Posted by psgels on 31 December 2008 with categories: Anime Reviews, Mouryou no Hako


The past fall season aired a lot of good and great series, but none of them was as good as this series: Mouryou no Hako, Madhouse’s latest masterpiece. This is one series that did just about everything right. Obviously it’s not for those who don’t like people talking over and over again, but it’s perfect for those who are looking for mature and complex anime. This is how mystery should be done!

I honestly can’t recall any other anime apart from a Mamoru Oshii-production that puts more emphasis on talking as this one. The series follows a string of bizarre murders, and the people who try to solve it. This whole mystery is multi-layered, it’s full of flashbacks and references, you’ll never know when something that passes the screen is important for the future. There are lots of scenes that don’t necessarily have any direct meaning, but instead are there to flesh out the setting or throw the viewer on a side-track, and yet the series itself never loses track of its goals, and everything comes together in the end in one of the best endings I’ve seen.

Another big selling-point of the series is its cast of characters. They hardly get as much screen time or background as your average anime, and yet they’re utterly amazing. The animation knows exactly what it needs to do to show their subtle movements and gestures in order to flesh them out while many other things happen, and the background that’s there is meaningful and has a huge impact. Every character has his or her own distinctive presence, with the best ones being Kanako and Akihiko, both for very, very different reasons. The entire cast is colourful and a delight to watch, despite the huge amounts of talking within this series.

Also, if you thought that shows as Code Geass is disturbing, then you haven’t seen anything yet. I refuse to spoil anything here, but like a few other Madhouse productions, this series breaks taboo after taboo. This is nothing near your average tame detective story.

Then the visuals: they look utterly incredible. Especially in the beginning episodes and episodes, the characters all look crisp and very detailed. The animators throw the most beautiful shots and visual effects at the viewer. Combine that with an awesome soundtrack, and you’ve got some amazing production values.

The only possible turn-off is, like mentioned above, the large amounts of talking: if you don’t like it, then it’s going to be hard to enjoy this series. There are two particular consecutive episodes, where nothing else happens apart from three guys, sitting in a room and talking to each other. This anime isn’t afraid to take risks, even though it might turn off some people.

So overall, this has been an amazing series. The script is fresh and creative and has a huge impact. There’s a lot of symbolism, both visual and in the storyline, and an excellent recommendation for those who look for a short mature series. The storytelling is strong yet subtle, and it’s yet another masterpiece by Madhouse.

Storytelling: 10/10
Characters: 9/10
Production-Values: 9/10
Setting: 9/10

22 Responses

  1. Avatar supertauren says:

    I WILL WATCH THIS SHOW!

  2. Avatar L.A says:

    I thought…

    The stroy was okay,
    Characters were really mediocire,
    and Animation was fantastic

    If you like this kind of detective or the mystery series, I recommend you to watch Ghost in the Shell SAC.

  3. Avatar Windspirit says:

    “Also, if you thought that shows as Code Geass is disturbing”
    >> LOL.

  4. Avatar zakuro says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you! The best of 2008! (If ‘Shinrei-Gari/Ghost Hound’ ended early in 2008 counted as a candidate, I’d put this one as the second… but I think GH should be considered 2007.)
    Actually the ‘only talking, nothing happening’ episodes 6th & 7th were the ones completely blown my mind! The camera work (well, can I say ‘camera work’ in animation? I believe so!) in the two eps were extraordinary! I’m so hoping Aero will stick to work on ep. 7 & beyond.

  5. Avatar PJ says:

    I watched the first two episodes and I thought the show did a poor job of making the story “digestable”. The girl got pushed into the path of the train, there’s a box of limbs (near the same place she was transferred to since I remember the people driving to check it out and then ran into the hospital), the box in the head, etc. It seems like every element is sort of nonsensical, there’s no sequence and everything’s “just there.” I know the point of the show is to reveal the connections, but when you throw too many characters, things happening and scene changes with different characters – it just becomes extremely annoying. I didn’t watch far enough, but I read on a summary that the girl who got pushed also lost her limbs? I mean, you might as well summarize the story randomly: a dog sneezed on a butterfly and that caused a girl to lose her eye, which was found by a man who turned into the serial killer.

  6. Avatar Requiem says:

    I’ve been wanting to watch this series since it was announced but sadly there are no subs for it.

  7. Avatar Koh-san says:

    As a followup to my comment for episode 13, I re-watched some parts, and it’s becoming clearer. Reading the English wiki entry for the author Natsuhiko Kyougoku, with its bit about the tsukimono-otoshi, indicates to me that this story strikes a delicate balance. There’s just a slight bit of science fiction in the form of advanced medical technology, and an extensive grounding of supernatural lore, but the story itself is an elaborate, fact-based, detective story. All the talk of spirits by Kyougokudou is to be taken primarily as a metaphor for human psychology. The irony is that Kyougokudou sees himself more as an exorcist than a detective. Yet his brilliant mind sees the connections with the clarity of the best of the empiricists. I’m going to need to watch this again. All the clues are in the show, probably. It’s just not spoon-fed to the audience in a simple-to-digest summary at the end. Also, his sister Atsuko does a lot of legwork for him. His friends Kiba, Sekiguchi, and Aoki also feed him information. He doesn’t divine things in a vacuum.

  8. Avatar zakuro says:

    Actually, ‘ve posted a few long comments, and others are posting interesting ones at this blog.
    Be warned: ‘spoilers’ included in the comments there!

  9. Avatar chanpon says:

    Just finished this series (with the last 7, subless) and I was blown away. I’m dying to get subs for the last half so I can re-watch and catch all the little details I missed, and I stumbled onto your blog looking to fill in some gaps in what I could make out.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you! What a fantastic story – it certainly makes the audience work and think, and I love it. A complex and provocative mystery with a fascinating cast of characters. I appreciate that you can’t watch 2 episodes and label everyone that appears; they’re actually multi-dimensional vs. one-note stereotypes. Loved the atmoshere that was part melancholy, nostalgia and old-fashioned horror rolled into one. I bought the OST to this and highly recommend it, if you liked the music to this show.

  10. Avatar zir says:

    Can you upload the ost?

  11. Avatar Mark says:

    Ghost Hound was shit, IMO. It offered some promise in the beginning and then totall fell flat on it’s face by the end. I went from intrigue to total disgust and disappointment in a matter of moments. It’s not deserving of any award, except perhaps “Most glaring failure to deliver on it’s promise (of 2007)”

    Mouryou, I agree, seems quite awesome, so far. I’m only on episode 7 so I’m only a bit past the halfway point (due to fansubbing progress) but it seems to be a pretty multi-layered mystery, which I always like. The supernatural and mythological/occult elements also raise interest levels.

    Though I didn’t understand many of the cultural allusions made in those two ‘talking’ episodes, by the second one I was beginning to grasp what they’re getting at, and I can pretty much say my mind = blown.

    The symbolism and the whole mouryou figures as things existing on borders, etc, and the whole box thing is really beginning to make my mind question wtf is going on. I’m coming to expect a lot from this series (so far the only fall 2008 show I find myself caring about) I just hope it manages to deliver in the end, unlike Ghost Hound.

  12. Avatar zir says:

    I think Ghost Hound was good, but the ending was kinda dissapointing.

  13. Avatar kiyosuke says:

    i have to say i wish that a) i knew japanese or b) subs would come out with episodes past 8. i may have not looked hard enough but i couldnt find subbed eps so i just watched a few raw and finished it by reading these reviews. i really liked this anime and wish i could have finished watching it subbed. it really takes a lot out and by reading these reviews it makes me want to watch it more, reading how good the ending sounded. i guess ill just unfortunately have to wait but until then ill try watching the rest of the eps raw~ thx for the reviews :]

  14. Avatar Solaris says:

    So no subs since January… Isn’t this one of the best 2008 series? What else are subbers subbing? Damn!!

  15. Avatar Shinkun says:

    It is extremely difficult to translate! :(

  16. Avatar specracer says:

    Sweet now that the subs are almost done I can pick it back up

  17. Avatar windy says:

    Well, personally I found this series both amazing and way too difficult to understand the whole plot even now that I watched it with subtitles! Too many characters involved, too many diverging facts and occurances, actually I don’t think I got it all right, was it really Yoriko who pushed Kanako, then she IS the “first culprit” isn’t it? Why, because she believed in afterdeath and found out her friend wasn’t “perfect”?! I believe the logic here is particularly twisted. There are a lot of questions unresolved here and there which really disturbs me. Why Kanako ever told Yoriko ” she was her and all that incredible stuff” is still a big mystery for me. Then okay, Amemiya ( at least I managed to get that he had a crush on Kanako, why? Did he fall in love with her while he was raising her along with Youko?! Kinda hard to swallow, all this!) turned out to be behind the abduction of Kanako ( at least of her head)and Youko’s father behind all the other murders, yet again can’t be sure of that one! Then Kiba, or whatever, the one who was thought to be the culprit and who was discovered dead and dismembered, what was his part in it, he killed Yoriko, why the hell ( did he read about her friendship with Kanako in the newspapers, at least I don’t see how else, whi did he accost her and why was she on the list of ” people to be killed”? Did he thought that he may recreate the same “masterpiece” with her head as it was done with the head of Kanako by Amemiya?! And when he went all berserk after seeing Kanako’s shot at the restaurant, it was because he remembered having seen her head “inboxed” in the train?! With all this, I wasn’t able to enjoy this at the fullest, way too confusing and tangled. But nevertheless , it’s still a memorable series for me, really if only they had taken more time to explain all the dubious situations we were put into and had extended this series to at least 26 episodes, that would have been the right choice, because the pace would have been slowed down which would enable us to “follow the tracks” and not to be blown astray on the way! But, yeah, taken that aside, a gorgeous series with lots of creativity and brilliant thoughtfulness behind.

  18. Avatar midenz says:

    It was such an amazing series, at first it felt boring, but I’m glad I picked it back up! It’s amazing in every way! Oh did you watch episode 14? I was just wondering since you didn’t have it blogged

  19. Avatar mdv says:

    midenz…
    dude… there’s only 13 episodes.

  20. Avatar mdv says:

    nvm… it’s a Special…

  21. Avatar Fai says:

    So I finally re-watched this series 3 years later (marathon), and not only am I completely blown away, but I also think this has been perhaps one of the most solid story I’ve watched in the past year.

    To anyone who still has questions remaining, I would probably recommend to watch the series again as well as most of your questions have been answered.

    SPOILERS SPOILERS
    To answer some of Windy’s questions:
    – Yes. Amemiya did “kidnap” Kanako because he was obsessed with her
    – No. Kanako’s father was not the one who killed the other women. That was Kubo. He became envious of Kanako’s head in the box and wished to recreate that, not realizing that it would take some really heavy scientific technology.
    – Youko was killed because she was next on list of followers who believed in Kubo’s father (the priest). Although she didn’t follow the cult, her mother did, and once her mother was unable to pay her dues, she was targeted. The list was written in alphabetical order. Although now that it’s mentioned, I wonder how Kubo knew that Youko was friends with Kanako.
    – and yes. I think that’s why he went berserk.
    END SPOILERS

    As psgels has noted earlier, a lot of the things that develop in this series is quite subtle, and that’s what I love about it. The great thing about Mouryou no Hako is that it trusts the reader to fill up the rest of the storyline instead of spoon-feeding us every single message.

  22. Avatar GravityBomb says:

    As much as I normally agree with you, I have to argue with you on this one. I don’t really think that this series was 92.5 worthy. (Now don’t be hating guys, I’ll give my reasons :)). Maybe like 75 or so, but not as high. (And I know this is from 2008, but my anime club just watched it this fall semester.)

    To me, this is a series that demonstrates bad anime direction or choice of material to adapt. While I’m not saying that they should’ve spoon-fed us the story or what have you, but even to me, who loves talky shows a lot, this was just a lot of talking heads 70% of the time and suffered from massive ‘Take Our Word For It’. I mean, when you sit down and think about it, the story alone is amazing. No lie there. But the way that it was handled was just batshit insane. Characters that just kind of drop in out of nowhere and then just disappear from the show or return in random spots. The imagery seeming to try and replicate Utena’s weird symbolism. But what drove me nuts was the two episodes dedicated to exposition dropping all about the mouryou, at which point I actually stopped reading the subs and started spacing out. And while the ending episodes were really the better ones, when you info dump about the whole plot in 23 or so minutes while having barely resolved any of the more important aspects beforehand or resolving things that no one really cared for, it says a lot. To me, when that happens, you did something wrong.

    I say this a lot to people, but in this case I think it’s totally justified: this should have been a 26 episode series, and even if it didn’t want to be that long, a few more episodes would have helped a lot (I know that’s not possible, but one can dream). Or, if nothing else, some parts should have been narrowed down and others expanded upon to flesh out the story and motivations more. It just seems like the staff had no idea what part of the story to focus on. It starts out with the whole creepy science building thing, then just whips around to the cult, then u-turns right back to the ‘hospital’ after leaving it out for around 6+ episodes. While I get that adapting a novel that was very detailed (I’m told) can be challenging, there are better ways to adapt a story and this just kinda falls flat.

    While this is a very interesting show and the story is great when you piece everything together, Ryosuke Nakamura (who isn’t a bad director) just kinda fumbled with it. I’ve actually noticed that no one who worked on this series is bad at what they do, it’s just that this series is what I would consider one of their weakest.

    Again, I’m not ragging on anyone who liked the show. Far from it. :) I love the character designs and the show is beautifully animated. It did a great job at creeping me the hell out. The leads are all entertaining to watch (even in their weirder moments) and you wanna know how the whole thing is going to be resolved by these guys, which is really important to a mystery. But the direction was just…everywhere, the choices on what to emphasize odd, the unnecessary two episodes info dumping on the audience when it could’ve been done in easily 6 minutes or less (leaving more room for the actual story) per episode, it seriously needed a more focused path/cutting out the bits that were just unnecessary, and sometimes this series was just too subtle for it’s own good.

    It’s definitely worthy of a 75 (or so)/100 for being unique. :)

    Thanks for reading anyone and please (again) know I’m not bashing!

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