Hidden Gems: Utawarerumono

I was originally going to post this much earlier, and try to give everyone who takes my recommendation to heart plenty of time to watch this one before the sequel comes out with the 2015 Fall season.  However I had a couple of awards, challenges and Surly Summaries to write, so now I’m going to settle for posting this on October 1st.  If you wanted to know my opinion on this one, I highly recommend it.  If that’s all you wanted to see, feel free to get started on the show because this post is going to be a bit different from the normal Hidden Gems.  I’m going to tell you what I think about the series and it’s various aspects but I’m going to do it by telling a story, specifically my story about my experience with the show.  Anyway, let’s begin.

If you know about this show already, congratulations you’re doing better than I did before I watched it.  I first found Utawarerumono thanks to a 5ish second clip in some random AMV on Youtube.  When I looked the show up I was greeted by a barren comments section, literally there were no comments and I’d never heard of this show before.  I almost dropped it then and there without giving it a chance.  But I decided to go ahead and try it anyway.  It was one of my better decisions as an anime fan.  I loved the show, I really enjoyed myself and that was that.  But I’d never have told you back then this was a show you had to watch.  I mean I had a good time but I also went in with very low expectations, so I’d always figured it was just good.  Then I took a few years off and re-watched it, going in with much higher expectations and a more critical mindset.  And I noticed things.  Like how awful the CG was, granted this show aired in 2006 I think, but luckily the CG was very brief and rarely used.  I also noticed that damn did this show blow my expectations out of the water, again.  That was when I knew I’d really found something special with this show.  So what is Utawarerumono about and what does it have to offer?

Utawarerumono follows the journey of Hakuoro, though this is not his true name.  His tale begins in a small rural village that looks like it came straight from the Edo-period Japan or even earlier save for one major exception, everyone in this village has some kind of animal ears (kemonomimi) and some even have tails.  Also people ride on big green velociraptor-things.  Hakuoro wakes with no memory of who, what or where he is.  He’s also been badly injured and is currently being tended to by Tuskuru, the village healer and her granddaughter Eruuruu.  Hakuoro also has a mask that covers about half of his face that can’t be removed.  No doubt that sounds like it would be slow and boring to some of you, and you would be right, for about 1 or 2 episodes.  But despite its humble beginnings, Utawarerumono picks up the pace very quickly and becomes much larger than its early episodes would let on.  One of Utawarerumono’s many strengths is good management of time.  During the slower episodes there’s always plenty of things going on or at bare minimum, information and detail for us to drink in.  There’s also plenty of action, the first episode might have you believe otherwise but there are a lot of battles in this show complete with their accompanying gore.  More importantly perhaps, it knows both when to slow down and when it’s time to kick into high gear.  In other words we have plenty of breaks between the action or major story developments but the breaks are kept short and concise enough to keep us from getting bored.  This keeps the story moving along smoothly and allows the show to bring out an impressive amount of story within its 26 episodes.  Seriously, very few shows get as much done as Utawarerumono and even fewer can do it without feeling rushed.  However I’d say the two greatest things about the show are its characters and their relations to each other.

Utawarerumono has an impressively large cast and manages to keep just about everyone interesting.  The characters are all memorable, even the ones who aren’t particularly interesting, because we spend a lot of time with them both in action and at rest, and the designs are varied enough that everyone is easy to identify.   More importantly though this show mixes things up a little by making the huge cast act like one giant family.  That probably doesn’t sound like a big deal with the all the shounen, friendship is power, type shows out there but Utawarerumono has very different character in comparison.  If I had to give it a simple description, I’d say it’s more realistic than its shounen equivalent.  Everyone has a bit more nuance and depth, both in their backgrounds and their relationships.  It makes the whole thing feel more believable and more mature where the shounen friendship-fests are more childish.  A lot of what makes Utawarerumono work is the characters, it has an interesting mix of military types, non-combatants, youths and adults.  What’s more many of the characters come from different races and have totally different life experiences.  But they always come together, both in times of crisis and in times of peace and happiness.  You get to see the kids grow, the young adults mature and the adults themselves really come into their own as they guide the rest and each other through the complicated mess of life.  That may not sound very special but it’s a rare thing in my experience to see all three things happen in a single show, though all the teenage only casts don’t help.  The narrative has plenty of twists and turns and it’s always interesting to see how the cast thinks differently before acting together, since they have a useful combination of brains, brawn and skill between them when they all work together.

Overall if you want a story that really stands out from the crowd, full of well developed characters, rich environments and plenty of action, Utawarerumono has got what you need.  It has a little bit of everything, plus excellent pacing, and it just makes for a great experience.  It just feels more mature and complete than so many other shows.  And so without further ado I demand you all to watch this show, in fact I command you to marathon it right now so you’re ready for the upcoming sequel.  Thank you for reading, hopefully you all enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.

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