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EP. REVIEW: The Heike Story


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Errinundra
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Joined: 14 Jun 2008
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Location: Melbourne, Oz
PostPosted: Fri Oct 29, 2021 11:51 pm Reply with quote
I've been reading the Royall Tyler translation this last week and I've now caught up with the series (I then re-watched the first six episodes to help my understanding.)

The big, big difference between the two is that the anime concentrates very much on the Taira clan and their close relationships, particularly with the cloistered emperor. Other characters and events get a more cursory treatment. That approach is both a plus and a negative. It allows the anime to concentrate on what's important - the central characters, their behaviours and their relationships with each other. The translated original is more detached. (I love the sardonic one liners that conclude many of the individual chapters.)

The down side is that some of the major events get insufficient back story to properly grasp their cause and significance, ie the exiling of Shunkun and others to a remote island has profound reasons and repercussions but is treated so perfunctorily in the anime that it seems superfluous. Likewise, the history of rivalry between the various factions of monks, along with their political manoeuvrings with the powerful warlord families is largely omitted, thereby reducing the impact that the burning of the temples might have had.

The genius of the series, along with the artwork, is the addition of Biwa. Her ironic observations along with her abilities to see the future and, thanks to the gift from the spirit of Shigemori, to see the ghosts of the victims of Kiyomori, is our window into the tale. She transforms a musty, peripherally interesting history into a modern form that, thanks to anime conventions she introduces, makes the tragedy accessible to a twenty first century audience. Her expulsion from the Taira clan removes her as a first-hand witness, leaving me curious as to what the point of view will be, and what will be emphasised, in future episodes.

I'm constantly reminded of another historical anime, Hyouge Mono. Both can be arcane, with elements of the epic, tragic and ironic. The anime version of The Heike Story lacks the excoriating satire that mercilessly, and deservedly, skewers the similarly violent warlords of Hyouge Mono. That rhetorical emphasis, along with the space that 39 episodes provides, is crucial to its shattering conclusion. The Heike Story, it seems to me, will depend on our, more conventional for anime, emotional response to the characters' individual tragedies, especially Tokuko (as flagged in Biwa's visions). Any such difference would be due partly to the source material of each but also the predilections of the two directors. Koichi Mashimo was notable for his leg-pulling, absurd irony, ie Irresponsible Captain Tylor. Naoko Yamada has a more contemporary and moe-influenced approached, but not without its own degree of irony, ie A Silent Voice. In Biwa we get a modern anime sensibility layered onto a classic of Japanese literature. Given how good a director Naoko Yamada is, I'm confident of an similarly powerful ending.

In short, I'm loving it. Not only for its intrinsic value, but also for introducing me to wider Japanese culture.
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Neko-sensei



Joined: 19 Jan 2007
Posts: 264
PostPosted: Sat Oct 30, 2021 12:56 am Reply with quote
Errinundra wrote:
I've been reading the Royall Tyler translation this last week and I've now caught up with the series (I then re-watched the first six episodes to help my understanding.)
I'm thrilled to see that others are doing this—it's aided my appreciation of the series immensely, and that translation is so fun to read. I admit that I've also been writing literally thousands of words about each episode each week, which has further helped my processing, but I'll spare you most of those words.

Your analysis is spot-on! (The side character I miss the most is Mongaku, who at least gets to be very weird in his single appearance in the adaptation, but whose abrupt three-section takeover of the original narrative had me in stitches. Casually keeping people's skulls in his pockets is the least hysterically surreal thing he does.) One, perhaps far-fetched, possibility for Biwa's future role is that spoiler[she'll make her way to Yoritomo's group in Kamakura, and when Shigehira is sent there after being captured she'll join him and Senju-no-mae in the biwa jam, after which Shigehira can bring her up to speed on the fate of the Heike]. That's how I would handle it, but it would require a much larger-scale rearrangement of material than this adaptation has previously attempted.

Thank you for the reminder about Hyouge Mono, an underwatched masterpiece! I wish this show were 39 episodes, or ideally, 339...

Errinundra wrote:
The down side is that some of the major events get insufficient back story to properly grasp their cause and significance, ie the exiling of Shunkun and others to a remote island has profound reasons and repercussions but is treated so perfunctorily in the anime that it seems superfluous. Likewise, the history of rivalry between the various factions of monks, along with their political manoeuvrings with the powerful warlord families is largely omitted, thereby reducing the impact that the burning of the temples might have had.


This is definitely true, but I think there's another important reason certain events have lost their impact in the adaption: although Yamada is doing an incredible job of conveying the tale's message about the ephemerality of life and the universal nature of sorrow, she's not interested in suffering to the same extent as the original. Although the primary thesis statement of Heike Monogatari is contained in its opening lines, it has a secondary thesis statement embedded in its whole approach that I particularly love. I might phrase it as:

"All suffering, no matter whose, is equally tragic. Suffering is suffering, even when it is happening to bad people."

This charitable philosophy holds true even when the people suffering are fools who brought it upon themselves, like Saikō and the exiles, or complete villains. The narrator of Heike Monogatari can deliver a half-dozen of those sardonic one-liners about someone's unrighteousness, but when it comes time for that person to pay the piper, their suffering is always depicted as a serious, terrible symptom of a broken world. You're never given the chance, as in a Hollywood movie, to rejoice over the demise of some love-to-hate bastard; you're always forced to read about the family they've left behind, or the good they did amongst the bad, or the hideous cruelty of their execution.

Since Yamada has, apart from the opening scene of the show, shied away from explicit depictions of violence, this theme is not really carried over from the original. Compare the detail in the passage describing the flight from the Fuji marshes in the original with the depiction in the anime (I've put the unadapted text in brackets):

In the middle of that same night,
something startled the waterbirds
that in colossal flocks frequented
the Fuji marshes; suddenly
all rose with a beating of wings
like thunder or the roar of a storm.
"Heaven help us!" the Heike cried.
"Here come the Genji!
[He had it right,
Sanemori, when he told us
they'd be coming around at our rear.
]
We can't let ourselves be surrounded!
[No, we have to escape from here
and dig in at the Owari River
and Sunomata!
]" With that they fled
pell-mell—
[too fast even to grab
their belongings. In the panic
one took his bow but forgot his arrows,
another his arrows but not the bow.
Some jumped onto others' horses;
some lost their own mounts the same way.
Some leaped onto tethered steeds
and rode endlessly around in circles.
From nearby establishments they had called in, for their pleasure,
courtesans and singing girls, whose desperate screams now rent the air,
for some were having their heads kicked in, some their backs broken underfoot.
]

The sequence starts off conceptually comedic, but the story immediately kills the laughter in our throats by foregrounding the suffering of the helpless prostitutes. We are never permitted to imagine human suffering in the abstract; we must experience it. I think the adaptation paradoxically risks blunting the compassionate nature of the Buddhist original by skipping over these and many, may other gruesome details. Without those details, many events that make a huge impact in the original seem oddly "light" in the anime.

Of course, this is not actually a "problem"; it's a conscious decision by Yamada and her team. Still, this deemphasis is for me the biggest difference between the two media.

I can't wait to see where this fantastic adaptation takes us next!
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Panino Manino



Joined: 28 Jan 2018
Posts: 691
PostPosted: Sat Oct 30, 2021 8:52 am Reply with quote
#7
The way things happen and time moves so fast makes this feels like a dream.
Personally I appreciate too much the narrative so far, with each episode things happened faster and faster, to the point where in this episode most of what we did see was just Kyomori getting angry with what happening and giving orders that caused more conflict, as always. At this point need we see more to understand the tragedy that Kyomori is? And now his is gone leaving behind a legacy of ashes...

Every episode wants to make me see more, and now Biwa left the Heike. Will this change the series? Will we only follow the story from the outside now, just by the things Biwa hear people saying?
Again, just makes me want to watch more.
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Princess_Irene
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Joined: 16 Dec 2008
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Location: The castle beyond the Goblin City
PostPosted: Sat Oct 30, 2021 9:01 am Reply with quote
Neko-sensei wrote:
I'm thrilled to see that others are doing this—it's aided my appreciation of the series immensely, and that translation is so fun to read. I admit that I've also been writing literally thousands of words about each episode each week, which has further helped my processing, but I'll spare you most of those words.


Agreed! And I'd read them - I'm enjoying all of your comments, especially since they touch on things I often have to cut from my reviews.

I also like the interpretation that Sukemori sent Biwa away to protect her better than how I initially read that scene. I have toyed with the thought that he likes her (in any interpretation of the emotion), and going with that, it would make a lot more sense.
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Errinundra
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Joined: 14 Jun 2008
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Location: Melbourne, Oz
PostPosted: Sat Oct 30, 2021 10:18 am Reply with quote
Neko-sensei wrote:
...I think there's another important reason certain events have lost their impact in the adaption: although Yamada is doing an incredible job of conveying the tale's message about the ephemerality of life and the universal nature of sorrow, she's not interested in suffering to the same extent as the original. Although the primary thesis statement of Heike Monogatari is contained in its opening lines, it has a secondary thesis statement embedded in its whole approach that I particularly love. I might phrase it as:

"All suffering, no matter whose, is equally tragic. Suffering is suffering, even when it is happening to bad people."


Your put that so well. Thanks for drawing my attention to that crucial difference in emphasis between the translated original and the anime.

Quote:
...some their backs broken underfoot.


When I first encountered that line I could hear the snapping bones in the very sound of the words used by Tyler in their translation. It has a savagery that shocked me. I wonder how the original Japanese sounds.

I also agree with earlier comments about the OP. It's awesome. The acceleration in the song's tempo gives it a joy and wonder at odds with the tone of the story. That's deliberate, of course, and all the better for it. It also suggests that the Taira family had a brighter side. They weren't simply monsters. If the anime can bring that out successfully, their coming demise will be all the more tragic.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Oct 30, 2021 10:27 am; edited 1 time in total
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Neko-sensei



Joined: 19 Jan 2007
Posts: 264
PostPosted: Sat Oct 30, 2021 10:25 am Reply with quote
Princess_Irene wrote:
I also like the interpretation that Sukemori sent Biwa away to protect her better than how I initially read that scene.

The key line in that scene is Biwa's affectionate, "I know Sukemori well." She understands that he's sending her off to protect her from the coming storm, but she also knows that belligerence is the only way he understands to protect anyone he cares about.

Sukemori keeps on calling Koremori a "coward" (in fact, in this scene he tells his older brother, "This is why you flee at the sound of waterfowl. Even if you knew, what could you do?") because he wants his brother to give up on military exploits—he doesn't want Koremori to die in battle. He runs down Kiyotsune's adolescent enthusiasms (e.g. "You sure packed light upstairs" and "I really envy your ability to empty your head out") for exactly the same reason: he's worried that the overly eager kid will run headlong into trouble and get himself killed. Note that he's the one in episode 6 who breaks off Kiyotsune and Atsumori's hero-worship of Shigemori's martial prowess with the complaint, "Did we come here to just flap our gums like that? Or to hear the flute?" Sukemori understands all too well that attempting to imitate Shigemori will only lead to tragedy, but he absolutely sucks at communicating his concern to the starry-eyed youths.

I love this adaptation's portrayal of poor Sukemori's inability honestly to convey concern for others (I may have suffered from a similar ailment as a teenager), and I'm very pleased that it made the decision to expand so significantly upon his depiction in the original.
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Electric Wooloo



Joined: 19 Aug 2020
Posts: 159
PostPosted: Wed Nov 03, 2021 1:01 pm Reply with quote
I really enjoyed the scenes in the later half as the Heike spoiler[ flee first the capital and then Fukuhara and how they contrast with the previous scenes in Fukuhara. Kiyomori's sons are getting some nice character development, while Atsumori continues to revel in a losing war. Picking up the thread of Biwa's missing mother is interesting and I'm not sure where it will go, but it makes sense considering last episode. ]

However for the first time I really felt the pacing was off this episode. The first half moves at a blistering pace and the animation during the spoiler[descent into Kurikara] was less than flattering, being just slowed down frames. This series has never been about action or the quality of the battles shown, but this time felt particularly lacking. There was roughly a 2 and a half year span covered this episode if I'm not mistaken, and while the show has had timeskips like this before and managed them well, I feel that the difference this time was there wasn't so much a skip as a lot of scenes crammed into a short period.

I'm still quite positive on the show as a whole, just this episode made me wish this was perhaps 13 episodes long instead of 11.
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Tanteikingdomkey



Joined: 03 Sep 2008
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 03, 2021 6:45 pm Reply with quote
So question, how is the translation in the dub? Is it better then the subs?
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Neko-sensei



Joined: 19 Jan 2007
Posts: 264
PostPosted: Wed Nov 03, 2021 9:38 pm Reply with quote
Electric Wooloo wrote:
However for the first time I really felt the pacing was off this episode.

That's very interesting, as I strongly felt the pacing was off while watching episodes 5 and 7, but not during this episode. I think I can explain the difference:

5 and 7 both depicted critical turning points on the Heike's path to their expulsion from Kyoto, but those events occurred too quickly to have the impact I felt they warranted. Episode 8 adapts the "most" material so far (the entirety of Book 7, plus snippets from Books 6 and 8), but it simply compresses the many, many battles that comprise the majority of the material into the disaster at Kurikara Ravine. I felt this time that it managed to retain the essence of the omitted material (especially in Yoshinaka and Koremori's dueling self-introductions—a fabulous sequence!) while keeping its thematic focus tight. spoiler[The Heike's final departure from the capital hit with all the impact it needed to, since the adaptation focused on the families being torn apart... and cleverly deployed the cuteness of Emperor Antoku to tug at our heartstrings. I only wished that Koremori's farewell to his wife and children had gotten a bit more screentime.]

There was also a really glorious bit of narrative symmetry here, present in the original but very nicely highlighted by the adaptation's use of Biwa: spoiler[when the Heike overlords oppress the people of Kyoto, Biwa loses her father. When the new, plundering Genji overlords oppress the people of Kyoto, Biwa (perhaps) finds her mother. But both Heike and Genji wind up doing the exact same thing.] The Heike Monogatari understands all too well that all power corrupts; merely for a group to believe that "we are superior" invites abuse, even if that group has the very best intentions. Of course, in this story almost no one's intentions could really be described as "the best," so the cycle of suffering will continue.
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Electric Wooloo



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PostPosted: Thu Nov 04, 2021 2:25 pm Reply with quote
The Irony of the Heike setting the capital (Both of them!) literally on fire was not lost on me, as it's what they've been doing metaphorically all along under Kiyomori and now Munemori. The scene as they sailed away was extremely poignant and will probably stick with me for awhile.

Koremori's makeup as a metaphor for a persona he uses to deal with battle had not occurred to me, but makes sense on a rewatch with how the scene was given attention.

Even with my issues with the pacing mentioned earlier the suspense continues to build, and the pressure will have to be let out in the next few episodes to historically drastic effect. I wonder when and if Biwa will see her adoptive family again, and what will be left of them if she does.
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KitKat1721



Joined: 03 Feb 2015
Posts: 636
PostPosted: Thu Nov 04, 2021 10:00 pm Reply with quote
Tanteikingdomkey wrote:
So question, how is the translation in the dub? Is it better then the subs?

Plays it pretty close to the subs from what I can tell, but only Ep 1 has been released and its been a while since I've seen the premiere subbed. A fair amount of the Japanese terms are kept in tact and the actual singing is unchanged, which is pretty expected for both a simuldub and something more involved & tied to a specific culture or history. Ultimately probably too early to tell, but I assume with this type of project they're going to play it pretty safe with the translation/liberties (vs like, a gag comedy or action-oriented series).

I do trust Mike McFarland as an ADR director a lot given his resume and range of genres/styles of dubs, and Xanthe Huynh (Biwa), Suzie Yeung (Tokuko), and John Gremillion (Shigemori) sound fitting so far. I do hope the dub clears up some of the translation complaints (the "grandfather" vs "uncle" error, making the three emperor distinctions more clear, etc...), which tends to happen with another team of eyes looking at a series, but time will tell.
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Covnam



Joined: 31 May 2005
Posts: 2730
PostPosted: Thu Nov 04, 2021 11:10 pm Reply with quote
As I'm reading The Elusive Samurai, it was interesting to see Tomoe brought up as one of the characters recently mentioned her as a role model
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Hiroki not Takuya



Joined: 17 Apr 2012
Posts: 1913
PostPosted: Sat Nov 06, 2021 12:31 pm Reply with quote
Tanteikingdomkey wrote:
So question, how is the translation in the dub? Is it better then the subs?
Like KitKat1721 I find the critical choices for Biwa and Shigamori excellently cast, though that for Kiromori sounded gentler than the Japanese VA so took away a little of the menacing undercurrent. The choice for Go-Shirakawa wasn't the best I think as he acted it much more strongly and violently so I am hoping that mellows, otherwise it will take away a lot of what I would call the foppishness of the Japanese which helped to contrast with the conniving undercurrent. That for Koremori was great and I think better than the Japanese as they captured his nature better. Regardless, all were very well acted technically and overall I think it is being handled quite well. There was some problem with the song subtitles this Ep though as they missed some verses from the sub which were critical to understanding.
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Electric Wooloo



Joined: 19 Aug 2020
Posts: 159
PostPosted: Wed Nov 10, 2021 2:27 pm Reply with quote
There's a lot to say about this episode, but nothing concrete is coming to mind except that it's certainly the best episode of the season and has my favorite musical segment.

I knew this was coming from episodes ago, but I still cried at the ending.

On another note...spoiler[I had thought that Biwa in the earlier musical segments was blind, and this episode more or less confirms it. Raises 2 questions personally. Is it self inflicted or genetic as both of her parents were or went blind as well? And does being blind stop her eyes from working?]
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Neko-sensei



Joined: 19 Jan 2007
Posts: 264
PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2021 7:34 am Reply with quote
Yup, this one was phenomenal. It covered two full Books, but proved that it's possible to condense heavily without sacrificing impact.

I was particularly tickled that they introduced Shizuka, the leader of the shirabyōshi troupe. She is a character in the original, but a bit later on and in a very different context! I won't give any spoilers here, but I very much hope that the anime brings her back for her role in the Kyoto endgame.

That said, I wished that we had learned about Kumagai's son here. In the original, another Genji named Kajiwara and his son Genda fight in the same battle as Kumagai and his son, and there is a very good passage describing Kajiwara's desperate and hopeless search for Genda amidst the slaughter. It's worth quoting as it sets the archetype for the later death of Atsumori:
Without a single thought for himself,
Kajiwara searched only for Genda,
meanwhile racing, cutting, slashing
backward and forward, left and right,
until he found him: Genda, at last,
helmet slumped back over his shoulders,
horse shot from beneath him, fighting on foot
backed up against a twenty-foot cliff,
five attackers around him, on each side
one man of his own, eyes fixed ahead,
giving his all to fight his last fight.
Seeing him like that, still alive,
Kajiwara dismounted in haste.
"Here I am," he cried, "your father!
Listen, Genda! Die if you must,
but never show your back to the foe!"
Father and son slew three attackers
and wounded two. "For a warrior,
advance and retreat each has its time.
Come, Genda!" said Kagetoki.
He took his son up onto his mount
and got away. This is what they mean
by "Kajiwara's double attack."

This is a particularly clever way to highlight both the bonds between warrior fathers and warrior sons, fresh in Kumagai's mind when he sees Atsumori's face, and to model the correct behavior of a young warrior, so the audience knows what to expect when Kumagai challenges Atsumori. Sadly, Atsumori's father is not there to save him.
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