Utakoi is an anime series with stories based on the 100 poems from the Hyakunin Isshu anthology that were written by members of Japan's imperial court over a period that lasted roughly seven centuries. These poems are the basis for games like Karuta (which was a major component of the anime series, Chihayafuru).
Even though the stories presented in this series are based on the 100 poems from the Hyakunin Isshu, they are liberal interpretations of the stories in the poems. From watching the first episode, it appears that there will be two stories presented, which are bookended by a narrator. In the series, the narrator is supposedly the person who chose the 100 poems. Personally, I didn't think the narrator really added much to the series; in fact, I thought he was more of a distraction than anything else.
In the first episode, the stories that are included are labeled as "Takaiko and Narihira" and "Yukihira and Hiroko." In "Takaiko and Narihira," Narihira is a womanizer who falls in love with Takaiko, a young woman who is betrothed to marry the emperor. At first, Takaiko rebuffs his advances, but the two
eventually fall in love and try to run away together.
In "Yukikira and Hiroko," Yukikira is Narihira's older brother, and has a very strong marriage. He has recently been promoted, and will be leaving Hiroko behind for a while. Yukikira visits his younger brother and tries to dispense some advice. This story is set five years prior to Narihira meeting Takaiko.
In this first episode, I enjoyed the story of "Takaiko and Narihira." In some respects, the relationship feels a little rushed, but this is due to time constraints. However, I found myself caring about these two characters in the short amount of time we get to see them on screen.
However, "Yukihira and Hiroko" was a different story. It was a little on the boring side, because there really wasn't any tension going on in the story. Yes, Yukihira was concerned about leaving Hiroko behind, but it was nothing like the tension that was seen in "Takaiko and Narihira." Also, in some respects, the characters of Yukihira and Hiroko felt a little flat, and I had a hard time really caring about what happened to the two of them.
The animation in Utakoi is actually pretty decent. My main complaint is that some of lines used to outline the characters were a bit on the thick side, and really stood out too much for my taste. Outside of that, though, Utakoi has a nice look to it.
I think that Utakoi has a lot of potential, but I think that it will have the same problems that Folktales From Japan faces in regards to being licensed for a home video release in North America. While both series are well-done for their respective audiences, there's only going to be a limited appeal to audiences in North America. For both series, the main audience that will be interested are those viewers who want to learn more about the history of culture of Japan. If you have any interest in sampling this show, I would strongly recommend watching the subtitled episodes that are available at Crunchyroll.
After watching the first episode, I would recommend Utakoi to anime viewers who are 15 or 16 year of age and older.