Thanks to conspiring assignments and too much fun with the Anime Blogger Interrogation Game, I delayed Utakoi 9. Now, after the dramatic and teary conclusion to Shonagon and Yukinari’s romance, here are my thoughts on the two-episode arc. Will cougar Shonagon fall in love with the aloof but determined Yukinari?
Before I start, please note that the writing may be a bit disjointed as I combined two different weeks’ worth of reviews in one post. I apologize for any confusion. ^_^”
In a word:
Episode 9 (Shonagon and Yukinari): Yukinari, son of the short-lived Yoshitaka, meets and falls in love with Sei Shonagon. But, with power plays and politics getting in their way, will they make it work?
Episode 10 (Nakoso Falls): Sanekata dies and Kinto shows his caring side. Trouble brews in the palace in the form of power struggles. Teishi and Shonagon exit (the former through death, the latter through her feet) while Yukinari is forever alone… =(
Swan Lake Comes to Heian
Upholding the tradition of placing our narrator Teika and his sidekick Yoritsuna in implausible modern-day scenarios, episode 10 ups the ante by having them in tutus and dancing Swan Lake (?) in sync. I’ve read some comments about how undignified and unsuitable it was, but I don’t think it was that bad. I mean, they are taking a lot of liberties with the ‘super-liberal interpretations’ of the poems already, so why not just go all the way while they’re at it? Besides, it’s a fun way to look at poets who are usually depicted as stuffy and esoteric. What do you think? Should there be a line which should not be crossed in the name of preserving a tradition such as poetry?
Man, Yukinari really is a breath of fresh air! Like the bumbling Yasuhide before him, he is definitely one of the most down-to-earth characters in Utakoi so far. Making lousy poems, speaking his mind and going for what he wants with no regrets-in my book, he’s one of the most likeable guys in the series. Of course, he does unintentionally step on a few toes by ignoring the other court ladies and composing that poem, but that only makes him more of a relatable figure compared to say, the invincible playboy Narihira. I really hoped he would win Sei Shonagon’s heart with his earnest personality because I know I would-if I was a girl, that is. XD
Sadly though, a happy ending is not in the books as Shonagon leaves him to write her famous ‘Pillow Book’. Why? Because of-
Politics and Duty
Again, politics gets in the way of our lovers. Parallel to the tale of Narihira and Takaiko, their duties and destinies lie on different routes. Y’know, I think I’m starting to get the gist of love in Utakoi. Although obviously about love, it talks about the obstacles to love as well. In fact, I think you could say that’s the link between these poems besides the Hyakunin Issshu anthology. From politics (Narihira and Takaiko) to ambition (Komachi and Yoshimine) and even just plain reluctance (Yoshitaka and his wife), the obstacles are many. Just goes to show that if you want love, you gotta be prepared to fight tooth and nail for it. Ouch.
Although a benign obstacle to love in the episode 9, politics turns up with a vengeance in the next part of the tale. With Empress Teishi fast falling from the courtiers’ favours no thanks to Yukinari, her lady-in-waiting Shonagon can do nothing but accompany her. Slowly, but surely, politics and power plays drag our two close friends further apart. Kinda sad, don’t you think?
Besides politics though, there’s also the question of duty. Whether it be a duty to one’s country, one’s heart or even a deceased friend, they are all equally important. Kinto however, spells it out bluntly: “Don’t mix private affairs with work”. One sometimes has to choose between different duties. Unfortunately, our cast has little to no choice in their duties. Yukinari is forced to hurt his lover for his country’s sake while Shonagon leaves Yukinari and the palace because of her lingering loyalties towards Teishi. All in all, it was a sobering yet entertaining look at how love falls before politics and duty sometimes. Love can’t solve everything, you know…
A Lack of Surprises Nevermind
In episode 9, all we get is the usual boy-meets-girl story with a politics and duty dividing them. A star-crossed romance may be a convenient and easy theme to explore, but I was starting to worry that Utakoi may have shot itself in the foot by calling itself Utakoi in the first place. By focusing purely on the romantic poems, it leaves little room for variety and excitement. I know I should’ve expected this after seeing the phrase ‘Love Poems’, but after seeing such a strong start in the first half of the series, I wanted to see them expand on that and diversify. Do you think that Utakoi is getting a bit too boring with some repetitive themes?
Although, after seeing that particularly pessimistic segment in episode 10, I’m afraid I judged too soon. Unfulfilled love may be a worn theme, but Utakoi sure knows how to throw us a curve ball every once in a while. This time, Teishi’s declining influence and eventual death is the darkest part of the series yet. As explained above, in the very short montage (too short, I think), we finally get to see the characters in their most vulnerable and depressed moments. Besides the dark content, they also managed to make us empathize with the characters’ plight by stretching this story to two episodes. If it had just been one episode, the whole tale would have been rushed and forgetful. Speaking of being memorable…
Memories Pushing Us Forward
This scene was the defining moment for me in the brief romance between Yukinari and Shonagon. With beautiful snow effects in the background, Yukinari finally has a heart-to-heart talk with Shonagon. More impressive than the background though, was what they talked about. Resigning to the fact that they’ll never be together, Yukinari is adamant about letting go of the past yet seems troubled. In that moment, Shonagon comes over and embraces him, telling him that:
Moving. That is all I can say. Rather than feeling down, they chose instead to use those memories that were good as a source of strength. It might be a bit too cliché for some, but it was the finest moment in Shonagon’s arc, I think. I wonder if this was how she felt after Sanekata’s death and her previous breakup from him?
Well, that’s all I have to say for these two episodes. Was Sanekata gone too soon? How was Shonagon compared to the rest of the strong female cast? Comment away below!