This is going to be a difficult review, simply because I want to praise this series, but at the same time it suffers from being a continuation of the third story of the anime Ayakashi ~ Japanese Classic Horror: Bake Neko. In there, a Medicine Seller exorcises the ghost of a cat that haunts a local family in feudal Japan, and it was one of the best short stories I’ve ever seen in anime. Mononoke sees the same premise, where we see five stories in which the Medicine Seller track down Mononoke (spirits) that are summoned to earth due to some grudge or regret. Obviously, it had a lot to live up to.
If you were expecting the same as Bake Neko, you’ll be disappointed. The thing that made Ayakashi ~ Japanese Classic Horror so great was its element of surprise: you never knew what was going to happen. With Mononoke, you do: Medicine Seller is going to exorcise a spirit. The amount of horror has also been toned down. Sure, it’s still there, but it’s no longer a central theme, like it was in Bake Neko. Instead, Mononoke decided to put more attention to the thought-provoking elements of its stories.
And yes, it does deliver there. All five stories are more than just ordinary ones, and a lot of attention has been put into them. The lines of good and bad are blurred in an effective way. The episodes also don’t answer every question, but assume that the viewer fills in the rest with his own common sense, and it works quite well. Especially the third and fourth story shine in this.
Another major plus in this series is that the characters are realistic, and don’t care to be moe or GAR or anything similar. Sure, there are a bunch of young girls, but by far most of the characters are all sorts of adults; quite refreshing amongst other anime, which rarely seem to have important characters above the age of 25. The dialogue is also nice and creative, and you can hear that a lot of effort has been put into it as well.
So the creators failed to trump Bake Neko. That doesn’t mean that Mononoke isn’t worth giving a look, and it’s great to see that people are still willing to go beyond the mainstream and experiment with original and different styles. Mononoke is an excellent recommendation for anyone who likes the Japanese-styled horror or similar forms of storytelling.