Aoi Bungaku – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Aoi Bungaku

 

Similar: Monster

Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror

Box of Goblins

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Historical Drama Thriller

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Something different.
  • Stories three and six.
  • Complex characters.
  • Dark and twisted imagery in some stories.

Negatives:

  • Stories two and four.
  • First story needs more episodes.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Aoi Bungaku is an adaptation of six Japanese literary classics, each sharing a facet of the authors’ lives and psychology. This makes the second short story collection I’ve reviewed recently, but where Diamond Daydreams is an easy viewing experience, Aoi Bungaku is intense, dark, and often twisted.

No Longer Human, the first story, follows the descent into darkness of a high school student after losing his way into drugs and abuse. This noir-esque tale shows his life at different stages in four episodes, each stage worse than the last. He sees a ghost of his former self in reflection, void of identity, a hollow shell with no purpose.

The most depressing story in the collection, scholars consider No Longer Human to be autobiographical, explaining why the author killed himself after its completion. This story most needed the extra space – likely a series of its own – out of all works presented, even though it receives the most episodes.

Too heavy for you? Well, In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom, changes gear with its comedic tone as it tells of a bandit and his love for a beautiful yet spoilt woman. She agrees to marry him if he fulfils her request, and in his blindness, he agrees to all she asks. Her requests keep getting more and more outlandish. She starts with a simple ride up the mountain, then it’s to kill his other wives without question, and she only demands worse from there on.

On paper, this story sounds brutal. However, the comedy gives the opposite result. There’s a talking boar, for example, trying to reason his way out of becoming dinner for the wives, one of whom speaks English, for some reason. Sudden chibi comedy bursts on the scene as well. Honestly, I’m not sure what the intent was with this one. It doesn’t work as a comedy nor as a dark tale – though one of the woman’s final requests is truly messed up. A weak story, in the end.

Kokoro, story three, takes us in yet another direction to deliver the best of the series. It explores the friendship between a scholar and a wanderer. The scholar begins to regret inviting his friend to use the spare room when he takes an interest in the landlady’s daughter, for whom the scholar has designs. In a single episode, we see a full character arc pass from friendship and trust to jealousy and egoism. We see more development here than some anime have in a season. And that’s not even Kokoro’s greatest strength.

The next episode goes back to the start of the tale, but this time shows everything from the wanderer’s perspective. It’s brilliant to see how versions of events differ and exemplifies the ‘Unreliable Narrator’ device. Kokoro handily wins best story in this anime.

Run, Melos! comes next, killing the momentum by being the weakest of the lot. It’s a contemporary take on a Greek classic, focusing on unwavering friendship no matter what life may throw. The story hasn’t much to it, no real turns or points of interest – the shortness doesn’t help.

The Spider’s Thread – story five – puts an assassin to the test in redemption at the end of his life. He lived a life without concern for anyone or anything but himself – he even kills a woman that fed him in kindness – and goes to Hell for his actions. However, he receives one final chance at redemption when a spider’s thread descends from Heaven.

The most psychedelic of the stories, The Spider’s Thread almost reaches greatness. I like its idea – reminds of Death Parade. Yet with most of the conflict occurring in his mind it lacks the weight, the impact, it could have had if he had faced other people as well.

Lastly, we end on Hell Screen. A lord commissions a famous artist to paint an epic depiction of ‘Buddhist Hell’ in all its facets. The artist’s superior skill stems from his ability to capture the emotion of reality like no other. The catch is that he must witness these emotions for himself, and the commission being one of hell, his research turns to madness. Life begins to imitate art as the lord’s people go mad.

This story recalls the Warhammer novel Fulgrim, where Slaanesh, Chaos God of Pleasure and Excess, corrupts a legion of Space Marines in their quest for perfection in art and battle. The corruption goes so far, drives the legion so mad that one artist paints his magnum opus from his own blood, sweat, and faeces – literally. Highly recommended book. Without giving anything away, the painter’s final masterpiece in Hell Screen is similar to that – twisted yet riveting.

Aoi Bungaku slips under the radar of most anime fans. I had never heard anyone mention it before unless I specifically searched for material on it. Those looking for a hidden gem may find it in Aoi Bungaku.

Art – High

Despite being low on animation, Aoi Bungaku has some great imagery and compositions in several stories. The art style changes for each story to match the tone – dark and grainy for the heaviness in No Longer Human, vibrant for In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom’s comedic angle, and so on. I liked Kokoro’s camerawork and framing most.

Sound – High

The protagonist in each story shares the same actor, who also plays host, and the acting is good overall. Music effectiveness seems to match story quality.

Story – High/Medium

A series of Japanese classics with a focus on character study get anime adaptations, succeeding to varying degrees. Stories three and six rise above, while two and four lack presence. The split rating is for the varying quality between stories.

Overall Quality – High/Medium

Recommendation: Watch Kokoro (episodes 7 & 8) and Hell Screen (episode 12) – give or take the rest. Even if interested in seeing all stories, Aoi Bungaku is only twelve episodes long and presents something new every few, so it won’t take much time to experience this distinct anime.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Deep NarrativeStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

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