From what I’ve seen of Uta Koi so far, I want to dislike it. I want to watch an episode, feel a familiar pit of vitriolic loathing swell in my stomach, and vomit it through my fingers onto the keyboard to truly express in written form why it’s the scum of the earth, and tangentially bring up why ARIA is the best thing ever. But unfortunately I can’t do that for everything in life, even when talking about anime that examines possible catalysts behind the famous One-Hundred Poets’ writings. There’s something about Uta Koi that’s so pure, so wonderful, that it shines through the many faults and manages to give me something to love about each episode.
When broken down to its base form, almost every episode follows a similar formula of boy meets girl, girl reacts coldly, boy smarms and snarks his way into her heart, girl bemoans that they can’t be together after a time, all topped off with a bittersweet ending. There’s very little variety in both the writing and the visual style, a hefty budget obviously having slipped this property by in the conception stage. Most damning, the dialogue often manages to be both dull and pretentious; considering that the show is about 95% dialogue and 5% narration, that’s pretty fucking damning. With this combination of problems, I want to dislike it, I should dislike it, but for the life of me I can’t help but find it endearing.
While the formula is hardly groundbreaking at the best of times, there’s a certain level of skillful nuance that tinges each piece of dialogue, to the point that the words themselves pale in meaning to the context, or the motives behind them. Uta Koi is a rare case where the emotional tinge of a conversation is more substantial than the conversation itself, where the feelings of the people behind the words shine above the actual exchanges. Quite simply, it’s a case of anime adding depth to a work that would be forgettable if it didn’t have one element crucial to animating a dialogue-heavy work—actual human voices conveying actual human emotions, something lost on a few of the more dialogue-reliant shows of the season. Also funny faces.
Vuc of Altair & Vega based one of his recent posts around the concept of agency, the idea that people are in charge of their own fates and can mold their place in the world in a manner that they see fit. Uta Koi plays with this on an almost episodic basis, the concept continuously rearing its head in a time where social mobility and agency were nothing but fantasies for the world at large, applying especially to women. One episode in particular involved a man attempting to court his sister in an attempt to keep her from running away to work in the emperor’s court, his reasoning being that she would have almost no say over what position she would hold and what would happen to her. In the end, with her brother’s consent, the sister did run off and ended up working in the imperial court. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the position that she wanted and there was very little mobility. Little finishing touches like this really make the world of Uta Koi breathe when it would otherwise stagnate, or at least not create interest.
This isn’t to say that it’s a good show. Aside from the conversational subtext and (in my opinion) superlative voice acting with layers of expression, it’s a mediocre series of love stories that simply place people with contemporary, controversial ideas into a period piece, something that Hollywood has been doing for decades in order to make their characters more relatable to Joe “I Swear I Don’t Like Romance Because Hardly Any Tits or Explosions and I Swear I’m Just Trying to Make the Wife Happy. Really, Honest!” Six-Pack. However, it’s better in that it makes me feel for the plight of these star-crossed lovers, which apparently the entirety of the One-Hundred Poets falls under. Thankfully, subtext and superlative voice acting are all it needs, and it utilizes them to their fullest.