I got two words for the tl;dr crowd: absolutely brilliant!
Mononoke is a story about the Medicine Seller who wanders across medieval Japan (in the last few episodes it takes place in 1920’s instead!) and is dragged into exorcising malicious spirits from time to time. These spirits are never born out of nothing, as the evil spirits are summoned by the wicked deeds done by humans and the spirits want to exact revenge on those awful people. So before the Medicine Seller can exorcise the malevolent spirit, he needs to know the form, the reason and its regret before he can properly exorcise the spirit. After you get to know why the spooky monster is there, then you can ask yourself who’s the real monster in the story.
Mononoke is a mystery – horror anime, and boy, does it have spades of both! The series is divided into multi-episode arcs and it’s literally the anime equivalent of a page-turner. When I started off with Ayakashi’s (2006) Bakeneko arc, I thought I could ease in to the series with watching just one episode. You can already imagine how that went! Of course I had to watch 3 episodes back-to-back before I could call it a day.
So that we’d all be on the same page here I’ll explain why I’m talking about Ayakashi when I’m supposed to be reviewing Mononoke instead. Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales is an anthology anime and in its last 3 episodes it introduced the Medicine Seller character and the trademark ukiyo-e style (which is that fancy-ass Japanese wood-cut painting style just like Hokusai’s Great Wave of Kanagawa), which of course carried on to the subsequent series. So Mononoke (2007) is the spin-off of the Ayakashi’s last 3 episodes and it’s all about the Medicine Seller and his wacky adventures.
Not only are the stories gripping to their bitter and bloody end, the visual style is really psychedelic with the poppy bright colors and almost every surface being covered with a painting and a paper-screen overlay. The stories are presented like a puppet play, with each episode and intermission starting off with silken doors sliding open. The opening of the curtain – so to speak. The music is fitting for the period as the soundtrack heavily uses screeching shakuhachi flutes and thundering taiko drums, making it sound like a samurai epic.
Unfortunately, there are a few things I didn’t like. For example, sometimes the characters talk…… like this.. for dramatic…… effect. It’s kind of ridiculous at times, but ehh, it’s not really that bad. Plus I think the actual exorcism itself is too over-the-top Dragon Ball Z for me, but luckily it happens only briefly before a story arc concludes.
Should you see this anime? If you like mystery / supernatural stories, and not the Scooby-Doo kind of shit, but actually scary stories, then absolutely! Do you like people in kimonos? Boy, does this series deliver on that. In any case, it’s a great show and this one gets my full blessings. See this anime! You won’t regret it.