The power play continues. So long as the Taira have the 3 imperial treasures (a sword, a jewel, and a mirror), they hold onto some legitimacy over the throne. By demanding the return of those treasures, Retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa is seeking to strip them of the last remaining threads tying them to the throne, especially now that the Taira are on the run with Emperor Antoku.
I loved how they used the beautiful sunset colors, especially in the one scene with Koremori. It beautifully symbolized the hastening sunset of the Taira’s fortunes. Another poignant bit of symbolism they incorporated was the peony, which they frequently showed in the scenery shots and in conversation referencing Shigehira. In Japan, the peony represents good luck, courage, and conscientiousness-making it an apt symbol for the righteous, bold Shigehira. Shigehira’s conscientiousness shows through in acknowledging his and the Taira’s sins and accepting the karmic retribution for it, rather than trying to run away from it. The image of the light fading on the Taira’s fortunes was further accentuated by the scene of Koremori’s suicide occurring with the dimming twilight in the background.
Retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa is in his glory with the pesky Taira on the run. It is interesting how they incorporated symbolism in the background of Go-Shirakawa’s scenes with a gorgeous pheasant featured prominently on the walls. In Japanese mythology, the pheasant served as a messenger to the sun goddess Amaterasu, from whom the Japanese emperors are said to have descended from. As such, the pheasant in the background is a nice touch, emphasizing the link between Go-Shirakawa and by extent, the Fujiwara, with the imperial line.
Assailed on every side, the Taira are still not ready to give up. Desperation is starting to sink in, with Sukemori deigning to plead with Tokuko to intercede on his behalf with Go-Shirakawa to leave the Taira alone. This scene was not in the book but nonetheless, it conveys the escalating desperation the Taira are feeling as their fate comes closing in on them. Koremori sinking into utter despair showed a more intimate, personal side that the great, battle epic focused novel does not get into. However, by focusing so heavily on the mounting despair that Koremori and other of the Taira experience as the end draws near, it feels as if that is eclipsing the stalwart bravery and utter fierceness that I sensed from the characters in the novel. Skimming past or entirely skipping out major battle scenes also doesn’t help matters.
While I’m sure in real life, these historical figures must have experienced inner turmoil when they saw defeat looming, I do prefer the boldness with which they are portrayed in the novel. It made them feel larger than life, legendary. As opposed to the puddle of tears and regrets that the anime reduces them to. The problem is not that they show the characters’ weaknesses-I do like that they try to represent a more human side to them (and the novel does touch on this a bit, towards the end). The problem is that the anime doesn’t balance out the weaknesses with their legendary strengths-leaving them flattened into flimsy one dimensional shapes.