Anime Review

Anime Hajime Review: The Heike Story

Original Run: September 16, 2021 - November 25, 2021
Number of Episodes: 11
Genre: Drama, Historical, Supernatural

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for The Heike Story. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

Our story takes place in feudal Japan. Amongst many rival clans vying for influence, the Heike are the most prominent. They rule their domain with an iron fist and are constantly on the lookout to increase their status and importance – even if it means wagging brutal war.

This tale takes us to a crossroads in the Heike’s history. Their power is on the verge of collapse, and should it falter, it would spell disaster. 

Entering this narrative is a young girl, Biwa (voiced by Aoi Yuki). Through an act of fate, she comes to live amongst the inner circle of the Heike’s main family. And despite her reluctance to use it, Biwa possesses a magical eye that can see into the future. 

Although Biwa grows to love her adopted family, anxiety fills her heart. Her eye tells her of dark days ahead for the Heike, and many will die before the coming hardships end.

Series Positives

I need to tread carefully. The short answer is, I enjoyed The Heike Story. As for the longer answer:

While I did find The Heike Story to be quite engaging, I won’t act as though a significant portion of this series didn’t fly straight over my head. There were plenty of moments that made me go “What,” and “Who,” and “You’ve lost me.” While conveyance is essential for any show, when a narrative is so intrinsically linked to a specific culture, it becomes much harder for someone unfamiliar with said culture to appreciate everything. 

Although I live in Japan, Japanese history isn’t something I’ve studied at length, and The Heike Story’s setting took place in an era I only have a casual knowledge of.

Or, to put it another way, I don’t want to fault this show merely because I don’t get the cultural references. 

Fortunately, there were elements to this series that excelled, regardless of your background. 

The Heike Story was another solid release from Science SARU – the studio behind Anime Hajime’s number one ranked anime of 2020, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken. And let me tell you; when this company is on, boy howdy it is on.

If there is one thing I can say about this series, it’s that the people behind it knew precisely how they wanted to tell their story. Science SARU is one of those studios whose look is unmistakable. Holy hell, The Heike Story was a beautiful series.

This was one of those stories where you whisper to yourself, “Just one more episode; just one more episode.” And though this show was sometimes a challenge to follow (names, so many freaking names to remember), there was a constant sense of escalation. As a result, this series was almost impossible to put down.

But let me warn you now; The Heike Story isn’t the happiest thing in the world. On the contrary, sadness, so much sadness. Maybe have a box of tissues at the ready. 

By the end of this series, you really grow to care for all the characters.

In a short eleven episodes, you witness this family grow from innocent kids to hardened warriors. You see the pressure the children of the Heike are under. You feel for their struggle as they face insurmountable odds, constant danger, and the incompetence of some of their seniors.  

The finale of The Heike Story was particularly emotional. Although you might see it coming, the foreknowledge does nothing to lighten the blow. 

Yes, this show had lightheartedness, it had humor, but it was a tragedy through and through. This is a series that will stick with you for a long time after it finishes. And that is not a bad thing in the slightest. 

The Heike Story was an absolute treat.

Series Negatives

There were two aspects to The Heike Story that made it a noticeable but doable challenge to watch.

First, if you are someone like me who can’t remember names to save your own life, then have fun with this show. It also didn’t help that many characters had similar-sounding names, which does make sense.

Unless I am very much mistaken, an old naming tradition in Japan is for sons to have the final syllable as their father (I am not an expert, I might be getting the nuances wrong). For this series, you had the character Kiyomori and his son Shigemori Shigemore, in turn, had his children:

  • Koremori
  • Sukemori
  • Arimori
  • Kiyotsune (this one didn’t have the naming convention, but I think you see my point)

And this was just among the main cast. This narrative threw in so many other characters that it was, at times, nearly impossible to know who was doing what, who was talking about who, or even who was who. 

Plus, some characters had incredibly similar designs, thus making them even more indistinguishable.

Second, this series takes place throughout an entire lifetime. Aside from our lead character, Biwa, everyone else grows older. In the case of Shigemori’s sons, we first meet them as young boys. Then by the end, they are full-grown men.

By itself, this progression wouldn’t have been too bad. However, years would jump ahead within single episodes, and there would be little indication that a skip of any kind occurred. 

In the long run, neither of these two “issues” took away from The Heike Story. What they do do, though, is ensure that this isn’t the type of series you should watch casually. If you are going to give this show a watch, which is a decision I can get behind, you better sit down with your full attention.

Final Thoughts

The easiest thing to say about this show is its animation is nothing less than gorgeous. However, this series has a lot more to it than pretty pictures.

Although it isn’t the most straightforward narrative to follow, you’ll find it difficult to put it down once you start it. It has an addicting nature that is tricky to explain with words. Be warned, though, “fun” is not a term I would use to describe this series. “Meaningful,” sure, but not fun.

The Heike Story has earned a recommendation.

But these were just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this series? How would you advise The Heike Story? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

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For Anime Hajime, I’m Odyssey, and I’ll see you next time.

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