Mouryou no Hako was first published in 1995 as a horror mystery novel. It was written by Kyogoku Natsuhiko. The same writer who wrote the story that Kousetsu Hyaku Monogatari was based off of. Cut to more than a decade later, Madhouse picked the novel up for an adaptation. Which aired from October to December of ’08. I don’t really know anything about the series beyond the genre and studio. And Madhouse has been involved in some terrible, mediocre and stellar anime so that doesn’t say much. So, let’s take a look and see how this one fares.
Someone out there is dismembering young girls. Police have found limbs in boxes in a variety of places. A group of old friends find themselves drawn to the case. Can they resolve it and find an abducted teenage girl, Kanako, before it’s too late for her?
Let’s start by talking about the big flaw with the series. It’s slow and not in a good, suspense building way. No, it’s slow because the narrative comes to a grinding halt so that it can spend long stretches with these blokes sitting around a table talking about spirits or it grinds to a halt to spend a while talking about clairvoyance. And what do these elements do for the story? They allow the “mystery” to be solved without any actual investigation because… bullshit. I’m going to just put this forward as a possibility. Maybe, just maybe, the suspense and mystery elements would have been significantly stronger if there had been a proper investigation instead of long scenes with our heroes sitting around a table like a bunch of bloody nobs. That isn’t the only problem with the series. Some of its attempts at horror come across as more than a little silly and a lot of its “twists” are so heavily telegraphed that you can see them coming far before the reveal.
There are some aspects of the narrative that work well. The series does have some legitimately disturbing scenes. It also starts out pretty well, establishing the mystery and looking like it’s going to get interesting. If they’d kept the momentum and kept the mystery going well, then this could have been a compelling series. But then it all gets derailed for faffing about.
The characters in this are all right. You get a sense of personality from them and they certainly aren’t just tropes. However, the are a bit under-developed and there are certainly points where they succumb to bad horror clichés. To give an example, there’s a girl who readily goes to meet the obvious villain, in spite of him being blatantly sketchy. There are also moments where the dialogue reaches purple prose levels of stilted and trying too hard to make the language sound grandiose.
There’s a lot about the artwork in this that looks good. The backgrounds look good. The characters are nicely designed and there are a few scenes with well done horror imagery. That being said, most of the horror imagery in this is bollocks. First off, there re the limbs themselves. There’s no sense of muscle, sinew or blood. Instead, you’re left with something that looks like a cheap plastic mannequin’s limb instead of an actual limb that came off of a person. Which results in a disconnect betwixt the disturbing concept and the non-threatening mediocrity of the image. There are also multiple occasions where the series tries to scare us with boxes. Because when I think of a frightening, grotesque image, I think of a room with boxes strewn about. In all seriousness, I don’t think that’s going to scare anyone unless they have pygmachophobia.
The acting is competent, mostly. It is brought down a bit by the overly flowery moments and by those tedious stretches of our main characters doing exposition about spirits. However, there are a lot of good actors in this. Hirata Hiroaki, Morikawa Toshiyuki & Tomatsu Haruka to name a few. This is a series where there’s enough range to the characters that they can show their abilities but not so much that you could call it a great performance for any of them. The music was composed by Murai Shusei, the same bloke who did the music for Terra Formars. And he did do a pretty nice job with it.
There is quite a bit of it at the beginning. The early stuff with Kanako and Yoriko is full of les-yay. Then Kanako gets abducted from hospital and there’s no more ho-yay.
This is a series that had a lot of potential. There are some strong ideas behind it. Unfortunately, the execution is weak. Ultimately, the series suffers from the mystery being poorly handled, the characters being under-developed, lousy horror imagery and long, boring interludes. There’s still some good stuff in there but not enough to make this a decent series. Ultimately, it ends up being average with its execution failing utterly to live up to the potential of its ideas. My final rating is a 5/10. Next week I’ll end the year with a look at Coppelion.