The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Mononoke

Title: Mononoke
Genre: Drama
Company: Toei Animation
Format: 12 episodes
Dates: 12 Jul 2007 – 27 Sep 2007

Synopsis: The world is full of hatred, regret and vengeance. When these festering emotions breed with supernatural spirits, a mononoke is born. In search of these monsters, an enigmatic Medicine Seller travels to various locations and steps into the warped pasts of those bound by the mononoke. Only be discovering the form, truth and regret of these demons can he draw his sword to kill them.

The Highlights
Animation: Unusual and visual stunning.
Characters: Aside from the Medicine Seller, puppets of the plot.
Atmosphere: Ranges from surreal to neurotic.
Story: Engrossing set of short stories set in a genuinely creative world.

2007 has been an unusually stagnant year for me. Sure, there have been plenty of the usual meat and potatoes of action and drama, but there has been a lack of that inexplicable spice to truly bring this year’s meal to life. With so many new titles coming out each season, I refused to believe that there wasn’t at least one title that could invigorate my year. A few forum posts and 12 episodes later, I came to the keen realization that what I was missing all along was Mononoke.

With the first drop of rain and the pastel color setting, the first thing about this anime that should strike the viewer is its highly unusual animation style. The colors look as if they were cut out from an artsy collection of patterns and glued onto the screen. Little environmental details such as rain, snow and even aromas get bombastic representations that bring even the most generic scenes to life. To complement the unorthodox animation, the music helps set the mood but is not strong enough to dominate it. The overall effect of the visuals takes a bit of time to get used to, but it soon becomes obvious that this style fits perfectly with the enchanting tales this show tells.

Using the unusual animation as a visual lantern, this anime tells a series of five mysteries with the Medicine Seller and the mononoke as the tying elements. While the mysteries themselves are not extraordinary, the way they unfold – slowly coiling their tentacles around the audience before whisking them away in engrossing stories about love, malice and vengeance – is nothing short of brilliant. A few story arcs pale in comparison to others, but each manages to be creative in their own way.

Mononoke hails from a different branch of the same tree of titles such as Kino’s Journey and Mushi-Shi. An enigmatic traveler wanders various locales and absorbs the stories of those around him. The quality that truly distinguishes this series from the other two is its ability to directly inject the mood into the visuals. Whereas most shows display some restraint during the more disturbing moments, Mononoke boldy magnifies an uncomfortable scenerio, then blows it up into a psychotic orgy of imagery. During these fits of insanity, characters contort into caricatures as their faces distort in horror, and backgrounds literally become hostile as the maimed vestiges of crimes long passed open their chilly eyes.

Despite all the inroads this show makes and the all the originality it exudes, Mononoke is not without its drawbacks. The greatest flaw of this anime is that there is simply not enough of it. I wouldn’t mind if the show went on for another fifty episodes so long as it maintains its ability to engross, fascinate and shock. Regardless of length, this is one show that is almost solely about the experience, so free your mind, and let Mononoke sweep you along its surreal wings.

The Rating: 8
8/10

Reviewed by: Shadowmage

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