Heike Monogatari

Title:Heike Monogatari
The Heike Story
Keywords: , , , , , ,
Notables: Animation - Science SARU
After her father was callously murdered by underlings of the Heike/Taira clan, Biwa, a girl who can foresee the future through one of her differently colored eyes, takes her complaint to the top. She goes to Lord Shigemori, the clan heir, and predicts that disaster lies ahead for him and his family. Shigemori, who has been troubled by visions of soldiers who perished as a result of his actions in a recent war, takes Biwa seriously and would like nothing more than to have her warn him of upcoming calamities. He takes this orphan in, even though for now she refuses to look into the future.

11 episodes
OverallArtAnimationCharacter Design MusicSeries StoryEpisode StoryReviewer
Rent Stretch [series:4401#628]

(All episodes watched):

This was one of the first new shows to be released in the Fall 2021 season, but I took my time before actually watching it, because I wasn't sure I wanted a show with simple character designs set in Samurai era Japan. The complexity of the characters is usually indicative of the complexity of the plot, after all. And a story at ANN implied that anyone who wasn't familiar with traditional Japanese folklore might have a hard time making sense of it. But as it turned out, the premise was quite intriguing. Is Biwa (she has named herself after the musical instrument she enjoys playing) telling the truth about what she foresees for the Heike, or is she just screwing with them as a form of revenge? Shigemori seems like a responsible leader who is appalled to learn that his family's people murdered Biwa's father, and wants to do what he can do compensate her (though he wouldn't mind having a seer who can warn him of upcoming trouble). Tip: the white-haired girl who sings the stories of the Heike is Biwa in the future (I think). I was confused by comments made by Shigemori's father, the Heike leader, in the final scene, but this show which I had delayed watching for three weeks turned out to be great fun and I rushed to download whatever additional episodes had become available (there were already no less than six of them!).

The cast grows substantially in episode two and I hoped I would be able to keep track of who's who, because this was seeming like a neat show that would be well worth watching. Many shows have large casts of unmemorable and unnecessary characters, but here every character seems to exist for a justifiable reason. Biwa befriends Shigemori's daughter Tokuko, but has a premonition that something very bad may happen to her; she keeps this to herself. If it's possible to foresee the future, does that mean that all events are predestined--that is, even though they haven't happened yet, it has already been decided that they will? Who knows.

Shigemori seems to be about the only honest soldier/politician and often must clean up the messes that others make, much to his dislike. Many leaders are jealous of the Heike's wealth and influence and would like nothing better than to take it down a notch--or destroy it altogether. It sometimes seemed difficult to believe that major crises would appear out of nowhere so rapidly, and upset things when the situation had seemed so stable a few minutes before. Does the Heike deserve to be taught a lesson, or is it no different than any other clan except for the power it wields? I was surprised in episode four when a character who I had figured would be one of the most important ones of the series and would surely remain to the end (or near it) dies abruptly. This creates a sort of vacuum of leadership and it was a lot easier to see how things could all fall apart now. Who will be the most important characters now? I wish I had paid more attention to who's who.

Thankfully, the series is only 11 episodes long. It looks like Shigemori's brother Shigehara may be the most capable Heike leader and the clan's last hope for avoiding catastrophe (helpfully, the two look a lot alike). His father and other Heike bigwigs seem determined to provoke fights with every other leader and faction in Japan, which they do with reckless abandon. In almost every episode some excess by the Heike clan provokes some sort of rebellion, which the Heike mercilessly stamp out. Events move rapidly forward, maybe a little too rapidly, as characters come and go before we have time to really get to know them. But the main message is clear: you just know that one of these days the Heike will find that they have no friends left just when they need them. Their most determined leaders, both for good and for ill, fall and increasingly hapless ones are left in charge to handle a situation that is getting increasingly out of control. With her benefactor gone, Biwa is cast out--probably a stroke of good luck--and she goes looking for her missing mother.

The Heike suffer a crushing and humiliating military defeat. One by one, various characters meet their fates and there is a definite sense of tragedy--something which is missing from most dramatic anime. We get a sense of how the mighty have fallen, and how stupid and needless the fall was. Most aggravating, the one person who is most to blame for this debacle is already long gone and others must pay the price for his follies. Perhaps that's where a good deal of the tragedy comes from. This show had a powerful ending (based on an actual battle that occurred in 1185) which cemented its reputation as a truly noteworthy work.

Last updated Monday, December 27 2021. Created Friday, October 22 2021.

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