He is known only as a simple medicine seller, a man who wanders from place to place and somehow always finds trouble along the way. Faced with ayakashi and mononoke, he does not back down, but stays the course, unravelling the mysteries that led to their appearance so that he can learn their ‘Form, Truth and Regret’- the three things needed to unlock the Sword of Exorcism that can send them back to the other world.
Last year, I subjected myself to the dullness that was Ayakashi- eleven episodes covering three stories so horribly drawn out that any appeal they may have held was drowned in a wash of grey monotony. With that in mind, when I first heard that there was to be a spin-off about the medicine seller that appeared in Ayakashi’s final arc, I wasn’t exactly enthralled. Nonetheless, since I enjoyed the similarly themed Requiem from the Darkness so much, I decided to keep an open mind and give it a try- and happily, I was to be pleasantly surprised.
That being said, Mononoke did not get off to the most impressive of starts, commencing with a slow-paced arc about a pregnant woman staying in the ‘cursed room’ of an inn. Given the way this arc ambled along and left a few too many loose ends, it seemed as if Mononoke was falling into the same bad habits as its predecessor, but fortunately, this was not to be the case. Overcoming its slow start in the second arc, Mononoke went on to deliver four more arcs of greatly improved quality, each of them successfully combining elements of mystery and the supernatural into solid and compelling viewing.
As with most series of this type, each arc features an entirely new cast, with only the medicine seller himself linking each story together (although Kayo from the Bake Neko arc of Ayakashi does appear in one tale), and whilst these characters of the fortnight are hardly memorable outside the context of the series, their often exaggerated personalities help to bring each story to life. Unfortunately, the main complaint is to be levelled at the enigmatic medicine seller himself; even Mushishi was able to spend one episode devote to Ginko’s past, but here we never learn anything about the lead and how he came to possess his unique powers. The only frustratingly tantalising clue we have is that, while most of the series is set in feudal Japan, the final arc skips forward to around the 1920s- but the medicine seller has not aged a day.
Visually, Mononoke adopts a unique ‘experimental’ style worthy of Gankutsuou, with distinctive and richly textured characters and settings- almost as if they had stepped out of a painting. It may take a bit of getting used to after extended exposure to more common visual styles, but it’s worth learning to appreciate this bold style, which was also seen in the medicine seller’s arc of Ayakashi. Basic designs aside, there is also plenty of weird and wonderful imagery, which ranges from the bizarre to the downright creepy. Background music is largely nonexistent although sound effects are atmospheric and well placed, and whilst the OP and ED are nothing special, the OP does use Spanish guitar well.
It can be hard to find a good supernatural horror series, but happily once it gets over its slow start Mononoke comes up with the goods, delivering some well executed arcs that will leave you hungry for more. With its unique art style and atmospheric storytelling, this series is one of the successes of the summer season, and a second season is desperately needed.
The judges’ verdict
Beige: Simply stylish- I loved it!
Pink: I wanted more interplay between the characters- who is the medicine seller anyway?
Blue: I’m not a fan of a slow start, but once it got going, it was great.
Orange: It was like Gankutsuou meets Requiem from the Darkness- a visual masterpiece!