K-On’s Director Just Silently Launched An Incredible New Anime Series

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If we’re counting laurels, The Heike Story is this season’s biggest release. An all-star team of the anime industry’s best united under an award-winning studio and director, you’ll be hard pushed to find more talent than this working under the banner of a single project.

Spearheading everything is Naoko Yamada — the critically acclaimed director of K-On, A Silent Voice, Liz and the Bluebird, and so much more. The Heike Story is her first production at a studio other than Kyoto Animation, where she spent the past decade developing her signature use of flower language, expressive feet, and intimate examinations of femininity in stories that have often found queer audiences in the U.S. 

Having departed from Kyoto Animation, she’s now partnered with Eunyoung Choi and Masaaki Yuasa’s internationally recognized studio Science SARU. But Yuasa, who made such acclaimed titles as Japan Sinks: 2020, Devilman Crybaby, Ride Your Wave, and Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken at Saru isn’t involved with Heike. Rather, Yamada brought in past collaborators to work with Saru’s lesser-known names on one of the best-looking anime of fall. 

Fumiko Takano’s character art for Biwa. Credit: Funimation.

Prolific screenwriter and Yamada’s long-time collaborator Reiko Yoshida returns, somewhat unsurprisingly. She has written all the director’s filmography and has recently won awards for her work on Violet Evergarden. Kensuke Ushio, who scored A Silent Voice and Liz and the Bluebird, followed Yamada as well. “Rather than a story of major historical events, this story is one of, to borrow the director’s words, ’real people’s lives,’” Ushio said in a comment to Funimation, “It is each of their stories. It is the story of each person’s joy, anger, sorrow, and laughter. I hope the music encompasses and complements all of that.” 

The Heike Story features character design by mangaka Fumiko Takano, while Saru’s Takashi Kokima (Ride Your Wave) is adapting them for animation. Bringing them to life is a star-studded voice cast including Aoi Yūki (My Hero Academia, Fire Force, etc.) and Takahiro Sakurai (Sound! Euphonium, Fire Force, etc.).

The Heike Story is an adaptation of Hideo Furukawa’s 2016 translation of The Tale of the Heike. A 14th-century epic exploring a 12th-century civil war. The Heike Story follows Biwa, a young orphan girl with foresight. She’s taken in by the leader of one of the war’s factions, Taira no Shigemori of the Taira Clan. Visually, the show will remind many of Isao Takahata’s 2013 The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, using a similar art style evocative of period art.

Similar to Kaguya, The Heike Story delights in the comedy of manners that royal etiquette presents. But while both works are interested in examining the restrictive gender roles of their respective eras, Yamada’s presentation has so far landed much better than Takahata’s at-times overt depictions of femininity.

The Heike Story is streaming on Funimation.