There’s something to be said about a series that tries to become inherently different than the rest: thank you. Thank you, Hyouge Mono, for focusing on a shtick that is rarely found in anime, and with it so acutely tenderized so as the bulk of the meat becomes hardy and juicy for everyone to enjoy. Hyouge Mono is like a well-done, whopping steak at your favorite steakhouse.
Don’t think I was just gonna use that lip-licking analogy for praise, quite the opposite. What is the worst part about dining out at a fine establishment? Aside from obnoxious people? And bad waiters/waitresses? And noise? And… well, I’ll get on with it. Waiting. Waiting for the food to get to your table, so that you can finally dig into what your stomach and heart have been craving. Hyouge Mono is like that, too. One must wait for the cooking to take place, the tenderizing, the spicing, the little quirks that give the steak its signature flavor. Truth be told, I wasn’t all that enamored with this series until nearly halfway through. It’s one of those anime where everything becomes better over time, as the ingredients to make a compelling story are built from underground up, causing a very, very slow pace from beginning to end. Not to mention that this series has 39 episodes, so it can (and will) take its sweet time. But oh, are the results so good.
One of the focal points of this series is not sex appeal, being trapped inside a video game, or starting a club during your second year in high school. This series focuses on something called aestheticism, which is the placed importance on the aesthetics of items or materials. Essentially, looking at the physical beauty of something regardless of outside influences or symbolism. A lust for precise craftsmanship, gold embroidery, or sheen. Things of that nature. This concept is used both seriously and not-so-seriously, depending on the situation, which plays into the slow-pace of the series near the beginning. Aestheticism seems to be the major driving point of almost every major character in this series, who want to change the world according to their own foundation of aesthetics, or lack of it. It’s exaggerated both for the sake of comedy and drama, and effectively manages to persuade the viewer to be emotionally involved with either.
With the shtick of the series out of the way, this series also has a more familiar setting: the “Warring States era”, where Oda Nobunaga (who acts as a major character in this anime) has conquered most of Japan and is marking his place in history. Here’s another interesting tidbit: from the beginning of episode one to the end of episode thirty-nine, a period of roughly fourteen years go by. This, especially near the beginning, where years go by by the end of the second episode, makes the pacing feel rather quick aside from slow. From 1577 to 1591, the viewer follows a giant cast of characters and how their influence plays a part in structuring the society of Japan at that point. Whether this story is based upon true events, I’m not entirely sure, but it feels realistic to me, aside from the funny faces, anyway.
That’s enough background. Let’s get to the main dish.
Hyouge Mono can be incredibly dull starting out. The first ten or so episodes shows so little of anything aside from character dialogue and interaction that one without any tolerance for the sort will be dropping this upon the first episode. That’s the thing, too: this anime has a lot of dialogue. You thought the Monogatari series was bad? This anime can rival it. To some degree, one would be inclined to wonder if all of this dialogue is really important, and at points, I’d wondered, too. However, as the series goes on, it begins to take all of those little spots, those scenes where nothing of importance seems to occur, and draws back to it in order to establish a character’s growth. Of course, this doesn’t occur for every character, but the most major characters become characters worth sinking time into, especially the main man, Sasuke (or later on, Oribe).
Sasuke serves as the major source of comic relief and viewer empathy within Hyouge Mono. He’s a quirky guy of thirty-four (in the beginning) and a vassal for Nobunaga whose love for aestheticism gets him into all sorts of precarious situations, though normally of his own accord. Whenever beholding a famous item worthy of his attention, his face contorts and his eyes puff up to abnormal sizes. This happens a couple times each episode, which sort of encapsulates the mood of the series within the first ten episodes or so. It’s not so serious, but serious enough to have viewers understand the weight of the situation. At one point, Sasuke is sent as a messenger to a former-general for Nobunaga’s army to surrender or be executed by Nobunaga’s men. One thing leads to another, and the former-general commits suicide via using his valued teapot as an explosive device. The flying debris causes Sasuke to run after the most stable pieces of the teapot in order to save any resemblance of the pot for his own greed. Now if that doesn’t tell you what you need to know about the tone of the series, I’m not sure what will.
When I began this series, I feared this focus on aestheticism would just be a running gag for Sasuke to use to lighten a mood. Thankfully, its emphasis is taken more seriously by a myriad of other characters, and at some point near the end, Sasuke’s importance to the plot almost drops entirely. I will say, though, that another part of what makes the beginning so slow is that fallback to using aestheticism as a joke, with characters’ eyelids popping out and mouths agape to the floor. It almost sets a satirical tone that made me forget that the plot is trying to be of a historically somber atmosphere. That, and all the talking. I can’t stress this enough. There is so much talking. So much. And that doesn’t go away at any point in the series.
Any major complaints I have with this show lie within the first third of its episode count. Apart from that, this show is a wonderful piece of fiction, or exaggerated non-fiction. The characters’ focus on their own ideologies and the impact each character has based on reputation and experience alone makes for a riveting drama on whose word trumps whose. There is so much fascination with the different variety of people’s aestheticism that it drives people either into prosperity or madness. The things some characters are willing to do to promote their own view of the world is heart-breaking and cruel. But it makes for beautiful character development. Something as simple as the color of a building is enough to set people off. Gold or black? White or polka-dot? Perfection versus imperfection. The amount of stylistic integrity and focus on aestheticism—which near the beginning was used as a joke—that this series has works wonders for those enamored with things more intellectually involved. For those who enjoy simplistic, harem-like plots of boy goes to school and tries to ward off slobbering archetypes, stay far, far away from this series.
For what it’s worth, there isn’t a single character in this show that I can come to dislike, but there are plenty of characters I don’t care for in the end. With the exclusion of about four or five major characters, the character list is likable, but not altogether quality meat. There is a giant cast of characters, and most serve purpose to some degree. However, by the end, it’s clear which characters the series favors. And those characters are all wonderful. With the exception of Hashiba, the ruler of Japan for the bulk of the series, I found myself genuinely concerned for the characters’ struggles and ideas. While these characters aren’t the most colorful, they feel genuine and honest, in almost grim-like fashion. Theirs ideas may coincide and even mimic one another, but it’s not due to trends set by current reality, but by the reality that is set within the world painted in the anime. Once again, the characters and story coincide to create this magical world where things change on the part of characters’ ideals and the influence they have on “modern” culture. There is so much detail that comes from this series later on that I cannot recommend this series enough for those willing to face the drag it takes to get there.
Animation is a little on the standard side. The emphasis on aestheticism would imply that the series would focus on making the objects of characters’ desires look more magical, and it does. However, that’s really all the series has going for it. Individual animation for basic actions is fine, not great. Character shininess and design are okay for the time, but it gets props for making characters easily distinguishable. Except with women, which typically relies on either their weight, hairstyle, or eyes. Sasuke’s wife, Osen, has these “whoosh-like” eyes that imply someone took an ink brush and made a fell swoop and just called it “eyes.” It’s odd. The expressions that aesthetes make in the presence of magical-looking items is humorous, and always manages to make me smirk, but they aren’t as fantastical as they could be; very rarely, in fact. I suppose that suits the realistic qualities of this anime (though not everything is realistic), but it leaves a little more to be desired. It’s typically with Sasuke, too. It’s almost funnier when characters like Rikyu have it happen to them, but they never take advantage. But I suppose I can’t complain when the series is more dramatic than comedic. Ho-hum.
It’s a series that I’m really glad I discovered. Before watching it, I had never heard of this anime before, which is rare considering I search the high seas for various anime to watch almost all the time. There aren’t many anime I’m not at least vaguely familiar with. Ripe with psychological manipulation, the weight of one’s actions, and the stylistic approach to an unheard of shtick, Hyouge Mono is a wonderful treat for those willing to lick their way to the tootsie-roll center.
Personal Score: B
Critical Score: A-
The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.