The subs continue to trickle in for this series, one of the strangest, best and most thoughtful of the season. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to watch an episode but I was immediately swept up again in the strange and vivid universe it creates.
It doesn’t go far enough to say there’s nothing quite like this series airing now – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an anime much like it. A lot of what drives this series is the conflict between the aesthete and the warrior – both within Sosuke himself and in the world at-large. It’s much more than that, too, but that’s a good place to start when trying to understand just what Hyouge Mono is all about.
Sosuke is am ambitious man. Some of it, no doubt, is the knowledge that increased power and wealth would help him in his aesthetic pursuits. But I think Sosuke sees a beauty in the pursuit of power itself – “art for arts sake”, if you like. He’s continually being pulled in multiple directions by his own passions – his tea, politics, the love of his wife and child. People are complicated beings, not simple ones – and few more complex than Sosuke.
The larger politics of the time continue to drive a lot of the dramatic tension. The clear rivalry – among countless others – that sits at the center of the series is that between Matsuhide and Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi, not “born of generals” as Senno points out, lives with the weight of being the highest-ranking common-born man in Japanese history (which he still is to this day). The anime is starting to show the hints of what’s coming with Matsuhide, but in the meantime Hideyoshi is plodding forward, doing the dirty work and setting the stage for his own rise. He’s loyal to Oda, but not above keeping information from him if it works to his benefit. For a low-born man Hideyoshi understands the politics of court exceptionally well – a world where silence and tone speak as loudly as the words spoken. He also happens to be a brilliant general and endlessly ambitious, a recipe for stardom if ever there was one.
Hideyoshi has found an unlikely ally in Senno, the Tea Master. Senno is a fascinating chap – he loves black tea bowls because they suit his karma as a man always seeing imperfections in everything. Once the imperfections were gone only the pure black would remain. He sees in Hideyoshi a chance to bring his aesthetic to the ascendancy, and he keeps Hideyoshi’s secrets close to the vest.
For Sosuke, frustration sets in as he realizes that he can only climb so high in Oda’s organization – that Oda’s three sons and brother will always overshadow him, even as he tries to stand out as he did during Oda’s parade through Kyoto to demonstrate his might to the Emperor and the people. Even with Hideyoshi as a seeming ally Sosuke is strictly a bit player in the larger game – shuttled off to prepare tea with Senno’s haughty disciple while the grown-ups share treasonous secrets. Fortunately for him, I think Sosuke amuses Oda – that the Demon Lord appreciates there’s something different and unique about this low-level Daimyo.
In this world, the game of power and the quest for beauty are inexorably linked. I fear the exquisite dance of life at the highest circle of Japanese society will never be truly accessible to a non-Japanese like me – the rituals, the coded language, the rigid social structure that Hideyoshi is trying to overcome. It’s a great pleasure, though, to see this series peel away some of the layers of mystique that surround the dance – shedding light on it with its absurd and unique spin on life in the epicentre of Japanese society.