Please don’t ask me to pronounce that title.
What’s the Story?
A man in a hospital gown finds himself stumbling through a strange winter landscape. He has no memory of who is he or where he comes from. After being chased by a monster and weirded out by a blob, he comes across a friendly face, Kuon, who happens to be a cat girl. In fact everyone in this land looks to be part animal. Just who is Haku and what is this strange land he has found himself in? Ah who cares about that stuff, where’s the nearest bath?
Uta…Utawar….Utawa…The False Faces is probably an anime that has disappointed me more than most, and part of it is my fault. I mean for one the story goes down a completely different path to what I was expecting, and not in a good way. You’d think from the set of a guy with amnesia finding himself in a strange land the story would be about him discovering who is and maybe even finding a way home. Nope. Haku doesn’t even seem to care. He hardly ever thinks about where he might come from and no one ever brings up the fact that he doesn’t have a tail like everyone else. You’d think the loss of one’s identity would have some kind of emotional or psychological effect on him, but nope, let’s get drunk and move on to the next bath scene. The anime does eventually answer the questions, but it’s not through Haku actively seeking out the answers and it has so little impact on the plot that it’s clearly just there because it has to be. If you’re not going to do something with a plot point, and this may be a revolutionary concept, don’t include it!
I do admit that another fault with this anime is one that falls at my feet. I watched this anime out of order, though I didn’t realise it until I was a few episodes in and only then because of a few comments on the Crunchyroll forums. This anime is a sequel to another anime under the (copy/paste unpronounceable title here) series. Now this isn’t a direct sequel, its set in the same world but follows completely different characters and is even set in a different land, that’s why I kept watching it. You don’t need any prior knowledge at the beginning of the series, but as you get into the latter half and more characters start popping up out of nowhere, you get the sense that some characters have some kind of special significance that you need to watch the first series to understand. Also the ending of this anime makes it very clear that this entire series is pretty much just set up for a third series down the line. I don’t think prior knowledge is in anyway essential to watch this anime, but I do get the feeling that it would have been a lot more satisfying if I’d watched the first series, well, first.
The rest of my disappointment however falls completely at the anime’s feet. My main gripe is the pacing. Now at first I really liked the languid pace that the anime set, it was nice and relaxing, you got to just enjoy the pretty scenery and soak up all that wonderful atmosphere (this is definitely a gorgeous anime). Then it started to drag on at excruciating levels. A good majority of this anime is spent following Haku around as he gets up to various misadventures and slowly builds up his harem. There are also a lot of bath scenes, my god are there a lot of bath scenes. I’m surprised the characters don’t walk around looking like a bunch of prunes. It’s ridiculous.
So much time is soaked up by the bath scenes and the meandering plot that when the anime finally gets to something more than hijinks it has to rush through several big events in hardly any time at all. We have an invasion by barbarians, a war with another country, the death of an important figure and an assassination plot all squeezed up together while attempting to develop the characters. Thanks to some good animation and decent acting the events still hold some emotional impact, but if these plot points had been allowed to breathe properly they could have been truly sensational. Surely we could have dropped a bath scene or two to make room for this stuff.
Finally the characters, there’s too many of them. You just need to look at Haku’s harem to see that. You don’t need a cast this big, and you certainly don’t need so many following Haku around. A couple of them are funny and have decent likeable personalities, keep them, throw out the other half dozen, let’s face it they’re only there for when the plot needs them. Then you’ve also got all the folks around the city, the generals, the family and friends of the harem, the characters that pop in from the first series and the anime just keeps adding more and more, most of which go undeveloped because there’s just no room for them.
It’s a real shame, because I was enjoying this anime at the start. I like this world. It’s a huge landscape with lots of possibilities and has a slightly unique vibe to it. Its fantasy and magic with just a little hint of sci-fi mixed in, and I honestly wouldn’t mind learning more about this world.
In the end, if you’re going to watch this anime, I really do recommend trying to track down the first series (I think I read somewhere that Funimation has it, but I’ve yet to verify this). When the anime is taken by itself, it doesn’t make for a compelling story. The meandering and poorly paced story and the excessive cast of character hamper what could have been a really enjoyable and unique anime. The setting is interesting and the animation, especially during the action scenes, is superb. It’s probably worth a watch, after the first season.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday.