Hyouge Mono is without question the strangest and unlikeliest anime of this increasingly impressive Spring season. It comports to almost no accepted anime standard that I’m aware of. It features no moe, no cute girls, almost no women at all, no bishounen, and in the midst of the bloodiest period in modern Japanese history, almost no action. Yet in spite of this is depicts sex more realistically than any other show I can remember and manages to make each episode a tense and almost exciting affair.
There’s a lot of fascinating stuff happening in the second episode, so much that I hardly know where to begin. We meet Sosuke’s wife, Osen, and learn that he has a child. Sosuke reveals himself to be a man very much torn by the competing demands of his circumstances and of his nature. He serves the ruthless Oda Nobunaga – a man of no small number of paradoxes himself – and sees the path to wealth and glory that goes through success in battle. Yet he knows that he has no thirst for blood – is merely an observer on the battlefield, for his heart is that of an aesthete.
Above all else he loves tea and the accoutrements attached to it. When in a fit of spousal affection he takes his wife into his arms for a surprisingly intimate yet disconnected sexual encounter, he cannot help but compare her body to the exquisite tea bowl he has just obtained – is her skin the same tone as the glaze? Did the artist choose the color based on the complexion of a woman? Is the shape that of a breast? Even in a moment of passion – and the question we’re to ask is whether the passion of intercourse is so different than the passion of battle – the aesthete’s mind is always working, weighing the aesthetics of what he sees and touches. It’s Sosuke’s blessing and his curse.
Glory does find him when he manages to engineer the surrender of his brother-in-law, a general who serves a rebel Lord, by threatening to execute Osen in the man’s own keep. While Sosuke’s is shown to nearly vomit from the strain of the moment, it’s a fine gambit – a truly ingenious and bold ploy that convinces the man to surrender and buys Sosuke Nobunaga’a favor for a time. But an even greater opportunity goes amiss when Sosuke, using his knowledge and intelligence to track down the fleeing Lord in the bowels of his castle after his forces are defeated, surrenders a chance to return the man’s head to Oda in exchange for a rare and exquisite tea bowl in his possession. Later, he is invited to tea by Oda’s favorite tea master, Soueki Senno, and is served tea from the very bowl. While the entire sequence is brilliant – capturing the beauty and mystery of the tea ceremony in some tiny way – this unexpected turn lends a jolt of danger to an otherwise serene and hushed moment.
Part of the fun of this show is watching Sosuke in action. There’s never been another lead quite like him – he’s a fascinating bundle of contrasts. He’s clearly clever, self-aware and creative – but also a slave to his own aesthetic passions and a social misfit of sorts. He appears to love his wife, but spends nowhere near as much time considering her as he does the treasures he so badly covets. His facial expressions are the one-man special effects of this otherwise quite straightforward show – he appears totally unable to prevent his thoughts and feelings from reflecting in his visage, which seems to be a bad trait for a man in his position. Nobunaga is a much more interesting and realistic figure here than in any other depiction I’ve seen but still hovers ominously over everything, a loaded weapon ready to discharge at any moment.
I have no more idea now who the target audience for this series is than I did a week ago when I watched the premiere, but I’m awfully glad it exists. It’s not the sort of viewing experience you’d be able to get anywhere else.