"Hyouge Mono" is set on the eve of Sengoku period in Japan, starting somewhere in last years of rule of Oda Nobunaga. In the anime we follow the important events in Japan's history for next ten years, including the wars, politics and cultural life. This is seen primary from the eyes of Furuta Sasuke, who starts as a lowly vassal to Oda Nobunaga. What differentiates Furuta from bunch of other warriors and vassals is that he is actually more of an aesthete than a warrior. But to enjoy life of an aesthete, one needs to have money. Luckily for him, aesthetes, especially those interested in the way of tea, are on the rise in this time...
Sengoku period is a very turbulent time for Japan, a time of constant warring before final unification of Japan. Of course, such times gave rise to many popular warriors and leaders, like Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu (to name the most prominent). And as such, it is a ripe pool of ideas for anime.
There are several obvious and important aspects that make this anime different from your usual one. First one is that Furuta is in no way the main character - the show doesn't actually have one. Furuta is only the means through which we follow the events, plot and other characters. He is not even an important man, especially at the beginning of the show, and he has to bend toward the will of others. In the end, he is just a conveniently placed close to important people with small influence on the events. This is a somewhat common occurrence in books (let's only mention Guy Gavriel Kay, who use it all the time), but I don't remember seeing it in anime much (maybe in few josei anime). Actually, there is even less focus of Furuta in later parts of anime.
Secondly, it cannot be said that this anime has a plot in classical sense. We are suddenly immersed in an ongoing world full of events, we follow it for some time (10 years and 39 episodes) and then we leave it without the feel on conclusion you have when some show is finished. At one time, somewhere around 25th episode, I have made a note "totally don't know where the plot is going", because I expected first part to be the introduction and second the real revelation of the story, but I was wrong.
And third, the biggest difference is the level of historical accuracy and details. In my 200+ anime that I have watched, I don't remember ever watching such anime. I can't say that I am a student of Japanese history, since most that I know about it came from common knowledge, anime, Wikipedia and articles on Internet and magazines. There is even a warning at the start of every episode that this is a work of fiction. But on the other hand, every character, important event and even things and concepts can be found on Wikipedia or other online encyclopedia. Yes, a lots of events, or better said, reasons behind events are made more dramatic or romantic (not in sense of love), but nevertheless, the amount of accurate historical details is astounding. Interesting, characters even speak with slightly archaic speech, and subtitles that I had reflected that.
Of course, the theme of anime is strange also: the Japanese tea ceremony. I never encountered this before, and I thought it to be completely fabricated. I was very surprised when I went to Wikipedia and found out that it isn't. This gives the anime a somewhat slow and serious, but at the same time funny aspect. Furuta's tea-obsession looks ridiculous from our perspective, but I see it was a serious business at the time. There is a lot of details about tea ceremonies and talk about elegance and aesthetics. If there is a message that this anime wants to convey, then it is something like: "Always do your best in everything, but never fret about it - be elegant and relaxed". This is evident for Furuta's character that is, as I said, obsessed, pretentious and overeager to become famous as aesthete, even contrary to his sincere liking of the way of tea. Later he grows much and becomes more relaxed and enjoys the tea and beauty for itself.
This brings us to another topic: characters. There is really a bunch of them and it takes time to become familiar with them (especially since lot of them change - this is war, after all). It helps if you are familiar with the Sengoku period. They change appearance, clothes, hairstyles. But more important, they really change during the anime. Furuta, Rikyu, Hashiba - at the end, they are very different people from those who they were when we met them. I even like them more in the second part of the show, when they are more mature and relaxed...
Even though "Hyouge Mono" is a serious and historical anime, there is really a lot of humor. A lots of it steam from Furuta's obsession for art pieces, and the faces he makes (I was delightful to see that Troll-face in episode 16, during the shrimp-mongering dance). Also, it is funny when someone pricks his bubble of self-importance. But it is interesting that there is some humor that is not intended toward viewer (so that we laugh at characters), but it is more the humor between the characters so the viewer can laugh with them (like when Furuta steals the tea-jar lid). On the other hand, it is easily to forget that this funny little man is actually a warrior and veteran but we are reminded of that on few occasions.
The ending was really something. It was a slow rise during few episodes to a glorious culmination - a powerful and emotional ending. It was delighted to see that mange that anime is based upon is still ongoing - which means I can hope for eventual sequel.
I was a bit disappointed by Date Masamune's appearance and mannerism, who looks like he escaped from "Sengoku Basara". On the other hand, he was very funny, and in the end did fit with the rest of characters.
Animation and colors in nothing over the top, but it is very good. Design of characters and care for details (I mention clothes and hairstyles) are on the other hand superb. As is the voice-acting.
It's been a long time since I gave some anime 10 on AniDB (I gave them all around when I was younger), but "Hyouge Mono" definitely deserves it: complex and detailed, historically based with realistic characters, no good guys, no main character, almost a slice-of-life in turbulent times - this really an unique seinen anime. Unfortunately, I don't think it will be deservedly appreciated because it will be too hard for majority of viewers. But if you consider yourself a fan of seinen or historical anime, give this a try.