Monday, October 3, 2016

Anime Review: The Morose Mononokean

The Morose Mononokean

Within a few days of starting high school Hanae Ashiya earned himself a nickname even if he wasn't aware of it: Hanae of the Nurse's Office. Excited to be started high school, Ashiya was cheerfully walking home and congratulating himself for doing a good deed when he picked up an old toy on the road and placed it more visably along the sidewalk. What Ashiya also wasn't aware of was that this wasn't a toy he picked up, it was a yokai and one that has since attached itself to Ashiya and possessed him! Desperate to get this fuzzy, energy-sucking creature off his back, Ashiya dials a phone number he finds in the nurses's office and from there he is sucked into his classmate Abeno's world of yokai, exorcisms, and a rather friendly tearoom. 

While I've always enjoyed Kiri Wazawa's colorful splash pages in the manga I was a little surprised to see that the story replicated their coloring style so faithfully. It takes the anime a little while it settle in but once Ashiya and Abeno visit the Underworld and the story can embrace it's saturated colors and occasional colored line-art the visuals feel more cohesive throughout, and it's also when the story starts to settle into itself as well. As a manga reader I was a little disappointed to see that the anime had both the same strengths and weaknesses as the manga, the story's strengths lie in the fact that the characters aren't boring but it's greatest weakness is that the story lacks a really substantial hook. Like many other yokai stories, there isn't an overarching plot (other than possible hints that there are other reasons why Ashiya can see yokai) to tie the threads together, and the story lacks a distinct tone that pulls disparte stories together, like Mushi-shi, Mononoke, or the soon to return Natsume Yuujinchou/Natsume and the Book of Friends. The story does have a remarkably upbeat tone for a yokai story, even when the characters says that it's impossible for humans to have a meaningful relationship with yokai it's simply hard to take them seriously given how earnestly hard Ashiya and the yokai try, so perhaps that is enough to make the story stand out for some people.

In terms of comparisons, The Morose Mononokean is the most like Natsume and certainly seems to be playing from the same handbook, abet a possibly different edition. Ashiya is nicer than Natsume at the start, although where Natsume thinks things are troublesome Ashiya tends to whine (which is his VA, Kaji Yuuki's, trademark after all), and ultimately they both have good hearts and seem to connect with yokai on a deeper level than they do with most people (both stories are also less concerned with incorporating "real world" yokai into their stories and instead draw on more broader inspiration for the creatures and their tales). The largest difference The Morose Mononokean has with all of these other stories is the presence of Abeno, the one with actual exorcism powers and a past with the yokai. One might think this would make Ashiya more of a Supporting Protagonist but he really is the mover and shaker in almost every story, to the point where the last arc of the anime is a small expansion on the manga's material which serves to solidify Ashiya's place at the heart of the story. Even by the end of the series Abeno still comes off as rather mysterious in a number of ways, which is less a failing of the story and more of a fact that whatever background he has simply hasn't been fleshed out yet in the manga and the anime was unwilling to go too far in the "anime original" direction. And frankly, while the 13 episode run time of the series fit it perfectly, that just isn't enough time to build up either Ashiya or Abeno to the point where we are ready to learn all of their secrets. 

As someone who has now seen both versions of The Morose Mononokean, I can say that watching the anime did not give me any additional insight into the characters or the show, but it wasn't bad. Therefore, I recommend people check out whichever medium they prefer and if people want to continue with the manga beyond the anime (as a warning, the anime very nearly caught up), they can jump right with chapter 26 on Crunchyroll's manga reader. While the story is sometimes overly sentimental, it's also funny and let's its characters get themselves in and out of situations rather naturally. It's a simple series but a cheerful, pleasant one that truly wants good things to happen to the characters in the end, even if the journey there is a bit difficult   

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