Mononoke is a slightly more bizarre version of Mushishi based on traditional Japanese stories and with Gankutsuou-like visuals. We follow a mysterious character known only as the Medicine Seller around as he travels around feudal Japan uncovering tortured ghosts and putting them to rest. Each story plays out very much as a detective mystery, with the Medicine Seller searching for a ghost’s (Ayakashi) “Form, Truth, and Regret” in order to defeat it. Most of each episode is given over to how the ghost died, why it continues to kill, and how to appease it. While the â€œtwistâ€ is slightly obvious from the initial setup of each story, it’s still interesting watching the Medicine Seller work through the riddle and draw out the sad tale within.
The visual style is superbly executed, with bright, garish, varied colors everywhere. Seeing as these are traditional Japanese ghost stories, there are some very freaky visuals: faceless geisha, deformed ghost children, or gruesome dead skeleton animals. The character design is a bit odd, eccentric in appearance, and at times I was reminded of Aeon Flux. Scenes look like illustrations from a children’s book or a colorful ukiyo-e print. They may have been going for the latter effect, as all the images have a rough paper texture to them. As much as it’s the same illustration technique from Gankutsuo, it’s thoroughly unique.
There are four episodes out to the series so far, two stories altogether. Each story is framed as a Kabuki play. The traditional Okawa drum is heard occasionally, scenes are often opened or ended with a wooden screen displaying the name of the story, and the Medicine Seller’s recaps sound convincingly like something one might hear coming back to their seat at the end of intermission.
Mononoke combines aspects of two series I love, Mushishi and Gankutsuo, and traditional Japanese folk stories, however it doesn’t quite sit right with me. The horror facet of it is not frightening (certainly nowhere near something like Higurashi no Naku Koro ni or Shigurui) but combined with the riotous colors and the bizarre character designs, the tone of the show is a bit frenetic. With its story I cannot help but compare Mononoke to Mushishi and the seductive quality of its subtle, languorous storytelling that felt like stepping into a heady dream. On the whole Mononoke is a well-made series, one of the better ones out this season, but I’ll follow it casually and see if I warm up to its odd tone.