Hyouge Mono 4

I was beginning to give up hope, but after what seemed like months, we are finally graced with the fourth episode of Hyouge Mono. It is a very good one; one about Governor Furuta being one-upped at nearly every turn. First, whilst in the parade, Oda Nagamasu one-ups him in the wardrobe department.

Then, once under the roof of Tea Master Senno, he is seemingly one-upped, in rather crude fashion, but Senno’s deciple, Souji. Souji not only shoots down Sasuke’s appraisal of the hiraguno pot as a “masterpiece”, after hearing Sasuke has only been in the presence of ten masterpieces to his fifty, he question’s Sasuke’s ability to discern a masterpiece at all! Sasuke wavers in his head when asked to appraise a tea jar – not his forte – and is further taken aback when his choice is only considered fourth best by the surly disciple.

Most interesting, however, is Master Senno’s conversation with General Hashiba. It’s a big-eared powwow of sorts. Hashiba asks Senno what’s with his black fetish, including an extremely well-turned black tea bowl. Black means death and mourning in the culture of the land, but Senno defies that culture, calling black an absence of imperfection. He wants to create a similar absense in the realm, and asks – straight up – for the general to assist him in making that reality. In short, he plans a coup. Rating: 3.5

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Hyouge Mono 3

The rich, buttery, epic tale of Hyouge Mono continues with all the battles taking place inside Sasuke’s head. When Senno Soueki served him with the araki bowl, he suspected the tea master knew he had spared Araki’s life. He chose to be upfront and honest with him, and he proved correct; but Senno had no intention of ratting him out to Master Oda. Say what you will about Sasuke’s priorities, the man has good instincts, and it’s why he’s survived many battles and now serves as a governor.

Another example of his instincts is when Oda welcomes him to his sublime, over-the-top Azuchi Castle and offers him a choice of rewards for his deed: cash money, or an exquisite “barbarian” (read: Chinese) green lacquer container. Sasuke choses the cash, but reaches out and touches the box. Oda accepts his verbal reply for the cash as the wise choice, as a leader of men such as he must have cash to spend. He gives him both the money and the container.

Then Oda goes all megalomaniacal, proclaiming to a somewhat worried Sasuke that he intends to besiege and conquer the mainland, currently run by the Ming and Joseon Dynasties. The island isn’t enough for him. Just when Sasuke thought Oda had acquired and achieved everything he possibly could, he raises the bar. Later, one of General Akechi’s men insults Oda as deluded by grandeur. Sasuke all but demands satisfaction, but Akechi extinguishes the brush fire.

The true message – which only Sasuke can discern amongst those gathered at the banquer – is sent when Akechi uses an ordinary teakettle and not the exquisite gift from Oda. This could mean displeasure with Oda, or a refusal to follow him to China and Korea, likely to die in a blaze of glory. Speaking of exquisite, this series continues to feature the very best facial expressions and sayings. Old-timey Japanese talk is some of the most fun stuff to listen to, especially with chill, modern beats in the background, lending a noirish atmosphere. Rating: 4

Hyouge Mono 2

Another episode of Sasuke’s inner conflict between the aesthete and the warrior. He resolves himself to be a full-on warrior from henceforth (didn’t he do that last week too?) only to fall off the wagon at a crucial time. The strengths from the first episode: eminently watchable characters, addictive fancy-pants dialogue, a curiously satisfying pace, anachronistic soundtrack, and a whole lot of novel ideas about the self.

Sasuke has a relatively nice life – one could even say luxurious for the time frame. He has the favor of his lord, a sublime wife of ideal disposition for her time and place, a cute young daughter, a decent crib, and a smart wardrobe. His scenes with his wife – exchanging apologies to each other before getting it on – only to be interrupted by news of a rebellion – are resplendent in their austerity. Despite everything he has though, he remains deeply conflicted. His humbling meeting with a tea master – someone, to his mind, far better at this than he – reveals that it isn’t just his warrior side he doubts, but his aesthete side as well.

His true love of the way of tea clouds his judgment as a warrior. His bluff of all bluffs – threatening to kill his wife (the rebel’s sister) unless his brother-in-law surrenders – is a desperate attempt to show those around him he’s a serious warrior. But when he corners another escaping rebel, he is bribed into sparing him by, what else, another legendarily exquisite piece of ceramic. Had there been other witnesses, Sasuke surely would have taken the rebel’s head…eventually. But to possess the mettle of a warrior, one must do things of one’s own accord, without outside influences bending him either way.

Thus Sasuke falls of the wagon and we, the audience, still question his credibility as a warrior. But that’s why we love him. Better luck next week. Rating: 4

Hyouge Mono – First Impressions

I’m a bit late getting to this series, but it was worth the wait. Hyouge Mono is perhaps the odd-man-out out as all the rest of my Spring watchlist takes place in the present or future. This is the friggin’ sixteenth century we’re dealing with, and I have to say it’s awesome. The extreme formality, the excessive exposition, the life-and-death staring contests, they’re all brilliant. I saw some excellent Noh theatre last month and this recalled that old-fashioned but gorgeous manner of speaking.

What is so curious is how modern the show feels, despite hardly ever betraying its proper time. True, the enormous ship might have been anachronistic, as probably were the guns (my knowledge of Japanese history is sketchy at best), but I’m talking more about the smooth jazz opening and bossa nova ending, as well as the Final Fantasy-esque score that complemented the spectacle nicely. Probably my favorite qualities of this series so far is the kaleidoscope of funny facial expressions and those long, tense silences.

Our protagonist Sasuke is quite the character – imminently watchable. He’s also a bit of a tea otaku – he goes to pieces at the sight of some well-regarded piece of the Tea trade – much like Oreimo’s Kirino would over some eroge. In this episode, it was an admittedly-splendid teakettle. I also like how his Lord is always challenging his devotion and mettle – partially for his own amusement, but also because Sasuke is constantly striving to straddle the role of a warrior with what is perhaps his true self – a hopeless aesthete. I look forward to seeing him wrestle that duality in future. Rating: 4