Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi – 10, 11
「名古曽の滝 大納言公任」 (Nakoso no Taki Dainagon Kinto)
“Nakoso Falls Dainagon Kinto”
Will there ever be a happy end to any of these love stories? Yukinari and Nagiko’s tale saw its end this week, bringing with it a myriad of bittersweet, melancholy feelings and words left unsaid. There is something just so utterly despondent about Yukinari’s exhaustion with his life as he looks back on it and realizes the turns he took has shifted him away from the philosophy he upheld. His desire to return to the past is tangible, and there are some great shots to illustrate the extent of his dissatisfaction and vulnerability. I was especially impressed with these two frames since they really portray the emotions of the scene in a pitch-perfect manner – the dialogue, the soundtrack, and the visuals all come together to give viewers that extra punch. There’s nothing gloriously outstanding about those two shots, but the use of body language is a clever device that conveys more than spoken words can. Uta Koi has never really used complicated animations or excessive movements, but in this episode, shots were chosen rather well and the composition of the visual elements bolstered the effectiveness of each key scenes.
One other noteworthy scene is the final farewell between Yukinari and Nagiko. What a wonderful echo back to her parting with Sanetaka, only this time, it is layered in a more positive note. It is an agreed goodbye, with both parties acknowledging equally the conclusion to their relationship. There is a distinct lack of feeling “left behind” so to speak, and their final scene together at least leaves some hope the friendship is rekindled and will remain. I find this a rather satisfactory ending for them and although it’s rather melancholy in a romantic sense, their relationship has never been framed as a straightforward love story. It’s more of two adults seeking solace in one another’s company, which doesn’t necessarily require romantic undertones.
Nagiko’s words about memories are poignant, although I’m not sure I completely agree with her assessment they are meant to propel one towards the future. The sentiment is certainly nice, and that’s what memories should do – but more often than not thoughts of the past are what trap people in an inescapable present. I do think her way of thinking is a more optimistic and a much healthier approach to dealing with the experiences we can’t quite leave behind; it’s not good to stay tied to the past. Eventually, we have to learn to let go of the memories and move on. Quite often though, it’s difficult to find the courage to do so.
「香子と藤子 紫式部」 (Kaoriko to Fujiko Murasaki Shikibu)
“Kaoriko and Fujiko Murasaki Shikibu”
For those who expected yuri, I’m sorry, but Uta Koi is probably not going to satiate your desire for some girl-on-girl action. Lady “Murasaki” Shikibu, or Kaori (Kobayashi Yuu) certainly does tease the audience with the mention of a “forbidden love”, but with the way it is portrayed in the episode, it’s rather difficult to consider it as romantic love when a much plausible explanation seems to be a deep respect coupled by an intense friendship. I’m not sure what the historical accounts say, but the show itself seems to imply a more platonic relationship between Kaori and Fujiko (Kitamura Eri). It did seem like Uta Koi was skirting around the issue though, not quite willing to paint it as a friendship but not quite bold enough to outright declare it romantic love. As a result, it ends up in limbo, and I’m not quite sure how I’m supposed to view their relationship.
There is quite a lot of pondering about gender roles at play, and the casting of the two women is actually something worth noting. Kobayashi Yuu has a distinct voice that is quite naturally lower in pitch when compared to seiyuu like Hanazawa Kana, Horie Yui or Kayano Ai, which lends a more “masculine” feel. She’s certainly capable of voicing girly girls, but Kobayashi is on her home turf voicing characters like Setsuna (Negima franchise) or Nice (Baccano!) – characters that don’t adhere to the stereotypical feminine roles. Her voice here contrasts sharply with Kaori’s appearance, but perhaps that’s the point. The discord is an intentional one I believe, since it plays heavily into the internal conflict Kaori has with herself. Her desires are all of a man’s – her thirst for knowledge, and her wish to marry her childhood friend – they all stem from an identity issue brought on by something she can’t change. Born a woman, she is seemingly confined to the boundaries set by her gender. But in some ways, through her writing, Kaori has freed herself from that prison. Instead, the one most affected by the walls of gender expectations is Fujiko, who seemed so free during childhood. I find Kitamura Eri’s performances lukewarm at best most of the time not because she’s bad, but because she possesses that certain high-pitched voice that I find is quite easy to consider grating. However, she’s aptly cast as Fujiko here, capturing that free-spirited willfulness Fujiko has as a young girl. Kitamura also handles the adult Fujiko surprisingly well and even though the tone she uses for the role is defeated and demure, there is an undercurrent of muted vivacity that lets the audience know the old Fujiko hasn’t completely disappeared. What this does is add a tragic flair to her character since the dichotomy between past Fujiko and present Fujiko is so apparent – it drives home the effect her subservience to societal expectations had on her.
One interesting trend I felt since the last week is how the poems are being used and their context within the episodes. The presentation has changed from the past episodes, with the verses becoming more integrated to the point of being part of the dialogue as opposed to a consequence resulting from the events of the story. Last week’s poem especially had very little to do with Yukinari and Nagiko – there is, arguably, a thematic connection… but it’s very difficult to consider it related to anything romantic since the verse deals with the idea of subsisting throughout the ages even without a physical presence. I suppose the notion of “memories” ties the two things together, but they still remain very disparate from each other, which makes Kinto’s poem seem as if it was weaved into the story for the sake of adding in a verse from the Hyakunin Isshu rather than framing an actual story around the poem. It’s much similar here, with Kaori’s heartfelt letter to Fujiko shifted away from the spotlight in favor of establishing an overarching theme that doesn’t quite include the verse. While this is perfectly fine, it does seem like Uta Koi is drifting away from its original purpose: providing contextual scenario to the poems. Back in the previous arc, the verses called attention to themselves with what they meant to the characters and the underlying message was strongly connected to the theme of the stories – they were essentially snapshots, or closers, for each tale. With the mid-Heian arc, however, there is a bigger picture that somewhat includes the poems but doesn’t feature them in the forefront.