What it’s about: Despite being the second son of the Japanese Emperor, Prince Genji was removed from the line of succession due to his mother’s status as a concubine. As a young man, Genji is listless and without an outlet for his ambition. He spends his days seeking pleasure and leisure, seducing the beauties of the court and building a reputation for himself as a serial womaniser and romantic. But in his heart, he pines for the woman who helped raise him, the Emperor’s new wife Lady Fujitsubo.
Why you should watch it: The Tale of Genji is one of the oldest known novels, and a true classic of Japanese literature. The anime adaptation is a mature romantic drama, exploring the character of a young man who wants for nothing – except perhaps for love. The show condenses the story admirably, moving through the highlights of Genji’s story – his conquests and his failures – without lingering or rushing. The visuals are bright and aesthetically quite pleasing. At the start, the character designs seem a bit odd. But they evoke the classic origins of the story quite nicely. All in all, it’s a melodrama with its own very distinctive style. Try it if you want something different in the romance department.
Caveats: The show is first and foremost a soap opera. It’s written to appeal primarily to the demographic of older women, and this is reflected in every aspect from the characters to the dialogue to the overall feel of the show. As a fairly faithful translation of a classic work, it suffers a bit from outdated ideas about romance – Genji himself is given a bit more sympathy than I’d be personally willing to extend over his own actions.
Themes: Ennui. The power of love, including its power to destroy through jealousy, lack of reciprocation or pining for a forbidden romance.