Mononoke gets creepier and personal with this two episode, two character arc. A woman commits murder and kills her husband and his family. When the Medicine Seller visits her in prison and comes to uncover the Ayakashi that possessed her to perform such a deed, he learns the Ayakashi may not be entirely at fault…
This was a very intense, focused story, with essentially two characters, the Medicine Seller and the woman. Gone is the large ensemble of the previous arc, with massive character exploration and strange goings-on outside of the main Ayakashi struggle. However this change is certainly not to the arc’s detriment. In this arc I first noticed how the Medicine Seller subtly changes his personality to fit the situation. In the previous arc he was quiet and terse, while the other characters rambled and panicked around him. This time he is stuck in a cell with a quiet, withdrawn woman, and begins to talk at length about himself, being quite self-involved. It disguises his true intentions, and makes him seem just an average street peddler; almost a serial-killer type ability. I imagine Hannibal Lecter would take on such different disguises, acting whichever way will quickest get him to his victim’s liver.
This episode swung back into the series’ original, manic mood. I realised however that this mood is part of what makes these stories work as horror stories. When I think of the pantheon of Japanese ghosts and goblins, I often find them little more than humorous. For instance, I saw a live-action film about Abe no Seimei, the famous historical magician from the Heian era who battled ghosts for the Imperial court. Even though the film’s special effects were quite good, and quite a few people died, I was never close to being creeped out. The mood of Mononoke really nails that creepiness. It’s a slightly insane world, a bit off kilter, and once you realise this it really is frightening. For instance, at the very beginning of episode 6 the Medicine Seller is apparently incapacitated by the Ayakashi, who replaces his face with a mask and leaves him with no face. The No-Face ghost archetype is a common one in Japanese horror stories and one I again never found scary. That is until the slightly left of center world Mononoke takes place in featured it. I realised how terrifying that would be, if you really had no face suddenly, just a smooth, blank surface of skin. The demonic, otherworldly setting made me believe it. Creepy.
Definitely another great arc, and it features my favorite quote from the series so far, “If you wish to leave, this place is a prison. If you wish to stay, it becomes a fortress.” Mononoke keeps on chugging along.