Lacking the desire to work for the family business, Momosuke Yamaoka chose to become an author instead, but writing riddles for children isn’t exactly what he had in mind. Instead, Momosuke dreams of writing a book of ghost stories- the Hundred Stories- and so it is that he sets out to investigate the various strange tales and rumours of the supernatural that occur across Japan. Along the way, however, he becomes drawn into the affairs of a mysterious trio of people who use their otherworldly powers to investigate these paranormal incidents for themselves and administer their own brand of justice to any wrongdoers responsible. Time and time again, Momosuke crosses paths with this trio, but what are the consequences of spending too much time in their grey world that intersects those of the living and the dead?
When it comes to anime, tales of horror and the supernatural all too often disappoint, either losing all their promise in a bland execution, or turning into a repetitive monster of the week affair that may be mildly enjoyable, but is hardly in a position to stand out from the crowd. Fortunately, Requiem from the Darkness proves to be the exception to the rule, offering a solid and stylish experience.
Set at the end of the Edo period (mid nineteenth century), each episode of Requiem from the Darkness covers a different supernatural legend, from the Willow Woman who is so obsessed with an innkeeper that she has killed every woman he married, to the curse of ‘Salty Choji’, a misfortune that befalls anyone desperate enough to eat their own horse. Although each episode follows the general formula of Momosuke stumbling onto a new story, meeting up with the trio and finding out the truth behind the legends, Requiem from the Darkness manages to take this basic structure and build on it to produce a series of solid and well executed stories, complete with the requisite sting in the tail.
Admittedly, however, no matter how enjoyable the bulk of it is, there are a few quibbles to be had with the series. The various plot twists can sometimes make much of the episode incomprehensible right up until the “and here’s what was going on” exposition at the end, and whilst the final two episodes provide resolution to a slowly building arc about a shadowy evil behind the scenes, they do smack a little too much of a typical final boss encounter to be truly worthy. Nonetheless, the former problem can most likely be solved by watching the series a second time, and with the bulk of it being so solid and enjoyable, prospective viewers should not be put off by these concerns.
Although most of the characters in the series come and go, the core group of four are what ties it all together. From the trio, the charm selling mystic Mataichi and shape shifter Nagamimi admittedly have little role beyond serving the plot, but nonetheless, they at least have distinctive and well-defined personalities. When it comes to development, however, the bulk of it goes to the beautiful Ogin and Momosuke himself; one the most human member of the trio, the other a man who prefers the freedom of being an author over taking on a more conventional career, and to whom the grey area between life and death starts to seem more appealing than everyday life- even if his rigid sense of right and wrong is ill-adapted to the moral compromises Mataichi and the others must make.
Solid as these other aspects, however, what really makes Requiem from the Darkness stand out from the crowd is its unique and striking visual style. With its thick outlines and vivid colours, the series paints a world ideal for blending the realms of humans and the supernatural- at times looking more like an oil painting or a kabuki play than something intended to be realistic. Character designs are equally memorable, ranging from those that are aesthetically pleasing in the normal anime style to strange creatures with round heads or pointed ears. Also of note is the series’ more gruesome content, for whilst it isn’t absolutely dripping with blood and gore, there are enough decapitations, bulging eyeballs, monsters and creepy-crawlies to justify its status as a horror series- and ensure that a strong stomach will be needed for certain scenes.
In-series background music is atmospheric and in keeping with the tone of the series, whilst the jazzy OP and gentle Engrish ED provide an interesting counterpoint with their contrasting style.
A cut above the usual run of animated horror series, Requiem from the Darkness achieves the rare feat of taking a solid story and building on it even further with a striking visual style and a strong execution. If you’ve ever wondered what might become of fusing Mushishi with Vampire Princess Miyu, or if you just want a supernatural horror that is more than just mindless violence and monsters of the week, this should be your first port of call.