On Hidamari no Ki

hidamari
The tree from the title (Saigou Takamori on the right).

Tuesday, 1 AM – that’s when NTV has been showing their adult-oriented anime, usually produced by Madhouse, which is now owned by the aforementioned TV station. Recently, the timeslot even got a name – AnichU. The timeslot itself is much, much older than the name, however – for well over a decade, it’s been a valuable haven for seinen anime, which included tens of my favorite anime. Kaiji, Souten Kouro, Chihayafuru… The list is too long to mention them all here. There was a time when I was watching those shows live through KeyholeTV, that’s how precious this hour in the middle of the night is. This time, I’d like to write about an early specimen of NTV-Madhouse production, one from year 2000.

Hidamari no Ki (The Tree in the Sun) is an adaptation of a Tezuka manga, a historical tale set in late Edo era. I’ve first noticed it when browsing through AniDB years ago, and then decided to give it a go when I stumbled upon the first batch of episodes subbed by Orphan Subs a few months ago. I hardly had an idea what I’m getting into, but the show proved very good.

The story starts in 1854 and ends in 1868 with the Meiji Restoration, the regime change which drastically changed Japan and the world. The anime stars Tezuka Ryouan, Tezuka Osamu’s ancestor and a doctor, like the man himself. The other half of the dual protagonist is a fictional character named Ibuya Manjirou, a young samurai, a talented swordsman and Ryouan’s friend. The Tree in the Sun is a long, rich and epic tale, with countless characters (including a lot of historical figures), plenty of character deaths and romance (with women that all look the same). It constantly skips between the two heroes to show this turbulent era from two different perspectives. Ryouan’s plot thread is all about the conflict between the dominant, in spite of its assbackwardness, Chinese medicine and Western medicine, newly introduced to Japan, to the chagrin of powerful and haughty Chinese doctors. Meanwhile, Manjirou’s life is used as an opportunity to tell the tale of political changes.

fukuzawa
It’s Fukuzawa Yukichi!

In the first episode, Ryouan gets accepted into Ogata Kouan’s school of Western medicine, where he meets Fukuzawa Yukichi, who even helps him study at some point. I guess Tezuka Osamu wanted to return the favor by featuring him in the story, since his ancestor gets mentioned briefly in Fukuzawa’s biography in one funny anecdote. There, Ryouan works towards establishing a vaccination clinic in Edo, promoting Western medical practices, fighting with obscurantists insulting his line of work, and trying to convince people in power to his ideas. He even gets through a bit of a Lu Xun episode when a geisha he loved dies when an incompetent Chinese doctor fails to save her life. Thankfully, the just cause of real, rational medicine wins in the end. Sadly, the tale of that victory also proves that stupidity can be only cured by death.

sanai
Sanai, on how backwards Japan had been.

On the other hand, Manjirou is a follower of Fujita Touko, a conservative thinker who predicted the great changes soon to come and inspired youths like him to support the shogunate in those tough times. And he does, even though the old feudal order kicks his ass time and time again as thanks for all the loyalty to it that Manjirou shows. Later, the shogunate asks him to guard the American ambassador – he reacts with fury, as you’d expect from a rightist who thinks the world ends at Japan. As expected of a Sonnou Joui supporter. The story definitely isn’t written from a modern perspective and sees nothing bad in all the xenophobia and cruelty, which pretty much everybody in this anime exhibits. They even placed an adequate disclaimer at the end of the episodes. The deeper into the plot, the more it is about the conflict between the shogunate supporters and the Imperial faction – the heroes have to carefully maneuver between these two powers, since one bad move in this game can result in death. Just look at the sad example of Hashimoto Sanai, a follower of ideas seemingly taken straight from Fukuzawa Yukichi. Like wanting to make Japan able to compete with colonial powers through radical reforms. At moments, this anime intensely reminded me of Fukuzawa’s autobiography and his passionate love-hate for Japan. At the end, Manjirou finds himself unable to live in the new order, joins the allies of the Shogun and dies in battle. Or does he? The titular tree, which symbolizes the Edo era, falls.

The fates of the two intertwine countless times – sometimes, Ryouan will be curing Manjirou and his comrades, and sometimes it’s the samurai who’ll be using his sworfighting skills for the doctor’s sake. Like when the Chinese doctors hire some thugs to kill Ryouan. And that isn’t even the only case when bad guys from the upper rungs of the social ladder hire lowlifes to assassinate someone, it happens all the time in the story.

tezukarun
The Tezuka Run.

As for the aesthetic side of Hidamari no Ki, keep in mind that it’s an adaptation of a Tezuka manga, which retains the goofy-looking Tezuka aesthetic – it sometimes spoils scenes that were meant to be taken seriously. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s full of oldschool directorial choices courtesy of Sugii Gisaburou, an absolute dinosaur of Japanese animation, who debuted in the 1960s. If you’ve seen any of his works, you might wonder if this anime moves forward at a glacial pace – thankfully, it doesn’t. The Tree in the Sun can boast some suberb music, however. The soundtrack by Matsui Keiko is full of piano sounds and the pompatic non-vocal tune that serves as the OP of the series remains in memory.

Hidamari no Ki was a fun ride. It’s worth a go, I think. Tezuka’s brand of historical comics proves both entertaining and edifying to this day. Stories of this sort, which teach you history and encourage you to think are a rarity among anime, sadly. That’s why The Tree in the Sun deserves more appreciation. I think it’s been subbed for a while, but I recommend the newly put out fansubs by Orphan Subs.

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