Sunday, January 18, 2009

First Impression: Genji Monogatari Sennenki

The unwieldy art killed me, but Genji Monogatari Sennenki (lit. The Tale of Genji - A Thousand-year Journal) is based on a classic -- the world's first novel in fact. Then again, this particular anime is based on a manga adaptation of that novel. I find adapted materials based on adapted materials quite suspect but...I've read up on Genji myself...and this first episode seems tastefully accurate.
EPISODE 01: The Shining Prince
More Screencaps from Genji Monogatari Sennenki
OP: Hiyori Hime (PUFFY) [4shared][YouTube]
ED: Ai (Kousuke Atari) [4shared][YouTube]

As the beloved second son of the Emperor Kiritsubo, Genji Hikaru, nicknamed the "Shining Prince," grows up in the palace surrounded by beautiful things. One day, when he is nine years old, he meets a young woman and instantly falls in love. However, it turns out that she is the Lady Fujitsubo, his father's new wife. The Emperor loved his mistress, Lady Kiritsubo, Genji's mother, and despite her passing away, his heart continues to belong to her. The fourteen-year-old Lady Fujitsubo bears an uncanny resemblance to Lady Kiritsubo and for this reason the Emperor marries her.

Genji appears to take on to Lady Fujitsubo like a son to a mother but as time passes, it becomes apparent that he sees her in a different light. The turning point is when Genji, now ten years old, steals a kiss from her. The incident is never spoken of again but their relationship is never the same after that.

In time, Genji turns twelve and soon undergoes his right of passage to manhood. Once a man, he is no longer allowed to the area of the palace where the wives and women stay. He goes to Lady Fujitsubo, begging her to let him see her face one more time, to no avail. When he grows up, Genji becomes quite the ladies' man but his closest friend notices that at times even he (Genji) would stare off into a distance as though he too suffers from an unrequited love.
Despite what I said about the art, this episode is actually beautiful. The palace, Genji's childhood home, is made to appear like something out of a fairytale where everything seems to glow with an inner light and cherryblossoms are always in bloom. Even winter looks beautiful in this fantastical setting. My only complaint is that the animation isn't very well executed and the character design is largely inconsistent.

The music befits the setting as well. That is, apart from the horribly out of place opening theme. But other than that, everything sounds elegant, dreamy and seemingly unaffected by what's going on. The pond water is clear, the snow is pure, the cherryblossoms float like carefree souls, and yet between and among this perfect serenity, like cracks in the surface, the emotion of the story seeps through. More than a story about a playboy and his harem, Genji Monogatari Sennenki is actually a tale of love -- its struggles, its fulfillment, and later, its consequences.

I hope Tezuka Productions don't make a mess of this anime. With such richness of material, they better not.
OVERALL -- a beautiful episode. Everything is just right, the inconsistent character design and strange rock OP theme aside.

Genji Monogatari Sennenki @ ANN