, especially in the middle - but it is very befitting (and necessary). Luckily, it heightens its pace afterwards. Its focus is a fresh and delightful approach on the genre.
As mentioned earlier, Hyouge Mono is an interpretation of the events of the Azuchi-Momoyama period: some key points are unknown, thus it becomes arguably necessary to create a well structured narrative with convincing elements to support this, which was the case. Regarding the structure as a whole, the show may seem of simple nature at first glance, yet it quickly becomes apparent that both differing and mutual interests spiral into conflicts that either leave at the beginning some open ends, or converge into bigger ones, nicely weaving most of it until the end of the story. As mentioned earlier, comedy is another great aspect of the anime: it is unique on its own, having its main focus upon both the social standing of that period, together with our own. In addition it is used to emphasize on certain occurences, and is never overdone.
Hyouge Mono is compromised by a large cast of characters, who are complex and very well fleshed out, with its own flaws. Their interactions are meaningful and displayed in a very satisfying manner, while being very self aware.. The main character Furuta Sasuke is a warrior and self-proclaimed aesthete, who has a deep passion in the tea ceremonies and material possession - a naive and greedy man in search of himself. He undergoes significant character development throughout the stages of the story while failing multiple times as well as succeeding, making his development so much more satisfying to see. Another character of great importance is the current master of tea, Sen no Rikyu - a key element in the story. He is a mysterious, yet respectful and strong-willed man with no clear motives at the beginning. However, as the show progresses, his character gets fleshed out significantly, furthermore enhancing his personality. It is truly fascinating to see to which extent people are willing to go to achieve their ambitions/goals.
The secondary characters are not be left out either: the different warriors, the disciples of Rikyu, the aesthetes, or simply the family of the cast. These are imperfect, meaning they have their weaknesses and flaws that serve to create an immersive atmosphere. These play a crucial role in understanding the ideals, the perspectives, motives, and of course the characters, to convey a meaningful and satisfying interpretation of all the events. While it is true that characters come and go, it must be noted all have a role to play, and are not simply there to fill space: it arguably leaves a significant impression in audiences. It is simply fascinating to see how the different perspectives and ideologies, ambition and greed of the cast affect their world, as well as the respective consequences of said actions.
~Animation and sound~
The animation of Hyouge Mono is overall well done, although it is apparent that there where monetary constraints: occasionally basic character models are used, as well as plainly showing some sliding/still images. It also makes occasional use of CG, but this affects the different objects of importance mainly. What however stands out in the anime are the design in characters: it is varied and ridiculous (to some), but very befitting to enhance the different ideologies, as well the themes the anime has to offer. The facial expressions are another thing to take note of, as these emphasize the character's personality as well as their emotional state - exaggerated, but masterfully implemented, which is a rare occurrence.
Concerning the music score of the anime, it quite different from what viewers might be expecting from such a setting, making use of traditional instruments, as well as techno-like tracks. It also makes use of some jazzy themes, much to my surprise. Although it may seem a weird choice of music, I personally feel it is a great addition to the atmosphere it tries to create. However, there were times were the same track was used a tad to often. As for the voice actors, these performed their roles masterfully, truly conveying both personalities and emotions of the characters. The anime offered several openings, Bowl Man being a personal favourite, befitting of the anime.
Needless to say, I throughly enjoyed Hyouge Mono in every single aspect, be it the setting and its narrative, the fantastic cast and characterization, or the art style of the series, making me several times blurt out in laughter. The interpretation of the end of the Sengoku period was very satisfying, using the obscured historical records to create a possible flow of events: this is because most of the character's motives behind their actions are unclear. Hyouge Mono, literally Jocular Fellow, is truly a fascinating and hilarious story, that describes the essence of beauty and its perceptions, and with that, interpretations. So do I recommend this anime? I certainly do, but only for those that have patience so as to fully appreciate this work. Personally certainly a worthy rewatch.
About freakin' time I get a chance to complete and review this. I can't believe it took two years for fansubbers to complete all the episodes to it. But anyway, on with the review...
Hyouge Mono did quite a bit for me in sticking out from the mold of many recent anime offerings. The series offers a mix of comedy and drama in its focus on Furuta Sasuke's love of tea ceremonies and the complicated politics surrounding the war for territories in Japan's Sengoku era. The series is a historical title with emphasis on famous figures of the time period and its politics. With the large focus on Japan's history in the period, one should have enough knowledge of the era to get the most enjoyment out of this series, especially on the differing schools of Japanese aesthetics commonplace in the era. Plus with its rather unique storytelling and comical style, the series won't be for everyone.
The comedy element of the series comes from some of the exaggerated depictions shown of the characters, which was quite hilarious for me in many instances throughout the show's run. Examples of this include Furuta Sasuke's devotion to tea ceremonies and aesthetics bordering on fanaticism, Oda Nobunaga being quite over-the-top in showing off his wealth and Date Masamune acting out dramatics kabuki theater style. The show also shows off some of the most exaggerated facial designs I've seen from a recent anime title whenever something unexpected happens with the characters, adding more to Hyouge Mono's charm.
Aside from the comedy, Hyouge Mono still has its serious moments, though in a way different from how most historical Japanese titles depict older times. Rather than focus mostly on the battles occurring within the Sengoku era, Hyouge Mono is more focused on political banter and the large role aesthetics have on Japanese society at large. On the political end, Hyouge Mono shows the tensions and corruption of the period such as influential figures making grabs at power to expand their territory, negotiations between warring daimyo, planned assassinations of major figures and relations with other Eastern countries. While this aspect to the plot may seem dull, it does add more dimension to understanding life in the Sengoku era in a different way, beyond the glorifying of battles seen in samurai films.
The focus on Japanese aesthetics is a little more complicated for me to cover, based on both my limited understanding of it and the differing schools of thought with it. I do know aesthetics is a big thing for Japan's cultural identity, which Hyouge Mono shows in a big way by highlighting the clashing beliefs that several characters in the series have on what kind of aesthetics the country should have moving forward. This is especially prominent in later episodes of the series when a prominent character gains power and tries enforcing his beliefs on aesthetics, adding also to the show's political elements.
The series isn't all plot though, as it also explores how the various historical characters in the series are affected by the various changes occurring within the country. Loyalties get tested, personal beliefs are put into question, some put their status and lives at risk to challenge the present status quo, some feel the pain of being used or losing loved ones due to the era's politics. It's quite the engaging stuff, especially with Sasuke Furuta's character who gets major focus in observing how those influential to his way of life suffer thanks to the era's politics and this usually gets quite dramatic.
Visually, Hyouge Mono is pleasing on the eyes with clean details and vivid color used in designing the various settings and characters of the show. The character designs stick out quite prominently as characters are drawn to be more realistic with their details, having a diverse number of features present with characters and none of the typical beautiful, rainbow-color and big-eye drawing style employed with designs. The mentioned exaggerated facial designs look silly and do well at adding to the anime's comedy. While animation isn't the major highlight of the series, it does its part to depict character movement and showing the actions of characters in both serious and comical moments.
Overall, Hyouge Mono made for a rather unique watch for me as it mixed comedy and drama in exploring elements to Japan's Sengoku era that I've never seen focused on in past historical titles. The lack of action and its unique storytelling style won't be for everyone, but is a definite watch if you are looking for something that sticks out quite heavily from more recent anime offerings. read more
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