Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror was brought to us by Toei animation. It’s also the series that Mononoke was a spin-off of. Like that series, it’s a horror anthology. I really enjoyed Mononoke and I’m hoping that this one will be at the same level. Let’s examine it and see.
There are three distinct stories in this anime. The first is based off of a classic ghost story by the kabuki playwright, Nanboku Tsuruya IV. The second is based off of a play by Kyouka Izumi. The third is an original story featuring the medicine seller with the same voice as Cloud who we all know and love from Mononoke. Since these three parts are pretty different and each one has their own strengths & weaknesses, I’m going to be discussing each one separately.
The first four episodes are dedicated to the story of a ronin named Tamiya Iemon. He marries a beautiful young woman, Oiwa but quickly loses interest in her. This results in tragedy and he finds himself haunted by her vengeful spirit. This is easily the weakest story in the anime. It relies pretty heavily on exaggerated melodrama which, to be fair, is pretty normal in kabuki. But, at the same time, the story doesn’t come across as a kabuki production in any other way and it can be a bit grating. They also make some changes that don’t make sense. A damaging face cream gets changed to an ingested pill so the effect it has no longer makes sense. On the positive side, the way the narrative is tied to its history as a production is pretty interesting. I rather like that take on things.
Our second story, which also takes up four episodes, follows a young falcon tamer who loses a falcon he’s been training and is forced to go searching for it. In the process, he has a fateful encounter with a hauntingly beautiful woman. Turns out she’s a forgotten God who lives in a Keep that’s known for having mortals enter but never leave. The biggest flaw with this one is that the romance, which is at the core of the tale, is pretty shallow and under-developed. They meet for all of five minutes and it forges a strong connection and then in the span of a short conversation it turns to full blown huggy muggy love. Maybe I’m just overly cynical and my cold, dead heart doesn’t feel love any more, but I call bullshit on that. Especially when he has a fiancée he’s presumably known for a long time and spent a far more substantial amount of time with. On the positive side, the story is pretty compelling and the turns it takes are well foreshadowed. The climax is also intense and gripping.
Then we have our final story, which only gets three episodes. The Medicine Seller goes to an estate that’s preparing for a wedding. Unfortunately for the bride, something slays her as she goes to leave, and not in the sense that she finds it really funny. The household blames our elfin hero, even though he was nowhere near when it happened, but he knows the truth. The house is being haunted by a mononoke & unless he can find its shape, truth & reasoning there will be a lot more casualties. This story is the best of the lot, by far. It follows the same pattern we saw in the Mononoke sequel series. The Medicine Seller encounters a problem with a mononoke. The creature has some connection to its potential victims and finding out the truth behind the situation serves to highlight some of the worst aspects of humanity in a way that’s chilling and pretty creepy. The story is full of tension and intrigue. Watching this, it’s no surprise that there was a sequel just dedicated to giving audiences more of this sort of thing.
Once again, I’ll go from story to story with this.
The big issue with the characters in the first story is their motivations. The motivating factors for the characters really don’t have verisimilitude. Take our Iemon. He murders someone because he wants to be with Oiwa so much, then grows tired of her within maybe a year for no adequately explored reason. It really comes across as the character actions being based on contrivance to get to the next melodramatic moment.
The second story fares better in that regard. Even if the romance is bollocks, our main characters feel somewhat fleshed out and real. The motivations of his fiancée make sense. As do the actions of her advisor and maids. If there’s a weakness, it’s the lord he serves. The dude comes across as pretty cartoonishly evil, but more extreme in regards to the things he does.
The final story is, once again, the best. The Medicine Seller unravelling the facts behind the mononoke attacking them provides insight into the characters who are in danger and it also serves to showcase the karma inherent to the situation. In some ways, we actually end up rooting for the mononoke since some of its potential victims clearly deserve retribution. Then there are the characters we’re more invested in and we want to see make it out all right. All of the characters in the situation have relevance to the story and they do come across as actual people. Not good people, in many cases, but people.
The artwork in this works really nicely. It’s designed to be theatrical and it does shift a bit between stories to better fit the artwork to the narrative. It’s a level of polish that I appreciate from an anthology series.
The performances vary. The actors in the first story (Hirata Hiroaki, Koyama Mami, etc…) are a bit prone to exaggeration on account of the nature of the tale. The acting in the second story, featuring performances by Kuwashima Houko, Midorikawa Hikaru and others, is more nuanced and they are quite good. The final arc, featuring Sakurai Takahiro & Yukana has the most memorable, intense performances. The acting in it goes beyond good and right to bloody phenomenal. In terms of music, the music composition by Takanashi Yasuharu, who worked on Mononke, Gantz & Shiki, is really well done. REMI’s chorus work is expertly done. I will say, I didn’t like the opening theme tune. Not only is it out of place, but it’s kind of annoying. In contrast I really enjoyed the ending theme tune, performed by Hajime Chitose.
There really isn’t any to be found.
For the first story, Yotsuya Kaidan, I would say it’s pretty average. It has some significant issues that hold it back, but it also keeps you interested and has some good bits. The second story, Tenshu Monogatari, is pretty good. It’s not great, but it’s good. The final story, Bakeneko, is excellent and definitely serves as a worthy precursor to the series that came after. So, factoring in all three of them, I’ll give Ayakashi a solid 7/10. Next week I’ll continue horror anime month with a look at Gyo.