Aoi Bungaku Series is by definition pretentious. There is nothing that panders more to literary snob than modern renditions of classic tales. Any tale that is considered a classic can be detached from the setting and redone in a completely different interpretation and still hold up; Heart of Darkness was remade as the classic Apocalypse Now, The Odyssey was remade as Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, and everything Shakespeare ever did is still being recycled. So the big question here is the execution, did they take the stories and make them approachable by our standards. And the answer to that question is not quite.
Don't get me wrong. The stories are excellent, and the writing is definitely good. But the transition to anime format just didn't work very well. It isn't that the artwork is bad. Madhouse are a powerhouse, and the animation is definitely top notch. Somehow, there is a disconnect between the writing and the art, and while there is a sense of detachment that gives power to the stories the series is based on, it does not quite work as it should.
Still, this is a compilation of great stories that are well written with good artwork. Saying this show is bad is definitely out of line. What is painful is that it could have been better. The idea is right, each story gets two episodes (except the first which gets four, and the last to with a single one each), and each explores a distinct facet of literature. In many ways, the choice is extremely tasteful, and equivalent to choosing shorter stories by Hemmingway, Shaw, Wilde, and so on. But the problem is that the underlying themes of all the stories are quite similar (excluding the second to last two episodes).
It is a testament to the source material on which the writing is based that the themes remain universally relevant. There is definite artistic value to the series, as disjointed as it feels at times. It is very interesting at times, and is definitely a good take on episodic storytelling. These are not happy stories, but the excellence of them manages to move. Aoi Bungaku Series is definitely memorable, despite all faults.
Writing (Story and Characters):
Character-driven drama is the name of the game with Aoi Bungaku Series, and the stories chosen reflect the darker side of that rather well. The short explanations given prior to each episode help give context to what is seen, and while it does come off as a bit pretentious and conservative (in that it doesn't allow the stories to stand on their own), the writing does have good taste. And yet, it is not flawless. The choice of stories is a bit monotone, and the thematic occupation with ultimately self-centered and incomplete protagonists feels somewhat narcissistic.
Not so much one story as six different ones, Aoi Bungaku Series takes an episodic approach where each arc is not related to the next except partially by theme. While it is easy to feel that the transition in media was not perfect, and that plenty has been lost in translation, there is a lot of depth to the stories. They are character driven, and the characters are each deeply flawed. The theme of a man's struggle against the world pervades every nook and cranny, and does get a bit tired... but there is no way to say anything that the stories are less than excellent.
What is perhaps the problem with the series is the characters. The choice of similar themes leads to characters that both don't have much time to develop and go through similar arcs. This is not to say that the characterization is bad by any means, just that the format did them no favors. Maybe it is arrogant to say, but the attempt at a classical approach backfires when anime has become so stylized in the past couple of decades, and the main victims are the characters. The female characters in particular (excluding the first arc) are insultingly shallow. Still, there is a neat focus on the male lead that makes this not as big a problem as it could have been.
While extremely hard to judge as I do not know Japanese, Aoi Bungaku Series has good writing that fails to live up to its potential. The stories themselves are great, and the lead characters have enough depth to them, but it feels like a more patient development like in the first arc or a more intense one like in the last would have served the format better.
Art (Animation and Sound):
Aoi Bungaku Series has extremely strong art. The problem is how the artwork fits with the writing... and the answer to that is not really, for the most part. There are exceptions (parts of the first arc, the second to last one) where the artwork is a great fit, but it feels that the series needed a different approach for different stories and failed to give it. What can be said is that from a technical standpoint, this is one of the strongest performances one can expect.
Madhouse once again prove that from a technical standpoint they are the single strongest animation house out there. The backgrounds are detailed and gorgeous, the palette choices are a modern update to a classic style in order to fit with the settings, and the character designs are sharp if a bit within the sienen cliche. Movement for the most part is fluid and interesting (only a couple of slip-ups where it is noticeable that it isn't), and there are some clever uses of artistic license (though rather rare).
While Aoi Bungaku Series is technical perfection in video, in audio it could have used a bit more work. The voice acting doesn't (for the most part) go over the top, but at times felt a bit too understated. Because there are so many stories told, the soundtrack is not always a good fit, and creates false parallels between arcs where there should be none. Still, overall the audio work is great stuff all around.
I really wish that the artwork had been less cohesive in Aoi Bungaku Series. While it does make the series easier to follow, it detracts from the writing despite the technical excellence. This is one of the rare cases where the art is great, the writing is great, but their match imperfect. While this dissonance sometimes matches up well with the theme, it still isn't how it could have been; and with taking literary classics, the feeling is that the writing deserved better.
The series is high quality through and through. Aoi Bungaku Series perhaps lacks a bit from a character perspective, but that is the greatest weakpoint other than the imperfect connection between writing and the audio/video side of things. With all that said, it is a good series and should be highly recommended to people looking for character-driven stories.
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