In 2017, Morning Musume starred in the Engeki Joshibu musical called Pharaoh no Haka, which was met with excellent reviews from fans of the group and the original work. (Which I could have sworn I wrote, but apparently didn’t)
In 2018, they reprised the musical with Pharaoh no Haka – Hebiou Sneferu, shifting the story to focus on one of the cruel king Sneferu.
In this article, I plan to analyze and compare their differences. Is newer always better? Which one should you watch if you were to pick one of the two?
Pharaoh no Haka’s story is about the war between King Sneferu and Prince Sariokhis, and the entangled fate of the people they loved.
2017’s version was rather removed from the original manga it was based off of, but in a good way. It cut out the overly long and extraneous parts of the story, and made it a musical that was a lot easier to digest. It painted a picture of tragically crossed fates and a love story that got your heart aching by the end of it.
But at the same time, it was tragic to the point that it required you to suspend your belief when things just kept going so wrong.
The 2018 Hebiou Sneferu version shifted the story to focus on King Sneferu, cutting out much of the interactions on the Sariokhis and revolution side of the story. In return, you get much more back story, and more explanation of why Sneferu is the complete asshole he is.
They also changed parts of the story to be more logical, instead of just having a string of really bad stuff happening. Reactions of characters were changed from being over the top and Disney-like to something much more reasonable.
Maybe because it had more reasoning and logic behind the story though, I didn’t find the 2018 version quite as emotionally charged. Though I will mention that I was only able to see it on DVD, so some of the magic was definitely lost compared to the 2017 version I saw in person.
The 2017 version had an incredibly strong lineup of songs that also served as a heavy part of the story telling. Characters were introduced through song, relationships were developed through song. It felt like an incredibly crucial part of the musical. Not to mention Nilekia’s harp playing, something that really served to make the character so much more endearing.
The 2018 version, on the other hand, felt significantly less like a musical and more like a play. When I checked the soundtrack to confirm though, it turns out there’s only 6 less songs in Hebiou Sneferu. Yet it feels like such a big difference, and I can’t seem to put my finger on why.
Cast / Characters
Cast in 2017 was partially double cast. The roles of Sariokhis, Sneferu, and Sarai were rotated between Kudo Haruka, Ishida Ayumi, and Oda Sakura.
The 2018 version was not double cast, so all the members were able to concentrate solely one one character. (Also no wigs! Yay!) Some of them also got to reprise their character from 2017 and so were really able to squeeze the flavor out of the character.
Ishida’s reprised Sneferu was seriously impressive and breathed even more life into the character than she did in 2017. Of course the story centers on him this time, so you also get a lot more back story to help with making him more easily empathized with.
I also felt that the main pair casting of Ishida and Oda had just a bit more chemistry than the previous version with Kudo/Ishida and Nonaka. While Nonaka did a phenomenal job of being Nilekia, there was just something Oda had that made an extra little spark.
Speaking of Nonaka, her casting change from the gentle princess Nilekia to the brutish and manly Izai was amazing. While the 2017 Kaga version of Izai was really cool, he was almost too likeable compared to the rough and masculine portrayal by Nonaka, something that felt a lot closer to the original manga version of the character.
Another character I’d like to note is Zig, who was originally Ogata Haruna’s character but was cast by Sato Masaki in 2018. Zig went from a mere underling who got used and ultimately screwed everything up, to a creepy but cool baddie. To be very honest, I was not expecting to like this character and chalked all the hype up to Sato Masaki fans liking their oshimen’s character. But she actually did a wonderful job of it, and made him something you just wanted to hate but found cool anyways.
2017 version- An overarching version of the story that shows you the points of view from both of the warring sides. More emotionally charged and musical-like, but also requires you to suspend belief a bit at just how tragic it is.
2018 – A more in depth story focusing on the Sneferu. It’s more believable and explains character motives better, but felt just a slight bit less emotionally charged.
If you really have to pick one to watch, I would lean towards 2017’s, specifically the Taiyou no Shinden version. While it’s not as deep rooted of a story, I like that it shows both sides of the war, since it makes it that much harder to say who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong. That conflict of feelings was a large part of what made the ending so excruciating yet incredible to watch.
But of course, if you have time for both, I would encourage watching them in the order they were released. They’re both wonderful pieces and well worth the time and money.