I don’t know what’s been up with these last few episodes of Uta Koi. Maybe something’s circulating in the water that makes writing good mid-Heian period pieces a 100% certainty, but hot damn has it picked up in quality since the Sei Shonagon arc ended. It’s not that Sei Shonagon was a bad character by herself, it’s that her and everyone in the emperor’s court romances like they’ve been huffing paint for the better part of their tenure, making their endeavors more exercises in patience than heartbreaking tragedy. It’s been such a highpoint in my anime viewing these past few weeks that they make almost everything preceding it (relatively) look like total crap.
Episode 11 was so damn good that I don’t feel it’s ever too late to cover it in addition to Episode 12, something that I’ll hopefully get to by the end of the weekend. So enjoy some more late gushing about how wonderful this was.
As far as I’m concerned, Episode 11 of Uta Koi is perfect. If somebody walked up to me and asked how a same-sex relationship should be handled in a piece set during the Heian Period, either because they know that I write about Japanese cartoons that occasionally touch on these subjects or because they’re complete lunatics, I can comfortably point toward Uta Koi and say “Just like that. Now stop asking such oddly specific questions.” My idea of a well written same-sex relationship isn’t necessarily the same as the next person’s, or the next-next person’s, but Uta Koi nails it by focusing almost exclusively on the fact that it’s two childhood friends that look to each other for security and comfort, without dwelling on the fact that it’s two women. Hell, it’s a valid interpretation that they’re just good friends, but what’s the point in kidding ourselves with a show that prides itself on being a shameless romance?
It’s only mentioned once that Shikibu, our blonde protagonist with a predilection for goofy faces, and her childhood friend Fujiko can’t be together due to their inability to be formally married, and even that isn’t strained when taken in the context of the setting. This was still the Heian Period, where marriage was more a means of bonding two families than of consummating feelings of love, so it’s only natural that trysts between Shikibu and her longtime friend would be discouraged come marriageable age, particularly because of their shared gender. It creates a situation that makes their inevitable emotional distancing all the more painful, something that Shinkai tried in his most famous cloud-drenched emotion simulator “5 Centimeters per Second” to nowhere near the same effect.
Very little of Uta Koi approaches brilliance, but when it does, it reaches the pinnacle in no time at all. It’s a rarity, but this is what I’d define as a perfect romance episode from start to finish. Kudos and shit.