The inherent problem with this episode is pretty self-evident in that it features two very dicey prospects: Kaji Yuuki doing comedy and Kaji Yuuki doing drama. His “comedic” episode introductions have been the weakest part of the series generally speaking, but it was inevitable that after acting as the device to link all of the Ogura poems covered in the series, Fujiwara no Teika would be the subject of an episode himself – he’s considered one of the greatest Waka poets in history in addition to being remembered for his inestimable contributions as an anthologist.
This episode, like so many in this series, is a story of doomed love – two people in love who will never have the chance to be together thanks to the rigid social structure of the Heian era. In this case it’s Teika and Princess Noriko (Ohara Sayaka) known to posterity as Shokushi Naishinno. Teika is introduced as a 19 year-old – a rather immature and selfish brat making the life of his renowned poet father Shunzei (Ogawa Shinji) a living hell. Teika disdains poetry altogether until crossing paths with “outlaw poet” Saigyou (Ogawa Shinji), a kind of late-Heian Jack Kerouac who’s led many young men astray with his rogue poet/monk lifestyle, which at least turns Teika’s head on the subject of poetry itself – if not his father’s.
We’ve seen this story play out many times over the course of the series – Teika and Noriko are introduced (at her behest, as a favor to Shunzei), and fall in love under the guise of “pretending” to be lovers exchanging poems. Each of the pair has an entry in the Ogura which is interpreted as lament about this doomed romance (hardly surprising, as Teika was the one picking the poems). From the Princess:
And from Teika-san:
Of course, however broken up he was about his unrequited love for Noriko, Teika recovered well enough to father 27 children by several different women. And of course, to become arguably the most famous anthologist in the Japanese language. His importance goes beyond just the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu and this other poetic anthologies – he was also critical in popularizing The Pillow Book, The Tale of Genji, and other Heian literature, and his influence at court even lingered into the Kamakura Period. The episode itself wasn’t as compelling as some of the other failed romances we’ve witnessed, but I don’t think the series could or should have concluded any other way.
On the whole, I think Utakoi was a successful series. The interpretation of The Hundred Poets has been going on for almost as long as the Ogura has been in existence, and it allows us to project our own imaginations into these brief passages to try and fill in the emotional blanks. That’s all the series is, really – one mangaka’s attempt to bring the Hundred Poets to life. There were distractions – the very low-rent animation, for one, and the sometimes painfully awkward attempts to infuse modern humor into the stories for another. As with any episodic show some episodes or arcs were markedly stronger than others. But where Utakoi succeeds is in showing the timelessness of human emotions, and how little we’ve changed as individuals even as our society itself has been reshaped countless times. There may not be a lot of historical accuracy in some of these stories, but there’s emotional accuracy in most of them – and if they do anything to bring attention to the poems themselves, so much the better. Now – stay tuned for Chihayafuru Season 2 in January, and more of Kana-chan’s interpretations of the works in question.