This is a preliminary explanation of why this show is so awesome; I promise to do an edit/real review when it's over. (Edit: See below)
As a literary nerd, the game of karuta has long delighted me. If you like poetry, literature, love stories, or Japanese history check this anime out right now! Do it!
If you want to read the poems as the show airs, skip the online wikis. My suggestion is Peter McMillan's highly acclaimed One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each; he's a poet as well as a scholar and does an excellent job with the translation and notes. The book is very readable, and jam-packed with background information, brief poet biographies, calligraphy, interpretations and explanations of multiple layers of meaning, and plain kanji and romanji--so you can watch an episode and then thumb through to reread (and memorize?) the poem. <3 <3 <3
I wrote that last bit when the show was first airing, and, as promised, I am back to edit the review and do it properly now that the show is over.
Story: Generally, each episode was a self-contained story or two, however, as the show progressed, it did a good job of having old characters come back and pop in to say hello. I thought this was a successful approach, because you are reminded of previous characters and are shown how they may have known each other irl.
The only things that irked me about the story was the intrusion of modernity, in two forms. First was the activities Teika did to introduce the show (variety show interview, super hero show), and second was the use of English/katakana words. I may be a little picky on that last one, but for heaven's sake, it was a historical anime and they should have at least tried to use all-native-Japanese words.
On the other hand, I *really* liked the part at the end, where they talked about poetry and human emotion always being relatable, even across a thousand years. That was cool. Also cool was the 12th episode, which amounted to a fabulous, serious feminist critique of society.
Animation: I liked the patterns and the use of lines in clothing and whatnot. I thought the dark, bold outlines around the human beings made them look a little like puppets. Puppets + poetry = theater = very fitting atmosphere for the show.
Characters: Good well fine, but maybe best classified as interpretations of real people based on what they wrote and what was written about them. I loved all the ballsy-yet-classy lady poets, and the depth and complexity of personality attributed to each character that was focused on.
Overall: So that thing I said about human emotions and being able to relate to them no matter the culture, century, place, etc? That is why the Hyakunin Isshu will live on in history. Nothing about the poems is contrived or fake, and the show is worth a watch if you like learning about history through the stories of individuals.
This is a really cute anime, but I can't help that some of it is lost on western audiences because of the content. The plot is easy, it is pretty much a make believe version of how a bunch of famous Japanese haiku's are written, with the narrator being this guy who collected 100 poems (noticably more love poems than anything else) linking the time periods and characters together.
THis means that something you have to remember that while the characters are real, and the poems are real, the plot is not. Likely for Japanese viewers who would have studied these poems sometime in school it would be obvious, but for those not really into haikus it can get passed you as the stories given fit the time period well.
Each episode is mostly contained in itself, with a few characters flowing from one story to another as a minor character. The animation is beautiful, one of the main reasons I started watching this show, it fits really well with the feudal era time period and the opening theme song is lovely to listen to. The ending isnt too my taste but is not obnoxious.
It does run like a slice of life anime, as there is no real plot besides how so and so wrote this poem, so if romanance isnt your thing then it may get a bit boring. Otherwise it is a great show and one of the best of 2012 Summer line up.
One thing that I admire about Japan is that it’s filled with such a vivid and intriguing history that began thousands of years ago. Tales of adventure, love, and mystery have created such a beautiful background for a country so rich in culture. During this time, poetry was extremely popular to the point where some individuals wanted walls in their homes completely covered in written poetry. That’s where the infamous Hyakunin Isshu comes in. Though its been years since this anthology has been created, its poems and the individuals who wrote them continue to “live on”. Uta Koi is a perfect example of this concept.
Watched on - Crunchyroll
Original Release Date - July 3, 2012
Director - Kenichi Kasai
Production Studio - TYO Animation
Story - Long ago, a man named Fujiwara no Teika was hired to create an anthology of 100 poems by 100 different poets. He titled this group of poems the “Hyakunin Isshu.” 43% of these poems happened to be about love and came from nobles as well as lower classmen. Uta Koi focuses around the stories behind 12 of these romantic poems. Therefore, each episode is its own individual story that centers around the love between two characters.
Characters – It feels strange to call the cast of this anime “characters” because they are all based on real people. There are so many different people you are exposed to and it’s a pretty cool thing to see. You’re bound to find a character that you like and each person comes from different backgrounds. From Empresses to economical officials, there are tons of different people depicted in this anime.
Art/Animation – Traditional Japanese garments are so intricate and that is what the majority of the characters in this anime wear. Most of the women look mature and beautiful, but many look too similar. This created confusion and led to some mix-ups. The men were a bit more distinguished and had more noticeable characteristics. However, sometimes I felt that the artwork was a bit like drawings from a coloring book. There were not too many details in some scenes and there was a strong black line outlining each of the characters as well. It was slightly unappealing and felt a little “cheap.” A low-budget was clearly evident for this series.
The animation was very stiff and looked unnatural at times. What bugged me the most was that the designs on the characters outfits stayed in place and did not move along with their movements. Kind of hard to explain in text, but it is very noticeable once you watch the series. Also, the rain didn’t look like rain falling. Instead, the “raindrops” were just circles expanding and shrinking on the screen.
Sound – There was barely any musical tracks played in this anime, which was very disappointing. For an anime that was lacking in its art and animation, it would have been nice to have some nice songs played on traditional Japanese instruments playing in the background instead of bland, quiet scenes. The ending song was also very unfitting for this anime and stuck out like a sore thumb. A hip-hop song as an outro to a historical anime? I don’t think so. Was not an appropriate fit at all.
Pros – Its definitely cool to see how even thousands of years later, legacies still live on. Before we die, we always wonder if anyone will remember us and if our names would ever be mentioned after death. This anime shows that indeed they do. I also enjoyed the focus on the poems written by these individuals. It was also enjoyable to see each poem have such emphasis. They were also analyzed or put into “simple” terms, reminding me of the No Fear Shakespeare books that basically translated all of Shakespeare’s works. Definitely helped out in the understanding of these poems because some can be difficult at times. The symbolism used combined with my lack of poetry skills would have left me confused in this anime without those translations.
Also, knowing the stories behind these written poems was possibly the greatest thing about this anime. Poetry is always fun when the audience knows the story behind it. Each story was romantic and depicted their era very well. Problems such as nobility and honor were real problems back then. They could forbid the relationships between two people and this anime shows that. It’s very realistic for the majority of the anime and made the characters feel more “human”.
Cons – The humor in this anime was not funny, interesting, or relevant. Our narrator, Fujiwara no Teika was often floating in space, playing on the beach, cosplaying the Tokyo Tower, playing Yu-Gi-Oh!, or being a ballerina. It took the seriousness out of the show and was peculiar at times. Episode 6 was so awful, I don’t know where to begin. It wasn’t about a love story, instead it was about a race between all the characters we already have met. It was extremely random, made no sense, and was quite dull.
- Animation could have been stronger.
- Not very memorable.
Overall - Uta Koi was a sweet revival of such timeless poetic pieces. The stories of romance were all heart-warming and lovely. The major downfall was that they were not memorable. Even now I am having trouble remembering all of the stories. I definitely recommend marathon-ing the show because taking breaks between this anime will lead to you forgetting the stories of certain characters for sure. Many of the stories dealt with forbidden love just with different people. While they were still nice to watch, it was a bit repetitive. Also, if you aren’t into Japanese history, some viewers may feel a bit lost or bored watching this show. The stories are nice, but I just don’t think that they will appeal to everyone who happens to watch.
Rating - 7/10 (for those who are interested in Japanese history, poetry, and romance)
6/10 (for those who aren’t really intohistorical anime or poetry)