Posted by Lenlo on 16 August 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Mononoke, Throwback Thursday

There really isn’t a good way to introduce this episode. Nothing is really going to soften the madness of what I just watched. As this week Mononoke has given us one of the darkest/creepiest yet most endearing episodes I have seen in a long time. So let’s just get on with it.

Starting off, a quick look into the production of this week. Once again, Mononoke didn’t really “wow” in terms of straight animation, but rather with it’s style. The most obvious example of this would be the “flip book” presentation of a number of scenes. Looking at it cynically, you could argue this is to save on the animation budget. A simple paper flip effect and 4 frames. For me though, with the overlaid paper effect permeating every frame, I thought it rather clever. That’s not even mentioning the actual subject matter that was displayed. This was… incredibly evocative. I thought a lot of the presentation was clever and clear. Such as the red cloth from the babies, to the urns in which they were stored. Or what body the Proprietress had during different tellings of the story. While it may have only taken place in one room, I was impressed.

Onto the actual meat of the episode though. Holy crap, as I said in the intro, that was one of the most creepy yet endearing things I have ever seen. I assumed it would involve dead children early on in the first episode, that was obvious. None of the story came as any particular surprise. If anything, the story is the most basic part of it. A whore house that did abortions, getting haunted by those children. An easy throughline. But the way Mononoke presented it is what stands out. Take away the symbolism and it becomes an incredibly brutal piece of animation. Depicting abortions to burning corpses and miscarriages, all seemingly barely out of frame. Thrown at you at a rapid pace, picking up steam until the episode closes. It’s difficult to really go into detail on it, as the story largely stands on its own.

In light of that, and my quest to do my best, I will instead focus on specific parts. First up for this, the ambiguity of the ending sorta bugged me. That being the status of Shino’s child. It is blatantly shown that she miscarried, or began to at least, when she let the Zashikiwarashi in. Saying she would give birth to them all, seemingly at the cost of her own child. While this caused the Medicine Seller to learn the “regret”, which I will get to later, the ending still leaves this ambiguous. With her sleeping, and rubbing her stomach, seemingly fine. Did the Zashikiwarashi take her childs place? Did the Medicine Seller successfully exorcise them? Or did she actually miscarry and hasn’t realized it? This is one of those things I would prefer a clear answer on.

Meanwhile, we can take a moment to talk about the “regret” portion. The “Shape” was simple enough, he could see it and it became obvious. The “Truth” behind how it came to be took up most of the episode, with the story of the whore house and the abortions. However the final requirement, the “regret” was never really shown. As the sword seemingly came undone once Shino offered herself, it feels like something the viewer fills in. For me, the “regret” seemed to be a “desire to be born”. The children wanted to finish being born, since they never got to. So when Shino offered that chance to them, that filled in the last requirement for the Medicine Seller. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on it though, as this was left rather open.

Speaking of the Medicine Teller, let me take this chance to talk about his “inner self”. We didn’t actually get to see much of it here. Only a split second as he dealt with the Zashikiwarashi, in fact. It’s a bit of a shame, as we got more of it in the original Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales. In an effort to focus on just this work, lets avoid delving to deeply into this Inner Self’s character and focus just on what we can see. From the outside, it’s almost as if his color palette inverted. From his outfit to his tattoos going a golden yellow. With only his hair really remaining how it was, but freed from the cloth. It also seems rather dynamic in its pose, a sort of inversion of the rather stoic Medicine Seller. I am interested to see where it goes in future arcs.

Before I finish up though, I want to touch on a few things I realized I missed while reading over this. For one, the music and sound design were on point. From drops of blood to the tracks that played over everything, it was stellar. All working to draw me in to the scene. Another bit I failed to mention when talking about the finale was the use of the cracking urn and the child voice. Describing how it felt over the course of the arc, with Shino always rubbing her stomach and talking to them. For what is essentially a non-character, when combined with the imagery on screen, it was a very somber moment. I don’t know if it was because it was a child, or because the child was characterized by the Zashikiwarashi throughout the arc. But suffice to say it worked.

So all in all, how was the episode? I want to say it was great, because of how it was presented and the… sheer bravado with which it portrayed its story. This first arc alone earned it the Horror genre tag. Showing us that you don’t need dark shadows, corners and faceless monsters to make horror work. There are many different kinds from the classic monster, to the psychological, to my personal favorite of Eldritch/Cosmic horror. I think Mononoke portrayed this brilliantly. I will admit, I am having difficulty actually describing what it is I watched here because it was so unexpectedly upfront with everything. Mononoke has successfully invested me in this series. I want to see where it goes, what it does, and the kind of crazy crap its going to throw my way. I make no promises on being able to explain it. But I will try.

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