Mononoke is a supernatural, fantasy, historical horror series that came out in 2007. It was brought to us by our old friends at Toei animation. That’s right, the studio behind Kuuchuu Bruranko and a lot of people’s first anime with franchises like Dragonball and Sailor Moon. I’ve been told that this one is really good so let’s have a look and see if that is the case.
We follow a “simple” medicine seller as he goes from place to place and hunts down mononoke. Which are a form of ayakashi. The series gives us five short stories, each one lasting two or three episodes, about the medicine seller getting into some strange situation caused by a mononoke and seeking out its shape, truth and reasoning so that he can exorcise it. It’s kind of reminiscent of Mushishi, which isn’t a bad thing.
The only real narrative problem with the series is that it can get repetitive. Not in terms of the set ups or anything like that. Rather, the resolutions are a bit repetitious. Our Medicine Seller finds the mononoke’s shape, truth & reasoning, draws the blade of exorcism and then he briefly talks to the audience. Although, in all fairness, there are exceptions where he ends up not drawing the blade but those stories where he does get kind of reiterative in their resolutions.
Still, that’s a fairly minor complaint given how many things the series does well. It’s really good at setting up interesting scenarios and at developing those scenarios in a way that keeps you interested. The pacing is also really well done. The series takes its time to build things up and really delve into a situation before moving into the action. The whole necessity of getting information about the mononoke really benefits the series in that respect. I also do like the way the series handles the medicine seller directly addressing the audience. They basically present the series as though it’s a play with the way they use transitions and the medicine seller’s final bits of dialogue when closing a story. It’s a decision that could have very easily gone wrong, but the execution here is superb and it really works to its utmost, or close to it.
Each story has its own cast with the only reoccurring character being the unnamed medicine seller. This is another aspect that could have very easily not worked. Since the medicine seller is, in many ways, an archetypical trickster character. He doesn’t let anything agitate him and always seems to be in control of a given situation. You never feel like he’s in any real danger. However, what makes the character not just work, but work really superbly, is a combination of the play aesthetic and the fact that he devotes so much time to information gathering without any real concern for protecting the ordinary people who are caught up in the situation. Usually because there’s some karmic element involved. He’ll warn people and give them advice, but he’s more interested in unravelling the facts. I also do appreciate the way that every single side character has some contribution to make to the narrative. The side characters also do have relatable factors surrounding them. A lot of them aren’t good people, but they have enough complexity that you can understand them and why they’ve made the decisions they have.
The artwork in this is an interesting case. Toei elected to make the artwork evocative of illustrated manuscripts. They were very meticulous about it with the character designs, backgrounds and even the colour palette. It doesn’t look like many other anime but in a way that’s dynamic and interesting. There is also something vaguely disconcerting about the more intense animation when paired with that art style which, ultimately, pairs well with the writing aesthetic. The imagery can also be pretty disturbing when it needs to be. The transitional artwork is really well handled, tying in with the theatrical feel nicely.
There are a lot of really strong performances in this series. Yukana, Tanaka Rie, Wakamoto Norio & Midorikawa Hikaru to name a few. The strongest performance, though, comes from our protagonist voiced by Sakurai Takahiro. That’s right, Cloud Strife, Rockman X, Kururugi Suzaku, Endou Kazuki, Okada Joe, Osomatsu & a whole bunch of other characters. The music was handled by Takanashi Yasuharu. The same composer who worked on Shiki & Gantz. He does a really good job. His music for this really supplements the art and narrative style. Which helps forge a really strong atmosphere.
There isn’t any in this series.
So, was this series as good as I’d been told? Honestly, I’d say that it is. It has an amazing narrative with intriguing characters, coupled with art and music that complement the narrative style and excellent acting. All in all, I do recommend this one & I have to give it an enthusiastic 9/10. Next week’s review will be for another Toei production, Futari wa Precure: Max Heart Movie 2- Yukizora no Tomodachi.