The animated adaptation of Murasaki Shikibu's masterpiece, the 1008 novel "Genjimonogatari" (The tale of Genji), considered to be the first modern novel of history. Having studied this novel at university, I watched and judged this adaptation not only by its own merit but also by comparing it to the original.
Well, it's not like the Genjimonogatari was known for its gripping and unpredictable plot to begin with, being for the most part just the description of Genji's various love adventures, so if said plot is also adapted somehow loosely you can see how this can be a letdown. Sure, it must be taken into consideration that for a Japanese audience knowing the Genjimonogatari is probably like knowing Dante's Divina Commedia for an Italian audience, so this adaptation was made keeping in mind that the public already knew the base material. Still, I always had this fanboyish tendency to not like when an adaptation takes too much liberty on the original. So, while some of the events are really well transposed (like Yuugao's death and Rokujou's jelous spirit) both in form and in emotional impact, most of the others differ too much. I also didn't like the fact that so many of these 11 episodes were dedicated exclusively to the relationship between Genji and Fujitsubo: even if this IS the most important relationship in the novel, it becomes quite tedious when half the time is spent on these two always repeating to themselves how much they love each other but how much their love is forbidden so they must not et cetera, while completely skipping some characters and rushing like hell not only the relationship with my personal favourite, Yuugao, but even those with Rokujou (the possessive mistress whose jelous spirit kills three of Genji's lovers!), Aoi (Genji's first legitimate wife!), and even Murasaki (Genji's second legitimate wife and basically co-protagonist of the second part of the novel!). When the collective story of Heian court ladies becomes basically the story of two people... OK, it's one way you can read the first part of the novel, but it's really tedious.
Another thing that let me down is the fact that almost none of the tanka (Japanese short poetry) that characterised every single page of the Genjimonogatari are included.
The Genjimonogatari is the masterpiece it is first of all for the deep psychology of its characters. So one would expect at least a glimpse of that depth, or at least a charaterisation coherent with the novel, right? Unfortunately, you get none of that. While it is fairly understandable that all the depth a book can contain can't be easily transposed into a very short anime series like this, much less forgivable is the fact that some characters are completely different. Murasaki is the worst offender: in the novel, when she was adopted by Genji it took her some time to grow attached to him, but she only considered him more of a brother-like figure, so when Genji seeks comfort in her (if you know what I mean) after his wife's death and then goes on to make her his wife, her first reaction is of sadness, disillusion and surprise, and the reaction you're supposed to have is "What the hell, Genji?"; here, she gets basically kidnapped, she loves Genji as a man from the very beginning, she's more than happy to become his wife and is so completely devoted to him that most of her depth goes right out the window. But many other characters, expecially Yuugao (who shows no sign of the insecurity and fear she felt in her relationship with Genji) and Oborozukiyo (who becomes for no apparent reason an active seductress instead of someone who just happened to meet Genji one night he was drunk), are terribly flattened.
Even Genji, whom I considered almost inspirationally cool in the book, is here flattened and less likeable. The only one who, in my humble opinion, retains his charm, is Tou no Chuujo.
Quae sunt Caesaris Caesari: the character design and the backgrounds are positevely awesome. During most of the series the art creates an almost fairytale-ish atmosphere with its strong colours and beautiful landscapes. Though, the animation itself at times has drops in quality, recycled scenes and really cheap effects that can really become annoying.
The soundtrack is pretty solid. During the episodes themselves, it does its job decently. It never stands out as particularly good, but the fact that it uses also Heian period Japanese musical instruments makes it feel really fit for the setting and the mood. It loses a lot of points, however, for the at times not-so-smart use of such music, and for the opening and ending song: the OP consists of a really upbeat and happy-sounding pop/punk song, which would feel painfully out of place even if it wasn't as bad as it is; the ED has a better fitting mood, but it's sung so horribly that its commercial slow-pop genericness becomes unbearably annoying.
SAKURAI Takahiro's performance of The Shining Prince is.. .a bit strange. In that, he jumps from hammy, narmy and "meh" moments, to heights of emotional intensity. I will even go on and say that most of the moments I considered to be well made and emotionally involving are so thanks mostly to Sakurai's voice, but at other times he's unintentionally funny.
Similarly, the character of Tou no Chuujo, who has only a tiny fraction of the role he has in the novel, manages to still retain his charm mostly thanks to the fact that he's voiced by the one I consider one of the most versatile, powerful and all-around freakin' awesome voice actors around, SUGITA Tomokazu of The melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya fame.
The rest of the cast do their job decently, but most of them fail to give depth to their characters, and Lady Murasaki knows how much such poorly-adapted characters would have needed the strenght only great voice acting can give...
I would say that this anime is, as an adaptation of the Heian masterpiece, barely decent in some parts, a trainwreck in some others, a pretty good result in yet others. I feel safe to recommend this anime to those who have read or studied the original novel: it will be annoying at times, but when I see an adaptation of a classic literary masterpiece I always find it somehow intellectually satisfying to be able to point out what it's doing wrong, and those nicely pulled off moments can be worth it for someone who likes the original. Similarly, though, I think those who do NOT know the original Tale of Genji, should stay away from this: this anime is made for an audience which is supposed to know the story it's telling, so if you don't you'll probably consider it lamer, more rushed, more stupid and more flat than it actually is.