Starring Takahiro Sakurai, Aiko Hibi, Daisuke Namikawa, Daisuke Sakaguchi, Eiji Takemoto, Fumiko Orikasa, Hikaru Midorikawa, Hiroshi Iwasaki, Houko Kuwashima, Kōzō Shioya, Masashi Hirose, Minoru Inaba, Rie Tanaka, Ryusei Nakao, Seiji Sasaki, Takeshi Aono, Tomokazu Seki, Toshiko Fujita, Wakana Yamazaki, Yasuhiro Takato, Yoko Soumi, Yukana
Directed by Kenji Nakamura
I know you’re not supposed to judge a book (or in this case a TV series) by its cover, but sometimes that’s all you really need. As soon as I laid eyes on the cover art for Mononoke, I knew it was going to be great. My gut refused to believe otherwise. And it’s decisions like this that have made me very trusting of my gut over the years, at least when it comes to anime. My one and only concern was that the cover was not what the actual animation would look like. Thankfully that bizarre, otherworldly art design is exactly what you get on the inside.
Those light shades and faded pastels are a very unusual choice of colors for a horror story. Usually you want some all-obscuring darkness to ratchet up the mystery, but for me that bright color palette was more mysterious than any darkness could ever be. It’s clear right from the start that you are in a completely different world when you watch Mononoke, and you don’t know what you’re going to find. All that was apparent just from the box; all that remained was seeing if the show could actually live up to my foolishly high expectations. And boy did it ever!
It’s almost like a Sherlock Holmes series. Every ghost has some mystery surrounding it, and the bulk of the story is spent uncovering the facts of why the thing is so angry and vengeful. It always ends with the medicine seller confronting the ghost, usually with the other characters standing by to listen, and stating what actually happened before destroying the ghost in a mind-bending display of hallucinatory visuals. OK, Sherlock Holmes lacks the bizarre quasi-action scenes, but the stories definitely play out as much like murder mysteries as they do horror stories, teasing out every little fact until everything finally connects together at the end.
It’s also strange to see so many scenes that are clearly meant to be scary, but they just don’t work on me. I have some sort of deep-seated inability to suspend my disbelief about a story. I always have that knowledge that it’s just a story, that it’s all just a fantasy. This is why I usually ignore the horror genre. It’s a genre that relies too heavily on identifying with the characters’ fear in ways that I just can’t seem to do. So while I sat there looking at the creepy bits I was having fun. I had a big smile on my face while watching all the strange visuals on display and marveling at the creativity, even though I knew it was meant to be inducing fear.
It does have a few slower moments that felt sluggish to me, but even in those moments I was still intrigued to find out what was going to happen next. My only complaint about this series is that it’s 12 episodes long. I wish it was longer so I could see more of its beautiful insanity. And if that doesn’t count as a recommendation, I don’t know what does.