The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Mouryou no Hako

Title: Mouryou no Hako aka Box of Goblins
Genre: Drama
Company: Madhouse Studios
Format: 13 episodes
Date: 7 Oct 2008 – 30 Dec 2008

Synopsis: In the 27th year of the Shōwa Era, the reticent and distant Kusumoto Yoriko catches the attention of classmate Yuzuki Kanako. Enchanted by Kanako’s beauty, enigmatic aura and reincarnation beliefs, Yoriko is rapidly drawn to her as her relationship with her estranged mother continues to worsen. One day, Kanako invites Yoriko to go to a faraway lake with her during summer break where they can gaze at the moon and spend time together all night long. Unfortunately, tragedy struck when Kanako was mysteriously pushed onto the railroad tracks and gets mortally wounded. Who is the culprit, and more importantly, how is her case related to a string of bizarre murders of schoolgirls that involve their dismembered limbs being stuffed into boxes?

The Highlights
Atmosphere: Absorbing and riveting; good use of post-WWII setting as foundation.
Storyline: An engaging tale consisting of vaguely intertwined, non-chronological events.
Narrative: Convoluted; storyline marred by a long-winded and exhaustive red herring.
Theme: Symbolic references are effective, albeit Japanese supernatural understanding is imperative.
Madhouse Studios: Needs to make more of such bold shows these days, despite execution issues.

Madhousae Studios, the well-known production studio, churned out shows of the highest caliber during the last decade, with Monster, Dennou Coil and Gungrave just to name a few from its immaculate roster. But among the high-profile titles in its repertoire quietly sits Mouryou no Hako, a quaint show that flew over the radar of many anime circles. From the onset, the series gives the impression to the audience that it is a horror show, especially when judging it from its title. However, it is more mystery than horror and the old-school “Who did it?” detective style of storytelling, together with horror elements to spice things up, is a breath of fresh air in the current times where the anime industry is bombarded with cheap fanservice and run-of-the-mill storylines.

Mouryou no Hako is basically what a well-written mystery novel would be like if adapted into an anime series. It has great pacing and watching it never gets dreary because it knows how to carefully balance between building suspense slowly and jacking it up when plot twists come into play. On top of the crisp artwork and fluid animation courtesy of CLAMP, it also makes great use of the post-WWII setting as the foundation of the plot. The sepia-tinged backdrop serves an important role to the traditional nature of the show’s concept, which deals closely with Japanese traditions and beliefs. Immersive and atmospheric, the audience will feel like they have traveled back in time to Japan in the 1950’s, and thus be able to experience the world of Mouryou no Hako rather than just witness it passively from afar.

Many would agree that the storyline’s quality is one of the main focuses for any mystery-based work. The show narrates the plot in non-chronological order, confusing at times it may be, but it stirs enough curiosity in the audience to make them ask how they are all related. It reveals events that seem to be random and completely unrelated upon first glance, but to the discerning eye, they are small glimpses of the “big picture” and the objective is to analyze how they fit into the jigsaw puzzle, one clue being the mood-setting, cryptic vignette at the start of every episode. Like many mystery novels, it ends with a climatic ending where the ultimate revelation takes place, and all questions are addressed coherently.

But the premises of Mouryou no Hako unfortunately come with a price. A certain level of understanding and appreciation of Japanese mythology and the supernatural is imperative by the audience because otherwise, the show’s content may come off dry and uninteresting. There is an episode where the content is all about the history of goblins from A to Z, and this alone would be overwhelming for some of the viewers to take in. A more significant issue though, involves a major curveball that occurs as the plot thickens. The issue isn’t the curveball – it effectively serves as the turning point of the show after all – but how it deftly masks a blatant and exhaustive red herring, resulting in an elaborate wild goose chase that wastes a lot of time.

Despite the flawed narrative and profound nature of content, Mouryou no Hako is in overall a good mystery-based piece of work. The story is well-written and complemented with good pacing, and the show knows how to connect seemingly arbitrary events together logically. Also, the symbolic reference of boxes is well-executed and blends well with the mystery theme and mythological references. Analogously, the show is like an antique vase: it can go unnoticed by people very easily, especially when there are other more well-known ones that would probably catch their attention. However, it pays to have a keen eye and if anyone wants to enjoy something decent and different, then this is something worth checking out.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: AC

Top of page