• Genre : Folklore, Mystery, Supernatural,
  • Episodes: 12
  • Studio: Toei Animation

On a dark and rainy night, a pregnant woman desperately begs for a room to spend the night at an inn. Will she be able to escape the murderous threat at her heels? An unfortunate ship drifts into the Dragon’s Triangle. As the passengers pray for an escape from the spirit infested sea, they begin to suspect that their change of course may not have been an accident. A soft-spoken woman confesses to the horrible murder of her oppressive husband and his family but how is it even possible for such a weak woman to do all that by herself? Three men compete for the same woman’s hand in marriage. Who will be the victor and be able to share in the woman’s great fortune? A group of seemingly unrelated people are brought together for the maiden voyage of a luxurious new train. As they get to know each other they realize they have more in common than they thought but will they be able to unravel the dark secret that bind them before it proves fatal? What do all these stories have in common? The Medicine Vendor  calmly makes his way through all of them, facing the perils that men have wrought with his sacred sword at his side.

Some of you may know that in the days before Halloween, I’ve decided to watch a few more anime considered “horror”. Namely, The Flowers of Evil, Mononoke, Hellsing and Shiki.

Mononoke is a spin off of Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales, expanding upon the story of Bake Neko and its protagonist, the Medicine Vendor. Despite being essentially a sequel  Mononoke manages to be an absolutely one of a kind experience.

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You didn’t miss anything, the scene starts this way…

For those of you who may be curious, a Mononoke are a type of Yokai, usually either vengeful spirits (onryō), dead spirits (shiryō) or live spirits (ikiryō), that are harmful or malevolent towards humans. They are known to possess humans and make them suffer, cause disease, or even death.

As for Mononoke the anime, it is a surreal and entrancing journey through highly stylized classic Japanese ghost stories. Do you think I use too many adjectives? This show is completely unique looking. You will absolutely recognize it no matter how brief the clip. The aesthetics are made to resemble traditional Japanese woodblock prints completely saturated with the full spectrum of rich colors and innumerable patterns. It’s meth for the eyes and nothing short of gorgeous. It was also very interesting to see characters with European coloration illustrated in that style. I can’t bring myself to say anything bad about the look of the show.

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I need to figure out how to do that hairstyle

The animation itself is slow and somewhat jagged. It recalls stop motion animation. On top of that, the frequent use of jump cuts adds to the overall jittery feel of the movement on screen. The production used a clever trick of saturating and desaturating colors, either in general or in particular objects/characters, to convey a character’s state of mind, define the mood of a scene or draw the viewer’s eye to a specific spot without adding much movement. As such, the show maintains a ephemeral, otherworldly feel at all times. Since the designs are so busy, the more subdued action is actually a welcome calm. You will certainly never want for anything to see on the screen.  The show also benefits from a fantastic traditional soundtrack and unique, carefully executed voice acting.

Yes, all the technical elements are stellar but that’s not the impressive part. The impressive part is that they all serve an integral role in the story. Character designs aren’t simply nice to look at, they are carefully chosen to tell you about a person’s background and current situation without having to say it out loud. Voice actors choose a cadence and speech pattern that matches the historical setting of their individual stories. Color palettes shift according to old superstitions to foreshadow events or indicate a change of tenor. This is some involved stuff, folks.

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The frequent use of partitions as eye catches is yet another nice touch

The show is split up into 5 individual stories, each 2 to 3 episodes, with the character of the Medicine Vendor being the common link. These stories seem to be classic morality tales, probably adaptations of Japanese folklore (I did not do my research – sorry…I will and I might tell you about it) but the last one was remarkably reminiscent of Murder on the Orient Express. The few recurring motifs I could pick up on were that women are much more likely to end up dead and pregnancy is horrible. I’m pretty sure I knew both of those already but it’s nice to be reminded once in awhile.

Each individual story is like a short one act play rather than a novel type narrative. We are brought into the story at a specific time and follow through just until the immediate issue is resolved. Only the information which relates to what is directly happening is revealed and we get very little in way of expositional character backgrounds or world building. Basically, we are given snapshots instead of full pictures. It works extremely well within this specific narrative framework.

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What do you mean context?

This said, even though the stories are presented in an unusual and very surreal matter, I found that they were all very easy to follow. The narrative keeps a tight focus on the story and is very careful to give us all the explanations required to easily navigate the strange world it weaves without ever resorting to simply explaining everything. I’m not sure how to describe it properly, but the writing was just very well organized.

Despite being the only recurring character, the Medicine Vendor remains just as mysterious, if not more so, as the other characters. That works very much in his favor. This is one fantastic character. The design is breathtaking and intricate. I commend any cosplayer that has attempted it. He remains enigmatic but never feels incomplete. His magical boy(?) transformation sequences were surprisingly beautiful and I looked forward to it every (unfortunately few) time. Rarely has a character left me wanting more quite as much.

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tat rain tho

Some of you may have come across this title described as a horror anime. Personally, I think this is a little misleading. You could qualify this of psychological or abstract horror but there are no jump scares or gross out scenes normally associated with the genre. Although the stories are often very gory, everything is so stylized that it really presents the idea of violence rather than the act itself.

I’ve manages to type out a lot of words without saying much. It’s a gift. Here is the bottom line. Mononoke is an artsy, intellectual show. It’s slow paced and will drag for some. I can see it being boring if you’re not into this sort of thing. On the other hand, it is a singular experience. I would say give the second story a try (I liked it more than the first) and see where you stand. For my part, I stand with the Medicine Vendor.

Random thought: How has Instagram not made that lipstick a thing yet? I tried it at home and it looked pretty great, if I say so myself…

I have this framed in my room. Go see the original : https://www.zerochan.net/558907

Favorite character: Medecine Vendor

What this anime taught me: What mononoke actually means.

 If you do something really stupid, never say that you are drunk. Unless you’re not

Suggested drink: Snake Oil

  • Every time a character does a Big Gasp – take a sip
  • Every time we see a paper charm – take a sip
  • Every time there is an obvious circle motif – swirl your glass
  • Every time a character speaks wordlessly – take a sip
  • Every time we see a partition – take a sip
  • Every time there is a jump cut – take a sip
  • Every time anyone stands on the ceiling – look up 
  • Every time the Medicine Vendor uses his scales – take a sip
  • Every time we hear the explanation of shape, truth and reason – take a sip
  • Every time the sacred sword is unsheath – cheer

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28 thoughts

  1. The is one of my favorites. It is more sad than scary to me, but in a good way, a haunting way which makes me yearn for life. Well that is how I felt when I saw it a couple years ago.

    1. It is wistful. It’s like an exploration of those feelings that are usually hidden under horror tropes

  2. Oh, I actually saw this one! And you did a pretty amazing job describing its innate…specialness. Mononoke is simply unique and I have to agree with you about how it’s not really horror. It really does make you think, though.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    1. The thing is, the actually stories, when you think about it, are pretty traditional horror. Like if they were presented in a more direct way, they would definitely qualify…

  3. “Some of you may have come across this title described as a horror anime. Personally, I think this is a little misleading. You could qualify this of psychological or abstract horror but there are no jump scares or gross out scenes normally associated with the genre. Although the stories are often very gory, everything is so stylized that it really presents the idea of violence rather than the act itself.”

    I don’t do horror but if it’s how you described it then I’ll give it a shot. :3

  4. I’ve never actually seen this one. After reading this I kind of want to look it up at some point though I don’t know when I’ll have time. Thanks for sharing.

    1. The nice thing about this show is that you can easily break it down. Just watch a single 2-3 episode arc and leave the rest for another time..

    1. The colour and texture overload can recall a certain psychedelic aesthetic. It also has a submarine….you might be onto something…

  5. I really like the fact that you have chosen such unique animes for these series of posts. I really like the look of this anime: as you say it is unique, and I really have to admit that I have never seen anything like it before. This also was a very informative post, I really liked the explanations you gave for the Mononoke. All in all yet another terrific post: yiu are really on a roll here 😀

  6. Nice, I do agree with the fact that it isn’t really a ‘horror horror’ anime but I mean, I suppose anything with a decent amount of blood can be labeled as horror which is incredibly misleading for my horror-junkie self that requires sustenance .

    That said, I think you pretty much covered all of the reasons that make Mononoke an eternal classic with its abstract and kabuki-style storytelling and I have a curious question, which arc was your favourite? Personally, Umibōzu was my favourite and not just because there was a talking fish-head.

  7. This is a good anime (I still need to finish it though, lol). I also agree labeling it as a horror anime is a little misleading. It uses more subtle techniques like muffled voices and screams and I’d argue it leaves a stronger impact instead of an abundant blood and gore like a Mortal Kombat game. Anyway, great post! 🙂

    1. Thank you! I figue if someone was really looking forward to a Friday the 13th type of experience – they might be disappointed

  8. I love what you described here! Abstract horror can sometimes be the best, I mean the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari which was made in 1920 is still heralded as the first horror and one of the best to this day. Ah German expressionism! Offering you the nature of something rather than the act can be more chilling because of where your mind can go. Puzzling questions of our own nature can be a lot more visceral than simply witnessing murder a la Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers. You really sold me on this one, great post!

    1. It really is a wonderful series although I’m not sure it lives up to Caligari (few things do). If you end up giving it a try, I hope you tell us about it.

      1. A lot of people don’t even remember or choose to watch Caligari…instead Saw fills the screen these days with a franchise unwilling to let go. What is the world coming to?

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