Much to my surpise the new anime series that I’m enjoying most is Utawarerumono The False Faces (Utawarerumono–Itsuwari no Kamen) (Crunchyroll), a fantasy-adventure in which a man finds himself in a strange world where the people have animal ears and act sort of like medieval Japanese.
This is a sequel to a 2006 anime series which I never watched. Fortunately it seems quite possible to enjoy the sequel without having seen the original, though I’m probably missing a lot of subtle implications due to my ignorance of the backstory.
(“Utawarerumono” means “Someone celebrated in song and story.” Or perhaps “Something.” The difference would be clear if the title was written in kanji but it’s in hiragana.)
Our nameless hero wakes up and finds himself without any memories, stranded on a snow-covered mountain in his pajamas. (Incidentally the scenery in this show is beautiful.)
He is immediately attacked by something scary.
Then he is threatened by something even scarier that ate the first scary thing.
Fortunately he is saved by Kuon, a traveling herbalist who happens by at the right moment.
Kuon seems an ideal heroine character: cheerful, resourceful, adventurous and honorable, though with a certain mischievous streak.
Though her name means “dog” in Greek, Kuon’s tail is as expressive as a cat’s and prehensile as a monkey’s, not to mention strong enough to use as a weapon.
Since this guy obviously can’t survive on his own, Kuon decides to take responsibility for him, as one might an abandoned child.
Since he can’t remember his own name she gives him the name “Haku“, saying that it is the name of someone famous. (I’m told it’s a shortened form of the name of the hero of the original series.)
Haku is a bit of a jerk. This should be obvious to Western viewers but will be much clearer to Japanese viewers. For example at the inn in Episode 1 he should offer to let Kuon use the bath first since she is obviously his senior. Instead he arrogantly goes first without even asking. Kuon takes revenge by peeking…
…and gets more of an eyeful than she bargained for.
Kuon says that Haku must find a way to earn a living, but he seems incapable of any sort of manual labor. Fortunately he turns out to have some useful skills as he shows by fixing a broken gristmill that the villagers had been unable to repair.
This attracts the attention of Ukon, a smart cheerful military commander. He seems like a good guy to have around when there’s trouble.
Ukon is accompanied by Maroro, a whiny effeminate court scholar. This guy is really annoying but he can be useful to have around since he’s a semi-competent wizard.
Rurutie is an imperial princess whom Ukon must escort to the capital. Very young, shy and naive, she is perhaps overly impressed with Haku’s good looks.
Kokopo is Rurutie’s mighty steed: a giant bird with the intelligence of a typical movie horse. Kokopo develops an immediate crush on Haku which she proceeds to show with constant excessive displays of affection.
Come to think of it, between Kuon, Rurutie and Kokopo it seems that Haku is gaining a standard anime harem.