「諸行無常」 (Shogyō Mujō)
“The Impermanence of Worldly Things”

I may as well start off with a positive note-a final formal battle between the Minamoto and the Taira on the waters at Dan-no-ura (the violence between the clans didn’t stop there). This was the best battle scene in this whole adaptation. With small details like water dripping from Yoshitsune’s armor, the relentless waves of ocean and arrows, and the ominous music, I could feel the dread of waiting to be smashed by the fist of fate (or more like the fist of the Minamoto). In the thick of this battle, Kiyomori’s wife walks in her husband’s footsteps, prioritizing the family honor over life, preferring to drown the Emperor while he was still Emperor, rather than giving him up to the enemy to be alive, through dethroned. The little child innocently following his grandmother to the mythical dragon palace under the waves was heart wrenching. If the Taira didn’t believe it before, now they have no choice but to acknowledge that their power has ended. If the anime had given the time and animation to the other major battles that they gave to this one and cut out the superfluous fluff with Biwa, I would have enjoyed the show a lot better. It would have better captured (for me at least) the spirit of Heike Monogatari as a battle epic.

Heike Monogatari is not just a battle epic-it is also a political drama of the fierce war between families who had become too powerful for their own good. This character drama was lost in the caricatures. With Retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa as a man-baby, Tokuko as the holy one, Munemori as the buffoon, and Yoritomo as the spineless pawn (to name but a few), the intense drama driven by legendary characters turned into a farce acted out by superficial, paper thin versions of the original forms.

The anime’s ending did nothing to help that. With the serene meeting between Go-Shirakawa and Tokuko complete with a happy family flashback and Go-Shirakawa’s newfound devotion, it had “happy ever after ending” garishly painted all over it. To me, such a happy ever after ending glosses over the horror of the carnage and dampened the impact of the brilliant, atrocious scheming on both sides. This made the Genpei Wars seem cozy, like a fierce lawn war between opposing factions in the local homeowners’ association. While this scene was taken directly from the book, the book handled it (and everything else about the tale) with balance, so that the peace and redemption existed side by side with the gravity of everything that came prior to that. Ending the anime on a glowing note defied the atmosphere of the historical tale-Heike Monogatari is not a happy story and we’ve caught at least glimpses of that through the numerous deaths up to this point.

By ending the series where it did, the adaptation made it seem like everything ended with Dan-no-ura- which it most certainly did not. Munemori and his son’s life did not end under the sea-they were captured, paraded through town, and then executed by the Minamoto. The Minamoto were so intent on rooting out any possible future rebellions that they ordered a horrifying slaughter of all boy children in the Taira clan-everyone from the tiniest infant up to older children and grown adults were ruthlessly murdered. In skipping past this amongst other scenes, the anime removed the claws from the Minamoto. While the tale is entitled Heike Monogatari, it involves not just the Taira, but also the Minamoto. With the rushed ending, it felt as if having gotten to the end of the Taira, nothing else mattered. For them, this was only ever about the Taira with the Minamoto serving as support characters.

The aftermath of Dan-no-ura did not spell a happy ending for some of the Minamoto, either. It was after that point that the conflict between Yoritomo and Yoshitsune which was simmering under the surface the whole time finally reached its boiling point when Yoritomo began to suspect Yoshitsune of scheming rebellion, sending Yoshitsune on the run. Of course, they skipped completely past this in the anime. They really gave Yoshitsune the short end of the stick. Not only did they give him just a small appearance in the last few episodes- overlooking his tactical genius in numerous battles, they also left out the legendary account of Yoshitsune leaping over boats to evade Noritsune (who isn’t even shown). This is such a well-known scene-there are numerous cultural references, paintings, and so on relating to Yoritsune’s jump, that I don’t see how they could have left it out.

I realize that the majority of my perspective is on what was not in the anime more than what was in it, which really tells you more about the book than the show. However, I feel that what was left out of or glossed over in the anime as well as the foolishness of trying to adapt it in a measly 11 episodes says much about the adaptation as an introductory survey interpreted by 21st century minds.

Using caricatures to retell scenes of the characters’ feelings and relationships while breezing past blood-pumping battles gave off the feeling of a moralistic folktale, Disney-style (they even had a cute, intelligent animal with that cat in the previous episode). The villains (Kiyomori) receive their dues, the misguided characters (Go-Shirakawa) repent and turn their lives around, and the good, purehearted princess (Empress Tokuko) endures all evil to be rewarded with peace and joy in the end. The problem is not that there is a happy ending or that there is a moral to it. The anime took its ending from the book and with monks as the author, the tale is definitely moralistic in its exploration of the fall of the mighty and exaltation of the holy. The axe I have to grind with the series is the execution of it (pun intended)-but I’ve ranted enough about the simplistic characterizations and storytelling that one-dimensionalizes everything. As the old adage goes “The book is always better”.

Being a generally positive person, I like to try to find the good in everything- even this. For one thing, I found the animation, especially the color palettes used, to be quite stunning. For another thing, from what some readers have commented, this adaptation has done a good job at making what might otherwise be an intimidating story accessible and engaging to new audiences. If it inspires more people to read the epic book and to learn more about the history, then I am glad at least something positive came out of this.


  1. I felt the show was very uneven throughout the season. It didn’t feel like they knew what tone to take with the show. Despite that, I felt the finale was pretty good and a good way to wrap up the show.

    1. The pace was definitely uneven-rushing through important scenes and then taking time for non-canonical nonsense like Biwa’s back story. With 11 episodes, it would have been hard for them to have an even pacing, some things were going to get rushed. But the things they chose to rush (or to even include) are questionable.

      Princess Usagi
    1. Biwa didn’t change Tokuko’s future; if you re-watch ep 1, her future visions of Tokuko all happened. We (and possibly Biwa) didn’t see her getting pulled out but I don’t see that as proof of changing the future.

      Both of Biwa’s parents are blind; surely at one time at least her mother wasn’t. It’s clearly just poetic license that the last thing Biwa sees are the Heike red banners.

      1. While Biwa did completely change the story with her inclusion in the series, one thing she did not change was Tokuko’s future. In the source material, Tokuko dove into the ocean and then was pulled out of the water into neighboring ships. The whole Biwa rescuing her thing was stupid, adding misplaced sentimentality in a scene that was never meant to be a big deal in the first place.

        Princess Usagi
    2. I think that Biwa turned blind because her vision was centered around the Taira (she even inherited one of her weird eye-powers from Shigehira in that strange non-canonical turn of events). Now that the Taira have no more future, having been mostly wiped out, there is nothing left for her to see. Rather than being focused outward on what is happening to the Taira, her gaze is now focused inward on digesting and retelling the moral of the Taira for future generations.

      Princess Usagi
  2. The irony of this adaptation is how a gag (comedy) manga like “Ya Boy Kongming” (anime in 2022) had more respect to its historical background than this supposedly direct adaptation of a celebrated original source .

    Though i admit the final episode have better direction than prior episodes. The Naval battle of Dannoura looks very engaging and down to earth and less fantastic that it felt very entertaining. The way they maneuvered the sekibune, kobaya/hayabune and zhanxian (Chinese combat junk) to be more active was very satisfying even with their five hotdogs budget that i don’t recall many naval combat shown on such fast pace that it felt natural and less choreographed . The way they integrated the dolphin scene seamlessly in the scene didn’t feel out of place either as it looks both mystical and superstitious yet still convey the changing flows of the wind and the water. Also glad that the twin whirlpool play an active role instead of mere background decoration. So in short the battle was very well handled even with constraint of time and presumeably budget.

    Btw, Taira no Noritsune; most celebrated and valorous warrior of Heike that brought victory against Yoshinaka,. The warrior that even Yoshitsune don’t want to face directly reduced into no more than 5 second frame scene of random dude grappling two samurai to use as his drowning ballast ….. Nice going director. I mean who cares about him, the only general and warrior that the Genji dreaded ??! Yeah, better put more focus to a sissy like Koremori or whoever whoareye Kiyotsune.

    It is interesting decision to show Yoshitsune feeling and looking remorseful towards the suicidal Tairas. Perhaps the horror of. Dannoura made him soft and lenient toward them later that he is willing to give up his rightful rewards and honor for his achievement in exchange for pleading the pardon and merciful decision from Yoritomo toward the surviving Tairas. Either that or his kurama temple background.

    ? I thought Tomomori anchor were bigger.

    Biwa become blind and Hoichi become deaf. Interesting things to note within at least a year after Koromo, Hiraizumi fell after Yoritomo decided for punitive campaign to put Dewa and Mutsu in his reign. Thus, from Kyushu, Shikoku and the whole Honshu, Yoritomo technically had subdued most japan (except Hokkaido) as Seii Taishogun that encompass both military and political power while the imperial rule were reduced to ceremonial formality. Heike Monogatari tries to portray Go Shirakawa lamenting Taira massacre as something he regretted, while it is interesting sentiment it is better to put more realistic approach that it also meant the end of his cloister rule he had enjoyed since Shomu or… Maybe Shutoku. Only 800 years later (with Meiji restoration) the emperor will get his absolute authority back again. (Kemmu restoration failed and led to Ashikaga’s Muromachi ruling). Him visiting and consulting Kenreimon was pondering on how she could endure the suffering and shame seeing previously her life were at highest prominence… Hence the contrasting scene of the bustling Gion shoja scenery and the serene desolate Jakko-in as its closure with five cords beheld by AmidaBuddha to symbolize reincarnation to next cycle of life.

    Well, but at least the atonement of Kumagai Naozane, Shizuka Gozen lamenting her aborted baby and someone who possibly is Chikazane and the fluttering flight of agehanochou was a nice touch for a closure.

    1. ” tries to portray Go Shirakawa lamenting Taira massacre as something he regretted, while it is interesting sentiment it is better to put more realistic approach that it also meant the end of his cloister rule he had enjoyed since Shomu or… Maybe Shutoku.”

      I didn’t interpret it this way. He does show shame in front of Tokuko but his interest was in asking her how she managed personal suffering. We see him following her advice so I assumed he is seeking to assuage his own suffering which may or may not include regret.

      1. Go-Shirakawa repenting was a part of the moral behind the ending that true peace comes from following a holy path, transcending beyond this world, rather than the temporary pleasures of the physical world.

        Princess Usagi
        1. @Princess Usagi

          True, true. That’s the traditional interpretation of HeikeMonogatari morale of the story.

          Personally i prefer the modern more pessimistic approach of how the story begin with a group of snarky court noble (fujiwaras and emperor’s relative) supported by cloister emperor (and possibly emperor himself) who resented that they lost power engaging in court political intrigue, trying to scheme to oust Taira and take back (even via coup de etat) powerthat in desperation they do anything from backhand dealing to open rebellion (and supporting Taira’s dead nemesis) even knowing it wasn’t supported by common people. It then ended with no one really winning as i put it in previous episode where:

          -All Taira dead except Kenreimon who left alive to laments her clan’s fate to her death.
          – the Genji left themselves in tatter after their victory. With Yoritomo killing all his brother who supported him before (Noriyori, Yoshitsune) the authority later falls to Houjo clan until Genko war. Btw houjo is technically a branch of lower Taira clan
          – Cloister Emperor Go Shirakawa was forced to accept that the real power now fall to samurai clans ; starting the bakufu feudalism. No more real absolute monarchy like chinese dynasty.
          – court nobles are now nothing but ceremonial decoration title without real military or economical power backing it up. It is more for legitimacy.
          -Yoritomo died ten years after becoming Seii Taishogun and put the whole japan (except hokkaido) under his reign, and his direct descendant did not succeed him with his line perished.
          -Yoshitsune exiled himself after being suspected by Yoritomo and finally perished in Koromo after a letter demanding his arrest reached Oushu. As he died all his close vassal followed his step loyally to the end. Btw, Koshigoe had less effect than Cao Zhi poem dictated within 7 steps.
          -Shizuka Gozen, followed Yoshitsune during his exile, but later captured by Yoritomo, forced to dance before him where she sang praises to her lover and forced to abort her baby after found pregnant. She was later released,
          -Noriyori executed after refusing to lead a troop to arrest his brother, Yoshitsune.
          -Fujiwara Yasuhira, betrayed by his vassal after the fall of Hiraizumi.
          -Kajiwara Kagetoki, executed after failure in duty
          -Kumagai Naozane, renounce wordly matter and become monk, after remorse of killing Taira Atsumori
          -Houjo Tokimasa, become regent but later ousted and exiled by his own daughter (Houjo Masako).
          -Houjo Masako, become a regent and protector shogun although held de facto power; known as nun shogun and ruled the bakufu with her brother. In process she ordered the death of her children.

          Well, perhaps this is the reason why some people consider Heike Monogatari as a story with value of Karma .

        2. “-All Taira dead except Kenreimon who left alive to laments her clan’s fate to her death”

          Actually not just Tokuko/Kenreimoin who survive, Kiyomori’s brother Taira no Tokitada also survive, According to the Japanese Wiki Corpus

          Tokitada was taken prisoner in Dan no ura and entered Kyoto on June 3. Tokitada asked for mitigation of punishment by reason of his merits of protecting Imperial regalia and tried to obtain protection by making his daughter marry Yoshitsune.

          On June 26, punishment for prisoners was determined and nine persons were sentenced to exile: Tokitada, Tokizane, Nobumoto, Tadaaki, Yoshihiro, Zenshin, Chukai, Noen, and Gyomei. Although it is said that punishment against Tokitada was reduced by one rank from death because of his merits of having protected the sacred mirror (Article in June 22 for “Azuma Kagami”), it is questionable if the death sentence was really intended, because Tokitada was not a samurai but a civilian.

          Execution of exile was planned to take place after Yoshitsune, who visited Kamakura, returned to Kyoto, but it seems that discord between Yoshitsune and Yoritomo was generated around this time. According to “Gukansho,” ‘After Yoshitsune visited Kamakura in Kanto region and returned to Kyoto, an evil intention came out,’ and Yoshitsune gradually deviated from regulation by Kamakura. In mid-September, seven of the nine persons, excluding Tokitada and Tokizane, were transferred to the place of exile Tokitada and Tokizane remained in Kyoto under the protection of Yoshitsune.

          Yoritomo had distrust for Yoshitsune’s behavior and dispatched Kajiwara Kagesua to blame Yoshitsune for Tokitada and Tokizane remaining in Kyoto, and proposed that the Imperial Court quickly. Tokitada, aware that the situation was worsening, moved to the destination of exile, Noto Province, on October 25. According to the “Heike Monogatari,” he visited Kenreimonin to say farewell before he left the capital and, therefore, it seems that he was allowed a certain level of freedom of activities.

          In the ending judging from the moustache and the voice i’m still wondering if the man with a fishing rod was Sukemori, there a theory/legend that he was survive and sought refuge on Amami islands.

          1. @Farhanawesome

            Oh right. That did happen. I don’t remember the detail but it seems Yoshitsune let some Taira to flee. He wasn’t that big name aside from Tokitada who make the ‘everyone not heike is no human’.. that is why i forgot…. aside from chikazane and whoever they are.

            Nu-uh, i recall it is Kajiwara Kagetoki, not his son. But whatever.

    2. It was definitely disappointing that they cut out Noritsune. It is to the point where it is ridiculous, the number of characters they either exclude or only briefly show. Yet, they made sure to spend half an episode on a character who wasn’t even in the source material.

      Princess Usagi
  3. I’m having a hard time finding any happiness or joy in the ending. Tokuko’s not exactly dancing and laughing.

    This is such an eastern ending: accepting the fleeting quality of all that lives and finding composure despite. That’s what Tokuko is presenting here: composure. She admits that she still struggles with other emotions but all she can do is put her hands together and pray. She’s not joyful, she’s constantly working at accepting.

    It’s not the sort of message that goes over well in the West.

    I find fascinating the pivot from “this can’t be appreciated by those who haven’t read the book” to “this can only be appreciated by those who haven’t read the book.” I got that latter sense from early on as it was obvious from ep 1 that this was not intended to be mistaken as a faithful adaptation and many were upset by that.

    I think the comparison to Disney is fair: after all, Disney has been taking old fiction and fictionalized history to make their own versions. This distortion is incredibly common as storytellers’ primary goal is to entertain within the given constraints.

    I have not read the Heiki Monogatari but I researched it after watching the finale. What I discovered is that it’s stories collected over a hundred years after the time of events which means that even the oral stories are only fictionalized history from a Buddhist POV. No version of the characters can be exact or true to the historical people; every version is invented for the purposes of the storyteller and prone to dramatics and exaggeration. IMO, this makes variations of the story fully fair game for modern interpretations.

    The anime’s storyteller chose to focus on the buddhist message given in the closing scenes and told what parts of the story were necessary to get there: the personal life of Tokuko and her family. A story focusing on this aspect didn’t need to include or cover the fuller story; as mentioned, a 1-cour show would certainly not do the full traditional story justice.

    Biwa is a fully fictional character but she is a personification of historical fact: that the Heike stories were first told by biwa players and the first known storyteller was blind. This creative team knows both “the book” and the factual history behind it.

    I think it’s fine to dislike that this wasn’t the desired proper adaptation; I just think it’s too bad that the anime wasn’t reviewed on its own merits and “the book” was allowed to more than over-shadow it.

    The anime is stunning and evocative. IMO any directorial messiness is from the staff being afraid of cutting out even more of the original and ended up referencing more than was necessary. It left it in a strange middle-ground but is still entirely worth the watch.

    1. To me, the joyfulness was evident in how they staged the ending, with the light shining everywhere, her composure, and that laughing family flashback. She found joy from finding her path, releasing herself from preoccupation in the world by looking beyond the pain in her religion.

      The difficulty is that the anime is tied to the source material and the one informs the other. It would have been a different story if they announced the anime as a spin-off rather than a direct adaptation. It is true that these legends were created from tales passed down through time. However, once those tales are set down in paper and ink, that could be considered their final form, the one most people will remember and thus the basis for anything that comes after it.

      Princess Usagi
  4. Speaking from the viewpoint of someone who has not read the novel. It’s hard for me to say it was uneven at times or some parts of the story were illustrated inaccurately. So I wonder if the writers took this into consideration when telling this tale?
    I guess it would be best if the writers would have added the word “Remake” after the Heike Story. Since everyone is saying what they see in the Anime doesn’t follow the actual story.

    1. I agree, that they could have labelled it as a deviation from the story. Maybe “The Heike: Another Story” would have been better than just calling it “Heike Monogatari”.

      Princess Usagi
      1. @Princess Usagi @Renasayers

        Even Eiji Yoshikawa wrote his novel as Shin Heike Monogatari (a new retelling), followed by Minamoto no Yoritomo. The smug confidence of both Director and Producer including the production team is astounding to pretend this is vis a vis and word to word direct adaptation of the original Heike Monogatari with newer 2016 translation when in reality they build a sappy fanfic atop of this.

        I read some crappy shojo manga using Genpei and Sengoku setting but it was not even this annoying.


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