A nameless medicine seller wanders the world in search for mononoke, apparently evil spirits that threaten the lives and sanity of the people around them. His mission is to exorcise them from the world of Man; however, to do so, he needs to know their Form, Truth and Regret – in other words, the true reasons for their appearance. And the underlying facts are often as horrible to the people involved as the mononoke themselves…
summary by Taleweaver
Highs: Shows the power of traditional storytelling; unique style…
Lows: …that won’t appeal to everyone; really slow pacing
Every once in a while, there comes an anime that is so groundbreaking, so unique that it manages to redefine its genre or even define a genre of its own. Take, for instance, Neon Genesis Evangelion, after which mecha series never were the same again, or Mushishi with its unparalleled way of drawing the viewer into the story with its mood of quiet and piece – that’s the stuff of anime that legends are made of. And now take Mononoke, which has almost everything to ascend to that level – and yet doesn’t quite make it there.
It’s not the director’s fault, though. Mononoke is a great example of good old-fashioned storytelling very much in the tradition of Japanese folktales – in fact, the individual story arcs are based on traditional Japanese folktales, and the entire series proudly displays its origins. The whole look and feel of the show is that of a bunraku puppet theater piece, including the curtains at the beginning and end of each “act”, and I doubt that an actual stage play would change many things about the scenic setup. Add to that art that purposely reminds the viewer of 18th century woodblock prints, period music and the sound effects of Kabuki theater and you have an absolutely unique, stunningly authentic style that alone would almost be enough to make the series a must see.
Almost. While it is easy to applaud the unique style, it certainly won’t appeal to everyone, especially because not just the art but also the animation is very much 18th century – almost always choppy, often downright bad and, in some places, even nonexistent. This was probably an attempt to make Mononoke look even more authentic, however, it was a little too much of a good thing because it makes the series look not traditional, but downright cheap. The second – and major – problem with the series is, unfortunately, its pacing, and that was probably inevitable as the plot moves at the speed of your average theater piece, which is substantially slower than what is good to put on screen. There are long sections of dialogue and, in the case of the medicine seller, even monologue where literally nothing happens for half an episode, and some of it is downright boring if you’re waiting for some major revelation.
A few compromises with the strict style would have made Mononoke a much better series – not that it could be considered a particularly bad series, of course. There are just a few little things that hinder its ascension to a truly noteworthy show, things that can be easily overlooked if you like an out-of-the-ordinary presentation and subtle stories about the horrors that lurk behind seemingly innocent facades. But if you ever fell asleep during a Shakespeare play, this series is probably not for you.
Mononoke can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.