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EP. REVIEW: The Heike Story


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Hiroki not Takuya



Joined: 17 Apr 2012
Posts: 1913
PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2021 11:56 pm Reply with quote
Maybe I'm a little dense, but this episode impressed upon me why the anime is written as it is. Biwa had to be taken in by the Shigemore family to experience life for a while with them to realize that there are many Heike who are good and kind. This was done to make her decision to stay with them to chronicle their lives and deaths believable even though she hated that can't change their fates. She feels that they reserve to be remembered in perpetuity for the good people they were who did not deserve their awful fates while recording the evil others in the clan did to place blame firmly where it belonged. I think this makes for a particularly powerful writing construction as we get to appreciate Biwa's choices. The most natural choice for a person in her place otherwise would be to run and never look back and most certainly never mention you had anything to do with them.
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Electric Wooloo



Joined: 19 Aug 2020
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 17, 2021 4:55 pm Reply with quote
The imagery this episode, even in just the first few minutes, is quite striking. Koremori's sweat transforming into a drop of blood as he remembers the battle of Kurikara. The moon between the twisted branches as we transition to Shigehira spoiler[(Signifying either him being captured or him being one of the last upstanding members of the heike surrounded by rot on all sides)], the fires near the end during the Battle of Yashima. Not to mention the clear framing of Koremori against the sun so as to appear as a Bodhisattva spoiler[ right before he commits suicide ]

Yoritomo being manipulated by Hojo Masako foreshadowing the soon to be established Shogunate becoming a Hojo puppet was also quite nice. I'm expecting one hell of a song next week.

I am wondering what is exactly was meant by "Shigehira is like the Tree Peony"? It was used to refer to him and as a warning by Masako about leaving him alive, and I believe it was shown earlier when Tokiko was speaking about trading the Imperial Treasures for him, but I'm not familiar enough with the Heike Monogatari itself or Flower Language to know exactly what that was meant to signify.

As an aside, I noticed in the OP this week that a scene of the two seagulls and a flute follow immediately after a snapshot of Kiyotsune enjoying his family life with his brothers. That hit pretty hard.
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SaneSavantElla



Joined: 25 Jan 2013
Posts: 136
PostPosted: Thu Nov 18, 2021 3:43 am Reply with quote
Electric Wooloo wrote:

I am wondering what is exactly was meant by "Shigehira is like the Tree Peony"? It was used to refer to him and as a warning by Masako about leaving him alive, and I believe it was shown earlier when Tokiko was speaking about trading the Imperial Treasures for him, but I'm not familiar enough with the Heike Monogatari itself or Flower Language to know exactly what that was meant to signify.

This actually came directly from the book. Shigehira was nicknamed the "botan" (tree peony) among his brothers, referring in particular to his talent with poetry and music. Depending on the color, botan has many meanings, some of them don't quite fit ("shyness" for one), but it also has meanings like "nobility", "status", "magnificence", "sincerity" and one English language source that says it means "bravery", though this I doubt very much as none of the Japanese sources corroborate it. Personally I interpret it as Yoritomo admiring Shigehira's dignified admission and confession of guilt in burning the Nara temples. He has his doubts executing him because he found him upright, despite being from the enemy clan.

As an aside, I was never really into flower language but Naoko Yamada's mystifying use of flowers throughout the show got me interested. Some examples other than the botan is the repeated (and obvious) use of the red tsubaki (camellia) to symbolize death. In flower language, it can mean "warrior's death" because it is said that camellias "behead" themselves as the entire flower falls from the neck. Of course, there's the white flower of the sala tree itself (a.k.a. the summer camellia, "natsu tsubaki") which symbolizes the Buddhist message of transience because the flower blooms and falls in just one day. It is interesting to note that when Shigemori died, the flower shown is the white summer camellia instead of the red camellia, as he had not died as a warrior.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 18, 2021 11:48 am Reply with quote
Another great episode.

The image that struck me was this.



Occurring at the end of the episode it acts, with Biwa standing at the prow of a ship as it heads into battle, as a defiant counterpoint to the catastrophic image from the beginning, as used by Rebecca. She has decided to stay with the Heike to the bitter end so she can later tell their story. Young Biwa then transforms into old Biwa before her white hair and red kimono erupt around her, presaging the violence of the battle that follows. They are the colours of the Genji and Heike banners and, as SaneSavantElla points out, the camellias used metaphorically throughout the series. (And, of course, the modern Japanese flag.)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Biwa is the genius of this adaptation. In a very 21st century approach, she is the fictional author of Heike Monagatari. The Taira may face extermination, but the tale will make them immortal. Biwa is their path to eternity. The warrior spirit in their hearts would be gratified. In that short transformational sequence she becomes kami-like.

I also want to give a shout out to Aoi Yuki as Biwa. The range of characters and voices she can muster is phenomenal. She recently voiced the title character of So I'm a Spider, So What?, which was a vocal tour de force. I don't normally pay attention to seiyuu, but I think she's the best thing since Megumi Hayashibara (except that, Megumi Hayashibara is still a thing).
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Princess_Irene
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 18, 2021 1:20 pm Reply with quote
That was my second choice image, for exactly the reason you said. (Third would have been a gif of the tear turning to blood.)

It's always a crap shoot when adding a new character to an established work of classic literature, but I agree - Biwa not only works, she's the history of the story brought to life.
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Electric Wooloo



Joined: 19 Aug 2020
Posts: 159
PostPosted: Thu Nov 18, 2021 2:55 pm Reply with quote
SaneSavantElla wrote:
Electric Wooloo wrote:

I am wondering what is exactly was meant by "Shigehira is like the Tree Peony"? It was used to refer to him and as a warning by Masako about leaving him alive, and I believe it was shown earlier when Tokiko was speaking about trading the Imperial Treasures for him, but I'm not familiar enough with the Heike Monogatari itself or Flower Language to know exactly what that was meant to signify.

This actually came directly from the book. Shigehira was nicknamed the "botan" (tree peony) among his brothers, referring in particular to his talent with poetry and music. Depending on the color, botan has many meanings, some of them don't quite fit ("shyness" for one), but it also has meanings like "nobility", "status", "magnificence", "sincerity" and one English language source that says it means "bravery", though this I doubt very much as none of the Japanese sources corroborate it. Personally I interpret it as Yoritomo admiring Shigehira's dignified admission and confession of guilt in burning the Nara temples. He has his doubts executing him because he found him upright, despite being from the enemy clan.

As an aside, I was never really into flower language but Naoko Yamada's mystifying use of flowers throughout the show got me interested. Some examples other than the botan is the repeated (and obvious) use of the red tsubaki (camellia) to symbolize death. In flower language, it can mean "warrior's death" because it is said that camellias "behead" themselves as the entire flower falls from the neck. Of course, there's the white flower of the sala tree itself (a.k.a. the summer camellia, "natsu tsubaki") which symbolizes the Buddhist message of transience because the flower blooms and falls in just one day. It is interesting to note that when Shigemori died, the flower shown is the white summer camellia instead of the red camellia, as he had not died as a warrior.


Thank you for the info! I had understood the jist of the symbolism with the Camelia but didn't know that was how the flowers actually die, that makes it even clearer. I had assumed that the Peony meant something like that, Shigehira had always struck me as the most "noble" or "honorable" family member after Shigemori, so it's nice to have a clear meaning behind the symbol.

I love Yamada's work here and especially in A Silent Voice, but the flower imagery has always been a bit out of my depth. Though honestly even without knowing exactly what the flowers are meant to represent their use in the scenes still conveys the message most of the time. Especially throughout this series with the repeated scenes of Camelia. Very interesting distinction between the red and white flowers that I didn't know/hadn't realized as well.

As another aside, was the blade Koremori was musing over multiple times this episode the Tachi that was given to him in episode 4 as Shigemori entrusted him with keeping Kiyomori in check?

It seems too short to be the same sword from that scene, but I find it odd that it was focused on so much if it wasn't. Though with the stylized butterfly of the Heike on the sheath it's still clearly symbolizing him turning his back on the clan. Just curious if anyone who has read the original knows if it's the same sword, or for that matter if the scene in episode 4 even happens in the original!
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Neko-sensei



Joined: 19 Jan 2007
Posts: 264
PostPosted: Fri Nov 19, 2021 6:07 am Reply with quote
Please forgive me if the following doesn't make much sense—I'm in the hospital after a minor operation this week and the painkillers are doing whatever the opposite of "wonders" is for my lucidity. I'm loving all the input from those with flower knowledge this week! Thank you!
Electric Wooloo wrote:

As another aside, was the blade Koremori was musing over multiple times this episode the Tachi that was given to him in episode 4 as Shigemori entrusted him with keeping Kiyomori in check?

It's not the same blade; in the anime, it could be the same dagger he was wearing at the Fuji Marshes and when he was challenged by Yoshinaka, but in doesn't look like it to me. In the text, there's no moment in which Koremori considers suicide by the blade; we simply read "he at last rid himself of his hair." (There is a moment during Koremori's pilgrimage to his eventual end in which he, the monk Takiguchi, and his servants spot riders coming towards them: "Assuming that the riders would seize them, he and his party put their hands to their daggers, ready to slit their bellies; but although the riders indeed approached, they showed no signs of threatening violence. Instead they dismounted in haste, bowed low, and passed on by." The riders turn out to be local men loyal to the Heike; their leader tells his men, "I wanted to go up and greet him, but I was afraid to embarrass him, so I just passed on by. What a pathetic sight he makes." However, I don't think this moment inspired the visual symbolism of the knife he uses to cut his hair.)

As for the scene in episode 4, yes, it's straight from the original—in fact, Book 3, Section 12, "The Sword of Mourning," deals entirely with the incident (and with the prophetic dream Shigemori has also in episode 4). It's a great passage:
Shigemori spoke again: "Now, Sadayoshi, the gift!"
Sadayoshi obediently brought out a sword in a brocade bag.
"Oh!" said Koremori to himself as he watched. "This must be Kogarasu, the heirloom sword of our house!" But no, it was plain and unadorned, the kind worn for a minister's funeral.
Koremori paled and considered it with evident distaste. His father shed bitter tears.
"Listen to me, Koremori," he said. "Sadayoshi has made no mistake.
You may wonder how this can be.
The sword before you is a plain one, for the funeral of a minister.
I have kept it with me in case anything should happen to Lord Kiyomori,
but I will soon precede him, so it is yours."
His words struck Koremori dumb;
the least answer was beyond him.
Choked with tears, he collapsed, facedown,
and that day never went to court;
instead he lay still beneath a robe.

The import of the Sword of Mourning in the original is simply to demonstrate Shigemori's ability to see into the future, as well as to reinforce the bond between him and his son and to establish Koremori as someone prone to taking things hard. Interestingly, Koremori does eventually receive Kogarasu, the heirloom sword, and one of his last requests is that the sword go to his son Rokudai.

I was most interested in Rebecca's words about Koremori's drowning this week, as I loved the anime's elegiac presentation of the sequence, but the source of Koremori's decision seems to be a little different than it is in the text. Originally, Koremori's abandoned wife and children receive much more attention than they do in the anime (in fact, his son Rokudai's story is the very last told in the main narrative), and his attachment to them is a primary motivator for his decision:
Although in the flesh at Yashima,
in spirit Lord Koremori wandered off time and again to the capital.
The wife and children he had left there were ever present to him.
Not for a single moment did he forget them.
"My life means nothing without them," he said to himself.

Since it's impossible for him to be reunited with his family in this world, Koremori seeks out Takiguchi to take vows and leave the world... but to become a monk is to renounce all worldly attachments, and Koremori is incapable of forgetting his wife and children. Thus caught in an irreconcilable conflict between his triple duties (to his clan, his family, and his faith), Koremori decides that ritual suicide is the best way to go. (His death is rather reminiscent of the "Fudaraku Tōkai," a suicidal ocean journey taken by the monks of Fudarakusan-ji to find a mythical land without death or suffering. In fact, he explicitly mentions Mount Fudaraku during his pilgrimage.)

The original also spends a much longer time (5 full sections!) following Koremori and his band on his final pilgrimage, so we have a very good notion of his mental state. When Takiguchi first asks him why he's come, Koremori replies,
"With the others I left the capital and went down to the provinces of the west,
but I missed my children too much to ever forget them.
I suppose it was all too obvious that I had dark worries on my mind,
because Lord Munemori and Lady Nii suspected me of divided loyalties, like Yorimori,
and they took care to keep me at a distance.
Life lost all meaning for me, and I could bear it no longer.
So I fled Yashima and made my way here.
If only I could somehow follow the mountains back to the city and be together again with those I love! But the awful fate of Lord Shigehira makes that impossible. I might as well renounce the world here and extinguish my life in fire or water. I did once solemnly vow, though, a pilgrimage to Kumano."

And so Koremori wants to discharge at least one duty by making his pilgrimage before his death. His loss of himself is expressed in one of my favorite passages in the entire text:
"This is what is left of me,"
the unhappy Koremori said,
tears starting from his eyes:
"Like that unhappy Himalayan bird
(the one that only cries and cries)
I tell myself, 'I must! I must
today, today or tomorrow!"

(The kanku-chō's thought process is definitely a universal thing...) In fact, this whole section is filled with superb passages; instead of continuing my quotations, I can only urge you to check it out for yourselves!

As a side note, I was blown away by Fūga Yamashiro's storyboarding and direction in this episode! Clearly Science Saru is doing something right in their staff training, since he's only directed a handful of episodes for them previously but makes an immediate impression with his (very Yamada-complementary) heavy emphasis on layering. His juxtaposition of foreground and background elements throughout the episode—the kimono of the woman playing with Antoku wiping blue across Tokuko's quiet face! The butterfly on Koremori's hand, existing in another layer from the man's tormented reality! The bars in front of Shigehira in bondage, with the arrows in the layer behind!—is nothing short of genius; I think my personal favorite shot (impossible to capture in a still image) is the one introducing Shizuka's band in Kyoto: we cut from the blazing sun representing Koremori's passage to a set of bamboo blinds screening the brightness of the day, and then that screen is further screened as Shizuka holds her silk up in front of the light to inspect it! In terms of pure visual flair, it doesn't get much better than this.


PS: It's interesting to me that Masako plays such an important role in this adaptation—she's basically making Yoritomo's decisions for him—when she doesn't actually appear at all in the source (although her father does)!
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Electric Wooloo



Joined: 19 Aug 2020
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 19, 2021 7:32 pm Reply with quote
Neko-sensei wrote:

It's not the same blade; in the anime, it could be the same dagger he was wearing at the Fuji Marshes and when he was challenged by Yoshinaka, but in doesn't look like it to me. In the text, there's no moment in which Koremori considers suicide by the blade; we simply read "he at last rid himself of his hair." (There is a moment during Koremori's pilgrimage to his eventual end in which he, the monk Takiguchi, and his servants spot riders coming towards them: "Assuming that the riders would seize them, he and his party put their hands to their daggers, ready to slit their bellies; but although the riders indeed approached, they showed no signs of threatening violence. Instead they dismounted in haste, bowed low, and passed on by." The riders turn out to be local men loyal to the Heike; their leader tells his men, "I wanted to go up and greet him, but I was afraid to embarrass him, so I just passed on by. What a pathetic sight he makes." However, I don't think this moment inspired the visual symbolism of the knife he uses to cut his hair.)


Glad to know more about the original. I don't believe Koremori was contemplating suicide by blade in the anime either, just that that scene was inserted as a clean visual metaphor for him cutting ties with the Heike as he physically cuts his hair.

Coming at this series as a major history buff it's been extremely rewarding and I look forward to picking up the Royall translation next month to thumb through, but until then thank you for the snippets granting more insight into the text! In an 11 episode adaptation you of course can't (And I would argue shouldn't) show everything, but seeing what was left out or reduced is almost as important as what was included.

Hope your time in the hospital goes well Neko.
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Electric Wooloo



Joined: 19 Aug 2020
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 24, 2021 2:45 pm Reply with quote
An enormous amount of flower imagery this week showing Naoko Yamada's handiwork. An expected but beautiful ending. Most definitely my anime of the year. Seeing Kumagai as a monk in the ending holding Atsumori's flute and spoiler[ the surprise shot of Koremori surviving ] made me tear up a bit.

Now that it's over I only wish I could share this series with more of my friends without likely needing a powerpoint presentation to assist with all of the characters and relationships Laughing


Last edited by Electric Wooloo on Fri Nov 26, 2021 4:24 pm; edited 1 time in total
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AQuin1904



Joined: 13 Nov 2021
Posts: 14
PostPosted: Wed Nov 24, 2021 5:35 pm Reply with quote
This series has made me interested to read the modern-Japanese version of Heike Monogatari by Furukawa Hideo that it was adapted from. I know it includes a foreword about the biwa minstrel tradition and some of the decisions he made, which I imagine would offer an interesting perspective on the anime as well.

I'd also love to see how his modern-language translation compares to the original writing he did in Heike Monogatari: Inuou no Maki, which recently got an anime adaptation as well (although I haven't had a chance to see it yet).
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ab2143



Joined: 09 Jan 2021
Posts: 425
PostPosted: Wed Nov 24, 2021 6:00 pm Reply with quote
What a journey it has been! Great finale.

One of my favourites from this season. Beautiful art and animation. OST was excellent too! The only criticism I have is that the pacing of the first couple of episodes made the show a bit difficult to follow. 8/10

Will get round to reading Royall Tyler's translation of the Tale of the Heike (been on my reading list for a long time) at some point.

Thank you so much for the weekly reviews, Rebecca. I really enjoyed reading them!
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Neko-sensei



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PostPosted: Wed Nov 24, 2021 9:59 pm Reply with quote
I'm afraid it's not exactly accurate to say that the Kanjō no Maki (the Initiates' Book) was a "later addition" to the narrative. Its content is actually included in every version of the story, but in most version it's scattered chronologically through the final chapters—Tokuko is captured and becomes a nun, she moves to her hermitage, she is visited by Go-Shirakawa, and she dies in separate places in the narrative.

The only major 14-century innovation of Akashi Kakuichi was to extract the Tokuko content from the post-Dan-no-ura sections of the narrative, heighten the Buddhist messaging, and give it its own chapter. He didn't so much add the Kanjō no Maki as he did arrange it. If you seek the English-language voice of authority on this matter, from Tyler's introduction:

"Above all, however, it is the thirteenth and concluding 'Initiates' Book' that makes the Kakuichi Heike unique. Other versions scatter the content of this book, chapter by chapter in roughly chronological order, through the material covered by Kakuichi's Book Twelve. They therefore end with the execution of Rokudai, the last scion of the Heike. So does the Enkyō-bon, apart from two concluding chapters on the death of Cloistered Emperor Go-Shirakawa and on the good fortune of Minamoto no Yoritomo. Only Kakuichi gathered this material into a separate, continuous story that ends his version and so becomes its trademark, as it were. The Initiates' Book was a 'secret piece' performed only by the most accomplished members of his guild. The 'initiates' of its title were presumably those who had received kanjō ('initiation,' properly a religious term) as masters in his line."
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Princess_Irene
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 25, 2021 6:39 am Reply with quote
Neko-sensei wrote:
I'm afraid it's not exactly accurate to say that the Kanjō no Maki (the Initiates' Book) was a "later addition" to the narrative. Its content is actually included in every version of the story, but in most version it's scattered chronologically through the final chapters—Tokuko is captured and becomes a nun, she moves to her hermitage, she is visited by Go-Shirakawa, and she dies in separate places in the narrative.


Yes, I did phrase that poorly, and the more accurate description is as you say. I originally had a long comparison with 1001 Nights and the way that Aladdin and The Voyages of Sinbad were, in many scholars' opinions, added to later versions of the text although they were extant on their own prior to inclusion, but then it felt like a pretty major detour and I cut it from the review. Clearly I could have done that better!
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SaneSavantElla



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PostPosted: Thu Nov 25, 2021 7:55 am Reply with quote
I knew how the events at Dan-no-Ura would play out so I was plenty surprised when my tears started rolling as the men, arm-in-arm, started jumping out of the boats, and again at the end while Biwa and Shigemori recite the first verse.

Again it's the little things that elevate the adaptation. Biwa braiding Tokuko's hair might as well be the reason she was saved - the text is explicit in mentioning she was pulled out because her hair was caught by a rake. Biwa is seemingly unaware of it, as she was genuinely afraid for Tokuko when she jumped, despite knowing that she would survive.

Also the reveal of the butterfly on Tokuko's hand after the scene pans over the goshiki no ito seems to imply that the Taira clan, through Tokuko, is given direct passage to the pure land. Or maybe, that they are simply watching over Tokuko up until her passing. It's a powerful finale, and one that invites you to relive the story again as the fallen camellias rewind back in time to buds and to the beginning of the tale.

I'm sure there is plenty more symbolism - the episode is peppered with flowers from start to finish, but as the credits finally rolled I'm as blank and speechless as the Genji watching the warriors who ultimately chose death over capture.
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KitKat1721



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PostPosted: Thu Nov 25, 2021 11:30 am Reply with quote
What a stunning, gorgeous show. I feel like I have a lot of immediate thoughts concerning the finale (particularly Biwa’s transformation, Tokuko’s fate after the battle, etc…) but for now I just want to let the specific imagery of the finale stick with me for a bit before trying to dissect it all haha. Wonderful weekly reviews as well Rebecca! They added a lot of extra context and things to think about with each episode and I really enjoyed reading them every week!
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