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Mononoke

Page history last edited by Caroline Dougherty 11 years, 9 months ago

 

Mononoke can be translated as “ghost” or “spirit.”

 

This anime aired in Japan from July 12, 2007 to September 27, 2007.  It is twelve episodes long and consists of five arcs.  The anime is a spin-off of the “Bakeneko” arc from Ayakashi:  Japanese Classic Horror.

 

Kenji Nakamura is the director of Mononoke.  He’s done some work (mostly production coordination) in other anime, but the “Bakeneko” arc of Ayakashi and Mononoke are his first attempts at directing.

 

Takashi Hashimoto does character design and is also the chief animation director for Mononoke.  He also did key animation for the Superflat Monogram ad campaign for Louie Vuitton.

 

The art for Mononoke draws from traditional Japanese art, particularly from woodblock prints, and the Art Nouveau style from Gustav Klimt.  The art in Mononoke is symbolic and often foreshadows events that have not yet been revealed in the plot.  The animation in Mononoke is achieved through CGI; cameras zoom through the CGI image in order to achieve the fast-paced animation that is often used during the climatic moments of the anime.

 

The anime is divided into five arcs.  These arcs have absolutely nothing to do with each other; only one character, the medicine seller, connects them all.  Each arc focuses on a mononoke that is wreaking havoc and the story of how the mononoke came to be.  Once the medicine seller finds the Katachi (form), Makoto (truth), and Kotowari (reason/regret), the medicine seller can draw his katana and the Mononoke can be exorcised.  This exorcism technique is based on the Mikkyo Buddhism concept of San Himitsu, which translates to “The Three Secrets.” 

 

While watching the anime, the viewer is overwhelmed by the feeling that he doesn’t know what’s going on in the plot, which is accentuated by the artwork itself.  After each arc resolves, the viewer has a sense of resolution but also realizes that the resolution itself is ambiguous.

 

Names in this anime are hard to come by.  The medicine seller himself never reveals his name.  The other characters in the anime are typically given names, but they are rarely used and quickly forgotten by the viewer.

 

The stories in this anime revolve around historical themes and also blend these themes with modern concepts.  The content and the artwork merge together creating phenomenal albeit bizarre anime.

 

 

Zashiki-warashi (Episodes 1-2) 

Episode 1


This arc opens with the medicine seller entering an inn.  He soon gets to work selling medicines to the inn’s owner while a young pregnant girl begs for a room for the night.  She claims that she’s being chased by an assassin and needs shelter from the rain.  The inn owner’s servant tells her that there’s no more rooms left, so the young pregnant woman starts causing a scene.  The inn owner comes by and tells her that she can stay the night in one of the rooms.  She then tells her servant to take the young pregnant woman up to that room. 

Once the young pregnant woman begins settling in for the night, strange events begin to happen, and during the night, the assassin shows up, ready to kill the young woman.  Before he can land the killing strike, the assassin mysteriously dies.  The medicine seller, the inn owner, and the servant quickly arrive in the room and their stories start to unfold.

Episode 2


The young pregnant woman explains that she used to be a servant of a well-to-do household.  While working for the household, she started an affair with the son of the household, which resulted in her pregnancy.  The son’s parents, the master and mistress of the household, feared for the inheritance and hired an assassin to kill the young woman and her unborn child.

The inn owner explains that the inn used to be a brothel and the room that the young pregnant woman was sleeping in used to be the abortion room.  After the brothel was changed into an inn, the abortion room was turned into an offering to the Mononoke.  But now the Zashiki-warashi have awoken and want to be born through the young pregnant woman.

The medicine seller, having the form and truth, now awaits the regret, which will allow him to unsheathe the katana and exorcise the Mononoke.  But the young pregnant woman sympathizes with the Zashiki-warashi and tells them that she will give birth to them.

But this is not to be; the Mononoke is exorcised.  The ending of this arc (like most of the other arcs) is ambiguous.  Once the young woman says she will give birth to the Mononoke, it seems like she miscarries, literally making room in her womb for the Mononoke.  While the woman has a scene that is apparently between her and her unborn child, the sword’s mouth snaps shut, which indicates it has found one of the three criteria needed to be unsheathed.  We then see the person who does the actual exorcism of the Mononoke (who may or may not be the medicine seller) appear.  This would all seem to state that during the scene between the young woman and her unborn child, the regret was discovered and the medicine seller exorcised the Mononoke.  As to whether or not the young woman actually miscarried, the very end of the arc shows the woman rubbing her stomach and talking to herself, which could indicate that she’s still pregnant.

 

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Umi Bozu (Episodes 3-5) 

Episode 3


This arc opens with a new cast of characters on a boat.  We meet a minstrel, the ship’s owner, the ship’s navigator, a samurai, a monk, the monk’s apprentice, and Kayo, the young girl from the “Bakeneko” arc in Ayakashi.  Soon enough, things go awry.  The characters wake up to the ship having veered far off course and now sailing through the Dragon’s Triangle.  It is quickly discovered that the ship did not accidentally go off course; a magnet was placed by the compass so that it always pointed the same direction even though the ship was sailing in another.  The ship soon comes under attack by a ghost ship, but the medicine seller drives it away with an explosion.  Unfortunately, he will not be able to do this again because the explosion used up all of his gunpowder.  The passengers are now left defenseless and wondering which one among them set the ship adrift in the Dragon’s Triangle.

Episode 4

            It seems the medicine seller is having problems with the Mononoke; the scales he uses to exact the location of Mononoke are not working properly.  To make matters worse, an Ayakashi appears and starts asking the passengers about their greatest fears.  The Ayakashi then shows the passengers illusions that bring their greatest fears to life.  When the Ayakashi asks the monk’s apprentice what he truly fears, the apprentice answers that he fears his master, the monk.  The apprentice then goes on to explain that it was the monk who placed the magnet by the compass, forcing the ship off course.  The Ayakashi then asks the monk what he fears most.  The monk answers that what he fears most is the thing that has been wandering in the sea, the thing that gave rise to the Dragon’s Triangle itself, the Utsurobune that contains his sister.

 

Episode 5

            The passengers decide to open the Utsurobune to free the monk’s sister, but inside, there is nothing.  The monk then launches into an explanation of his childhood and his relationship with his sister that he describes as being too close.  During his childhood, the monk decided to follow the path to Buddhism, and left the island he was born on and his sister.  During his training, he received a letter from the villagers living on the island.  The sea around the island had become hostile and many ships had gone missing.  The villagers decided to offer the sea a sacrifice.  The monk decided to sacrifice himself in order to escape the impure thoughts he had for his sister, so the villagers built an Utsurobune for him.  On the day that the monk was supposed to board the Utsurobune, his sister saw him, took pity on him, and decided to be sacrificed in place of him.  She admits that she’s always been in love with the monk, her brother, and because she can never marry him, she will become a sacrifice to the sea.  But there’s a problem with this story.  The monk’s sister has not turned into a Mononoke, and, more importantly, the medicine seller’s katana is not reacting to the monk’s story at all.

            The truth is, the monk had always been self-centered and ambitious.  He had never loved his sister and was overjoyed when she said she would take his place as a sacrifice.  Not being able to accept his true feelings and face himself, the monk split in two.  Half of him became a Mononoke and roamed the Dragon’s Triangle.  The medicine seller, finally finding the truth and regret, exorcises the Mononoke half of the monk, which leaves the monk…pretty?

 

 

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Noppera Bou (Episodes 6-7)

Episode 6


            This arc begins by telling us of Ochou, a woman who has just murdered her husband and his entire family.  Ochou admits to the crime and is imprisoned.  We find her sharing her cell with none other than the medicine seller.  The medicine seller explains that he has ended up there because a customer accused him of fraud when one of his medications failed to work.  The medicine seller says it’s not really important how he ended up there and begins asking Ochou about her crimes, specifically, how she murdered her husband and his family.  Ochou admits that she doesn’t remember how she murdered her husband.  The medicine seller tells her that the details aren’t really important because he thinks that a Mononoke helped her murder her husband and his family.  At this point a masked man identified as the Mononoke responsible for possessing Ochou and committing the murders appears.  The medicine seller tries to get his katana to witness the Mononoke’s form, but it doesn’t react.  The medicine seller tries to protect Ochou from the Mononoke, but ends up having his form (face) stolen.  Ochou reflects on her life with her former husband and decides that she doesn’t want to return (this arc does not seem to take place in reality but in some sort of alternate dimension).  The Mononoke then asks Ochou to marry him.  The two wed but during the ceremony, Ochou’s memories of her mother come back to haunt her.  And then the medicine seller makes his grand reentrance and regains his form.  The medicine seller and the Mononoke fight and it seems like the medicine seller has finally discovered the Mononoke’s true form.

Episode 7

            The Mononoke escapes from the medicine seller.  The medicine seller takes this opportunity to question Ochou about her life.  We soon find out that Ochou’s husband and family were controlling and verbally abusive.  The medicine seller then asks Ochou, “Who did you really kill?”  We then step into Ochou’s childhood and watch her as she was raised by her highly controlling mother, who wanted nothing more than to use her daughter to marry into wealth and status.  Ochou finally answers the medicine seller’s question; she killed herself.  She is the Mononoke.  Right before the medicine seller exorcises the Mononoke, Ochou asks why the masked man saved her.  The medicine seller tells her that perhaps the masked man fell in love with her, but the Mononoke knew that the two of them could never be together and fell into despair.

            This arc was particularly confusing and ambiguous.  The scenes are out of order and often repeat themselves.  From the very beginning it’s obvious that everything discussed refers to something bigger than the current situation.  We also have no idea of where the events take place or exactly when in the storyline they’re taking place or how the medicine seller got to where Ochou is.  We also have no idea of exactly who the masked man is.  Even more infuriating, at the very end of the arc, we have no idea of what happened to Ochou.  If she was a Mononoke, did the medicine seller kill her?  Or did he save her from being consumed by the Mononoke?  Did she, once being saved, finally leave her husband’s house?  Or did she actually kill herself or did “killing herself” mean that she erased her identity in order to please her mother?  The ending of this arc leaves the viewer with more confusion and questions than resolution and answers.

 

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Nue (Episodes 8-9)

 

Episode 8


This arc opens with a scene of an unknown man dying a very bloody death.  After the opening credits, another unknown man describes the art of creating incense and states that a Lady Ruri is the sole heir to a particular style of incense development.  Since Lady Ruri is the only person to know this particular style, four men pursue her hand in marriage.  This then leads to a Kumikou Trial between the four suitors.  We then see three of the four suitors introduce themselves.  They wonder where the fourth is and then realize the medicine seller is sitting next to them.  He explains that he is there to kill a Mononoke.  The three suitors decide the fourth is not coming and they all continue into the manor.  Since the fourth suitor has not arrived, Lady Ruri, the medicine seller, and the three suitors agree to allow the medicine seller to act as the fourth suitor in the Kumikou and vie for Lady Ruri’s favor.  The Kumikou begins; the four smell (or hear) the five different scents and then record their answers.  After the Kumikou, the three suitors disappear separately into the mansion with the intensions of finding something called the Toudaiji.  Eventually the three reconvene and find the medicine seller ready to attack the Mononoke in an adjacent room.  The medicine seller opens the doors and the group finds the corpse of the fourth suitor, the man who we saw dying in the first scene.  The medicine seller turns to another room and opens the door to reveal the Lady Ruri, who immediately dies a very bloody and mysterious death.  No one knows what’s going on, but soon enough the three suitors start tearing up the room in search of the mysterious Toudaiji.  The four agree to another Kumikou, with the medicine seller arranging the scents, in order to decide who will become the heir to the Toudaiji.

Episode 9

            The suitors explain that Toudaiji is just a pseudonym for Rannatai, which is apparently a wood so powerful that it will bestow powers so great that its owner will become a great conqueror.  The three suitors wait as the medicine seller prepares the scents and discuss the possible Nue that is haunting the premise.  The scents are ready and the suitors begin the new Kumikou, but the medicine seller mentions that he slipped and added oleander, a plant with a poisonous vapor, to one of the scents.  The three decide to continue the game.  Through deceit and manipulation, the medicine seller ends up killing the three suitors without having to lift a finger.  After their deaths, the medicine seller begins talking to the Mononoke and discerns its form, truth, and regret.  After assembling the three criteria, the medicine seller exorcizes the Nue.

            This arc relies heavily on visual cues despite the story being based on another sense altogether.  The arc is done with black and white background with small bursts of bright colors occasionally thrown in.  Also, all the characters with the exception of the medicine seller, are done in subdued colors.  The muted colors are clearly symbolic of the state and emotions of the characters.

Some helpful links for this arc:

  • The second incense game is Taketori-no-kou, which is based on the story of Taketori Hime

 

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Bakeneko (Episodes 10-12)

 

Episode 10

            This arc starts with a woman falling off of a bridge and onto a railroad track, and then getting hit by a train.  After the opening credits, we get to see the opening of a brand new train station.  A new cast of characters slowly assembles on the train to experience its first ride.  The characters for this arc are the train conductor, the mayor, a newspaper writer, a detective, a young boy, a woman, a young girl, and, of course, our medicine seller.  It doesn’t take long for the train ride to get interesting.  The conductor, seeing a woman standing on the train tracks, slams on the breaks, and then, all of our characters, sans medicine seller, magically appear in the first car with no one else around.  The characters are unsure of what is going on, but the woman and the young girl decide to head back to the cars they belong in.  Unfortunately, they can’t open the doors.  The mayor eventually gets the door open for them, but what’s even more unfortunate, all the other cars have vanished.  To make matters even worse, the train suddenly starts moving and the mayor is thrown from the car.  Confused and scared, the characters try to figure out what’s going on just as the medicine seller makes an entrance from a car that seems to no longer exist.  And, in the medicine seller’s typical fashion, he begins terrifying the other characters by telling them a Mononoke is present, then pulls out his endless supply of scales, and declares that somehow all the passengers present are somehow connected.  At first, the characters are in disbelief, but then three of them agree that they do all know the detective.  From there, the characters then start piecing together their pasts and start to figure out how they are all connected.  They soon discover that they are all connected by the death of a young woman who was hit by a train only a few months ago.  The Mononoke then appears and the medicine seller discerns that it is a Bake Neko.

Episode 11

            The medicine quickly realizes that the Mononoke wants its truth to be discovered.  Amid the chaos and terror, the characters’ stories of the woman’s death pour out, but something doesn’t seem right.  They all seem to be hiding something.  Also, even though they all claim that the woman’s death was suicide, their words keep hinting to the possibility that it was not a suicide.  The train suddenly goes haywire and then abruptly stops at the train station.  The characters, thinking it’s over, try to get off the train.  Unfortunately for them, it’s a trap and the Bake Neko claims the life of the detective and we see his dead body placed next to the corpse of the mayor in the fake train station.  The medicine seller tells the other passengers that if they all explain their stories of the woman, the regret of the Mononoke will form and he will be able to exorcise it.  The young boy explains that he saw someone on the bridge the day of the woman’s death, but he can’t remember if it was the woman or perhaps the person who killed her.  As he’s telling his story, he scratches his eyes to pieces.  He then disappears.  The newspaper writer then explains that the woman, who used to work for him, was doing a story on a scandal that the mayor was involved in over the funding of the train station.  He tells us that he believes that it was the mayor who was responsible for the woman’s death.  After telling us this, he disappears as well.  The remaining three characters all begin accusing each other of being responsible for the woman’s death.  Apparently the conductor ran over her body and just assumed it was a cat and never stopped to check what it was.  The young girl apparently lied to the detective about the woman in order to get a chance at appearing in a newspaper.  The woman apparently overheard a fight between the woman and someone else right before the death occurred.  After the truth comes out, these three characters disappear and the medicine seller is left alone.  Well, he is until the newspaper writer reappears.

Episode 12

            The newspaper writer, despite being brought back by the Mononoke, refuses to talk, so the woman shows up in order to tell what he will not.  The woman used to be a writer of a newspaper and she worked under the newspaper writer.  She discovered that the mayor was involved in a scandal and began collecting evidence of the affair.  After colleting everything she needs, the woman tells the newspaper writer what she has and he tells her that he’ll run her story.  He also says that since it’s such a huge scoop, she should keep it a complete secret.  The morning she’s supposed to turn in the article, she meets the writer on a bridge.  The writer takes the article from the woman and burns it, saying that he can’t let the story get out.  It turns out that most of the characters in this story were bribed by the mayor to keep the scandal quiet.  After the woman and the writer argue, the woman refuses to keep quiet about the story, so the writer pushes her off the bridge.  Now that the medicine seller has the form, truth, and regret, he can exorcise the Mononoke.

            This arc is decidedly set in another era.  Most of the arcs seem to occur in the Edo era, whereas this arc occurs in the Taisho era.  But this arc also connects with the “Bakeneko” arc of Ayakashi, and not just in name.  Most of the characters in the two arcs are the same.

 

 

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Clips from Ayakashi's "Bakeneko":

 

 

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A Note on Fansubs and Where to Get This Anime

 

Even though this anime is (currently) unlicensed, it can still be obtained with English subtitles.  Two fansub groups have subtitled this anime.  Shinsen-Subs has completed subtitling the anime and Black-Sheep has completed episodes 1-10.  Shinsen-Subs typically does a fairly good job with their translations; they're pretentious and sometimes phrase their translations poorly, but they do a consistent job and also add explanations of historical references at the end of the anime.  Mononoke can be downloaded through Bittorrent.

Shinsen-Subs

Bittorrent

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