- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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