Hyouge Mono – 13-14

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There’s no denying it – these two episodes of Hyouge Mono were pretty darn spectacular.

As I’ve said before, it’s almost a shame that the death of Oda and the struggle that followed didn’t actually play out this way, because it’s an amazingly interesting take on Sengoku-era Japanese history.  Dedicated to the downfall of the would-be rebel Akechi Mitsuhide, there was a harsh beauty to these episodes – fitting indeed that they should have ended with poetry cut short by the cruelty of war, because that subject – the “fork joining the warrior and the aesthete” – is very much the heart and soul of what this series is.

It’s ironic that Sosuke ended up pledging his forces to Hideyoshi’s cause, because Akechi was the closest thing to what Sosuke himself aspires to be – a warrior aesthete.  I kept waiting for the series to put an ironic spin on Akechi, but it never really came – he (Hyouge Mono’s version anyway) was a transparent figure.  Akechi was an honorable man who felt forced into rebelling by his distaste for what Oda was doing – and of course, he was goaded into it by Hideyoshi as well.  That transparency was Akechi’s downfall, the reason Hideyoshi correctly saw him as a useful took to serve his ends, and the reason he was strategically outflanked at every turn.

It was Tokugawa Ieyasu – a supporting player here, but arguably the most important man in modern Japanese history – who summed it up best when he said that Akechi wanted to pacify Japan, while Hideyoshi wanted to subjugate it.  It was the shared sense of moralism that caused Ieyasu to finally decide to fight for Akechi with his army of 15,000 men, despite the best advice of his generals that it was a losing cause.  But his decision and his help came too late, as Hideyoshi – with the benefit of the fact that his preparations had been underway since long before he killed Milord – already had an army of 40,000 marching on Kyoto.  His own force outnumbered by more than double, Akechi never really had a chance.

It was Akechi who realized first that he’d been duped, that there was no chance that Hideyoshi could have been so well-prepared for the struggle ahead unless he’d planned everything from the beginning.  His mind flashed back to where mine did, the astonishing scene where Hideyoshi cut himself in order to shed tears of purity in inferring that he wanted nothing more than to serve an Akechi that ruled Japan in Oda’s place.  Sosuke found out too, but only because Yasuke – Oda’s bodyguard who had saved him in the ruins of the burned Tenno-ji from Akechi’s men – stumbled across the wounded Sosuke on the battlefield and revealed the truth of it.

Sosuke’s reaction to this was fascinating.  After an initial shock of betrayal and dismay once he realized that Yasuke was correct, what most bothered Sosuke was that he felt no outrage against Hideyoshi, no thirst to revenge himself for Oda’s death.  Indeed, I suspect he admired the cunning and thoroughness that went into Hashiba’s plan, though he hated himself for it.  He went on a battlefield rampage, then as an act of casting shame on himself, shaved his own head.  Pressed into service by Hideyoshi to appraise the masterpieces he hoped to save from Akechi’s soon  to be conquered Sakamoto Castle, Sosuke finds himself for the first time unmoved by the aesthetics of the pieces – all bar the one ancient and rough-hewn piece of stoneware that touches his aesthetic sensibility in his current state of mind (and reignites his greed).  Alas, it’s broken in a final act of defiance by Akechi’s doomed brother in law.

The scenes chronicling Akechi’s final hours were some of the finest and most gut-wrenching you’ll see in any anime. I was especially moved by the depiction of Akechi, with his four most trusted men, dining on a meager meal of boiled hemp rope and miso – a meal Akechi gives a sort of beauty to with the addition of pond stones and flowersAkechi’s smile at the sheer delight of his men at this simple pleasure, as their doom closed in on them, was sad and beautiful and I won’t soon forget it.  A last desperate attempt to flee to Enryaku-ji on Mt. Hiei, engineered by the elder monk in a desire to have a seasoned warrior lead the monastery, is foiled when monks who disagreed with sheltering a former disciple of Oda (who had burned the temple) ambushed the fleeing party, and Akechi took a fatal spear blow in protecting the younger of the monks in his group.  With a last thought of the troubles he’d subjected his wife to, the dying Akechi offered the first two lines of a haiku, then stated simply “My passing needs no final verse” and expired.

I would adjudge the death scenes of Akechi and Oda to be the finest of any anime I’ve seen in the last year, and perhaps a good deal longer than that – though for very different reasons.  It’s a shame this series is so little-known, because every time I return to it I’m struck by just how astonishingly good the writing is.  The subtlety here blows pretty much any other series out of the water, and Hyouge Mono is capable of absurd humor, grim cruelty, and in the case of these episodes true beauty and sadness.  I’ll be very curious to see how Sosuke reconciles what he now knows with his service to Hideyoshi, who emerges more and more as a man as heartless as he is cunning.  There seems to be a growing sense of morality in Sosuke the more of understands of the world he inhabits, and the true difficulty in trying to join the life of an aesthete with that of a warrior.  I suspect his overarching desire to become a Lord at any cost will no longer serve to satisfy him, though he’ll try very hard to convince himself otherwise.

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  1. D

    This is an excellent series, and really it's the kind of show people ought to be shouting about from the rooftops as an example of how good Anime can be.
    It masterfully blends comedy, drama, and tragedy and always seems to get the balance right.

  2. L

    Those faces, lol!

    But as much as I'd like to pick up a series with samurai, I don't really have the time. D:

    Enzo, what's the banner from?

  3. d

    Most likely that anime where some kid gets taken in by the mafia. Ahem, private army. Ahem, mercenaries. Ahem….

  4. e

    Jormungard ( I hope I spelled it right).

  5. Z

    Ah, Hyouge Mono; so good, yet so underrated…here is a show that literally throws all the conventions of its medium out of the window and tries to stand alone…and unfortunately, ends up pushing most of the audience out too. Remember what you said about UN-GO, Enzo? "Where's the audience for this show!?!" Same scenario here for Hyoge Mono, I'd say, and several magnitudes more severe too. I mean, at least UN-GO had people subbing it every week; Hyouge Mono is long-over and the subs aren't even halfway done…hell, even raws were hard to find at times…when you can't find raws, you KNOW a show is unpopular; such a pity, such an awesome show…

    Hyouge Mono is so distinct that I honestly don't think one could appropriately classify it within any of the typical anime genres. Aside from the fact that it's completely animated, the narrative style reminds of live-action (Chinese/Taiwanese/TVB) (Historical Drama) TV serials more than anything else. The more serious, faithful sort, of course, not the silly comic book-based ones; maybe one of those based on the Spring and Autumn period or the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (There was one of these back in 2010)…your typical Japanese otaku simply isn't accustomed to shows so mature, nuanced and divergent from the norm in narrative and art style…such a shame.

    On a side note, did you see Lupin's first episode? How would I describe it? Hmm…very sensual and gritty + your typical Lupin quirkiness; overall very refreshing? However, ep 1 is self-contained, short and sweet; wonder if they can maintain consistent quality…what did you think?

  6. Did not see Okada-Lupin yet. No subs I don't think.

    I asked that question when this show was announced, yeah – who's the audience? But I think it does have the ability to be surprisingly silly when it once to be, in addition to all that subtlety and layered content.

  7. Z

    The Chinese serials can be silly too at times; what's a show without some lighthearted moments, after all? What I meant to say was that the focus of shows like these and Hyoge Mono are on telling a historical story with a human touch by doing it through the perspectives of the various characters; this is what defines their genre; comedy does exist, but it isn't essential and has relatively little bearing on how good/bad shows like these actually turn out to be in the end. And your typical Japanese otaku simply isn't accustomed to shows with this sort of focus…

  8. e

    Episode #18 is out subbed by Doremi :). Every time I spot a release for this show I feel like I've spotted a unicorn. I hope the sub team can keep this on and that we'll manage to see the end someday…

  9. I plan to marathon the newly subbed eps at some point, but it's going to be a while before I find the time.

  10. e

    Ditto. And you never know, even a quick comment like the above could alert a new fan to the existence of this series. Last comments section power XD.
    Hang in there Enzo.

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