Company: Production IG
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 7/6/2004 to 3/29/2005
To cover up the fact that the young nobleman Minamoto no Raiko is bedridden and to protect the Minamoto family from falling from the Emperor’s graces, Raiko’s sister Hikaru disguises as him to complete a mission for the imperial court: retrieve the magatama, a sacred stone, which can save the Kyoto from sickness and decay, from the rebelling Tsuchigumo clans. And as if that task in itself wasn’t difficult enough, political machinations behind the scenes threaten to abuse the magatama’s power should Hikaru’s mission be successful…
summary by Taleweaver
Highs: Good transfer from literary source; engrossing adventure plot; artwork befitting the setting
Lows: Awkward transition to second half; ending a little clichéd
The original Otogi Zoshi was a collection of short stories and descriptive texts from the Heian era, unrelated with one another and probably only gathered to serve as general amusement for the court nobles of the Japanese middle ages. Fleshing out a plot that connects these stories within the context of its era must have been an incredibly tenuous task for the makers of the anime, but they deserve full credit for managing to pull it off almost without flaw. The journeys of Hikaru and her loyal bodyguard Tsuna add to an engrossing adventure plot that will convince lovers of action and drama alike. Even when the story takes an unexpected turn after episode 13 (some might even say that it turns into an entirely different kind of story), it still retains what makes the series worth watching: an air of melancholic mystery that is unusual for a show with so many action scenes.
Aside from an entertaining (if maybe a little predictable) plot, Otogi Zoshi offers solid animation and a decent soundtrack, but it truly shines when it comes to the artwork; almost during the entire first half, the background art is painted the way an artist from the Heian era would have, in dark, evocative inks, sometimes highly stylized and always full of contrast and shadow. Rarely do you come upon a series that takes its own setting so seriously. And when the story takes a turn towards the unexpected with episode 14, the art style changes along with it so that it always remains true to the setting. Production IG did well with that decision.
The way the producers handled the transition between the two “parts” of Otogi Zoshi, however, strongly lacks when compared to the rest of the series. The change can only be described as awkward; the first part completely lacks conclusion, and two well-loved side characters from that arc are never given the development they deserved. Also, the second part tries to introduce the new setting by mimicking the introduction the characters had at the very beginning of the series, and unfortunately, it doesn’t fit into what we later learn of them. To make matters worse, the series ends in exactly the kind of cliché it seemed to reject during the greatest part of its run. While it still retains some originality, it is far from what it could have been. Even more so, the final two episodes are only used for a side story that adds next to nothing. A little more courage on the scriptwriter’s side would have done wonders here.
As an action adventure, Otogi Zoshi is a full success, easily captivating the audience with both artistic quality and an engrossing plot. In terms of drama, it could have been better, though these flaws certainly don’t take away much of the entertainment it provides. For Production IG, this is a solid piece of work, maybe not exactly groundbreaking but certainly enjoyable. If you’re into period pieces (and don’t mind a surprise or two), give this anime a try.
Otogi Zoshi can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.