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The Heike Story

Nov 25, 2021

Before You Watch: The Heike Story

“I shall tell your story too.” -Biwa

The Heike Story is the most underrated anime I have ever seen. An anime being an “underrated gem” has almost become a cliché, but the fact that this show has an average rating under 4 and less than 1,000 people following it on Anime Planet is truly disappointing. From feedback I’ve read elsewhere online, it seems that the general perception of The Heike Story is that it’s a show for hipster Japanese history nerds that isn’t accessible to the general anime community. While I don’t think this will have the broad appeal of a mainstream show like Demon Slayer or Attack on Titan, it’s not that you need to have a degree in Asian studies in order to truly appreciate this show. I’d like to spend part of this review addressing some of these misconceptions.

  • Myth #1: The Heike Story requires you to know the history behind it. While those who already know the history behind the rise and fall of the Taira clan can gain a deeper appreciation for the story the anime is trying to tell. However, the writers of the anime don’t assume any prior knowledge of Japanese history. Most of my Japanese history knowledge comes from bill wurtz’s history of japan, and that video doesn’t even touch on the events of this story. Some background knowledge will help you keep up with the anime’s blisteringly fast pace. The anime tries to condense a book over 700 pages long into an 11 episode narrative and so a lot of events were abbreviated or omitted, and years can pass in a single scene transition. That said, by the end of the anime, I think the audience should have a grasp of the essence of the story. Even if you missed some details, the overall message of the anime is clear. It’s about a time of transition of power in Japan’s history, one that was done through betrayal and bloodshed.
  • Myth #2: The Heike Story is too confusing. The first few episodes of the anime are, admittedly, overwhelming. There’s so many characters with similar names and appearances that are introduced all at once. Some resorted to creating character charts just to keep everything straight. As the anime progressed, it became easier to follow as it became clear who were the important actors in the story and who were just people mentioned in passing or would remain in the background. As the story is told through the narrative perspective of the main character Biwa, those she bonds with and those who affect her adoptive family’s lives the most are the people that the audience needs to actually pay attention to. The pace slows down significantly in the second half and allows for deeper development of the significant characters.

The strength of The Heike Story lies in its masterful directing. Naoko Yamada, known for her work with Kyoto animation especially A Silent Voice and K-on! uses every technique she’s learned to bring to life the words of a centuries old tale. Every frame is a painting, every shot has purpose, every movement adds to the story and characters. Aoi Yuuki, who voices Biwa, continues her hot streak and delivers another masterful performance. The music by Kensuke Ushio, who scored A Silent Voice and Liz and the Blue Bird among others, weaves both Japanese biwa music and more traditional orchestration to perfectly enhance the visuals on screen. Everything works together to make a singular piece of art that stands alone among anime.

Perhaps this uniqueness is what drives people away, but I implore that you at least give this anime a try. Be patient with the breakneck pace; try to use outside resources to keep track of the characters and story. It’s absolutely worth it. The Heike Story is one of the most beautiful anime of this generation. I only hope it gets the recognition it deserves.

9/10 story
10/10 animation
9/10 sound
9/10 characters
9.5/10 overall

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