Shortly after watching the mediocrity that is 'Angolmois' I see 'Hidamari No Ki'- and find just what I was looking for in a historical fiction anime.
Adapted from a manga written in the early 80's by the 'God of Manga' Osamu Tezuka, 'Hidamari No Ki' takes place during the final years of the Tokugawa Shogunate, when Japan rapidly transitioned both politically and culturally from the medieval to the modern world. For an American example, you'd have to compare this era to the Civil War in the way it both defined and fundamentally changed the nation, and in the amount of weight it carries in the national consciousness. It's a period that has inspired countless fictional works, and in some respects 'Hidamari No Ki' is just bit too much like those other works. Anyone who has seen films like 'The Last Samurai' or 'When the Last Sword is Drawn' will recognize the tropes and themes at work here, particularly the tension between between affection for the 'old' Japan despite its flaws and the necessity and benefits of a 'new' Japan. This anime trods a well-worn path that prevents from breaking out and becoming truly its own thing, but it's still a well written historical drama.
ART & SOUND
Sound is OK. The OP is a piano piece with a somber gravitas that excellently conveys the tone of the series and sounds a bit like something out of 'Princess Mononoke', but both ED's are a bit of a miss. They both have this upbeat, late 90's sound that's just a mood-breaker. The Japanese voice acting is solid. The art, oh the ART. *This* is why I love animation from the last years of the cel era, when the artform had reached its peak, right before being swept away by the modern tide of digital animation (which is strangely similar to the STORY of 'Hidamari No Ki', but I digress). As a point of comparison between two historical fiction series, how is that this series is 20 years older than 'Angolmois' and made with less advanced technology- but still looks better? The backgrounds are gorgeous and detailed, characters are well designed and animated, multiple types of lighting are used which significantly change the color palette. I'd put this series up there with 'Cowboy Bebop' and 'The Vision of Escaflowne' in terms of just how good it looks.
In the evolution of a species it is not the strongest or fastest or largest members who have the best chance to survive, but those who are best able to adapt. This is a theme among all the characters- those stuck in a feudal era mindset don't do well in Japan's rapid transition. Sometimes it's gratifying and sometimes it's tragic but it's always consistent. The main characters do have a somewhat shopworn main 'schtick' - the carefree rule-breaker who needs to grow up a bit vs the uptight and overly serious stickler who needs to let loose a bit- but they do it well. Ibuya Manjiro is particularly compelling as we watch a genuinely good and upright man struggle between his convictions and a world that values those convictions less and less- will he find a way to make a honorable compromise with the modern world, or follow the traditional way of the samurai to the end? The character writing isn't perfect, there are one or two characters who are built-up but then quietly fade from the story with no real conclusion to their arcs. But 'Hidamari No Ki' still has solid, well-constructed characters.
A soundly written (if not *entirely* original) historical drama coupled with excellent animation. Historical fiction fans need to put this one on their shortlist of titles to watch