Eve no Jikan
This series is mainly aimed at sharing great shows that I've seen that are considered to be "hidden gems," meaning that these great shows don't get nearly as much praise as they should.
This time: Mononoke
Mononoke (not to be confused with the Miyazaki Hayao film Princess Mononoke) is a horror anime from the Summer 2007 season created by Toei Animation. It is a spinoff of the final story arc of “Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror,” also made by Toei Animation. I have not seen Ayakashi, unfortunately. Mononoke is divided into five story arcs, each lasting two or three episodes. They tell the story of a Medicine Seller in feudal Japan as he goes around to various locales in search of vengeful spirits called “Mononoke.” Mononoke is one of my favorite animes for its unique art and storytelling, badass main character, and its deep themes.
The first thing that viewers will notice when watching the series is the unique art style. I cannot think of an analogy to describe it. I don’t want to be cliché, but honestly, I guess the best way to describe it would be to a painting. I’ve never seen such a unique art style in anime. However, this distinctive art style is what turns many people off from the show initially.
A sample of the art style. It even looks like there are little bumps in a canvas, or creases in a piece of paper. Truly magnificent.
As for the story, it is mainly told through symbolism and references to ancient Japanese culture. So unless you understand Japanese culture, some of the symbols used may fly right over your head. Thankfully, the subs that I used for the show included comprehensive PDFs explaining all the symbols used throughout each episode.
For all the details that the art cannot project, the anime makes up for it with the use of sound (or lack thereof). Often times very realistic, horrifying thumping, breathing, etc. noises will be heard from one side of the room. I thought that the voice acting with the screams and dialog were also exceptional. The anime also does a very good job of having scenes with no music or sound whatsoever, which was able to make me a bit uneasy in my chair more than once.
The main reason to watch the show, however, is the Medicine Seller. This guy is one legit baller if I have ever seen one. While everyone else (including me sometimes) in the show is shitting their pants, he just sits calmly contemplating the situation. Sometimes he’ll even make a sarcastic remark about what’s going on, and I just had to lol. Though he remains mysterious throughout the entire series, there are subtle hints of character development as it progresses.
The Medicine Seller carries a giant chest on his back everywhere he goes, full of many things you would expect an apothecary to have. He also has many tools at his disposal for combating the Mononoke. Two of such tools are his “scales” and Mononoke-slaying sword. The Medicine Seller often scatters around these little “scales” as I will call them, which act as a sort of compass. The scale will tip in the general direction of the Mononoke, since it is invisible to the human eye before its form is known. The second tool is the Medicine Seller’s enigmatic sword. It is a special sword with a monkey’s head on the hilt. It can one-shot any Mononoke, but it cannot be drawn until the Medicine Seller knows the Mononoke’s Form, created by the human emotions and evils that spawned it in the first place. The Truth behind its appearance, and the Reason it torments people.
Can the scales tip things in the Medicine Seller's favor?
The Medicine Seller's awesome Mononoke-slaying sword.
Each story arc is completely different from the others, and is its own unique story, filled with profound and thoughtful themes, all rooted in human nature, because it is human deeds that are the basis of the formation of Mononoke.
The show does a great job with the individual characters. Most of them seem to represent some kind of stereotype, such as government officials, landlords, children, priests, etc. Somehow, the series manages to develop each one a bit over the course of the arc, even though they are only two or three episodes. Sometimes I had trouble deciding if I could like the characters though. At first, I would think “Wtf why would these ghost things attack people ;_;” But after you learn about each character’s backstory, and the reasons why the Mononoke was born in the first place, I would think “Wow, these people are all assholes anyway. I hope they die.”
The show has a nice opening and ending theme, the latter of which, while not the best song I have ever heard, has one of the most beautiful animations that I have ever seen:
One problem that could arise in the series is that the Mononoke themselves get barely any development. The series, being a critique of human nature, ultimately ends up being about the arc-only humans that appear, and the Medicine Seller. If you are looking for a spirit of the week show, this is not for you. One personal problem, was that I could not figure out when the series took place. I mentioned that it is feudal Japan, because the first four arcs make it seem that way. But the final arc takes place on a subway. It throws off any guesses for the timeframe.
What I recommend is using the Black Sheep subs. Watch the episode once, then read the PDF that explains the symbolism, then watch it again, so you understand what is going on. The show can be VERY confusing, especially if you are unfamiliar with Japanese culture. It could take multiple viewings of each arc to fully understand the themes behind them.
Overall, Mononoke is one of my favorite animes, for how it takes such a unique approach with its art and storytelling. The Medicine Seller is also one of my favorite characters in anime. And I, being somewhat nihilistic myself, love all the critiques of human nature. I wish that more animation studios would take risks like this, instead of standardized stuff that we see today. Maybe then we’d have more classics. Mononoke definitely makes Tier S.
Your guide to Ferrose's rating system:
God Tier: 11/10. Very few shows can attain this tier. These are the best of the best. Make sure to watch them.
Tier S: 10/10. Shows that are once in a lifetime. Watch before you die.
Tier A: 9/10. Wonderful shows, but they have a fatal flaw that won't let them get Tier S.
Tier B: 8/10. Still good and an auto-recommend.
Tier C: 7/10. Pretty average. Watch it if you're a fan of the genre.
Tier D: 6/10. Shows I didn't really like. A lot of these get dropped. Don't bother with them.
Shit Tier: <6/10. I hate these shows. They are a disgrace to anime. Perfect example: Code Geass R2.