Mononoke

Mononoke

Mononoke anime series cover art
Mononoke

Shape, Truth, and Reason

Mononoke (モノノ怪) is not the same anime as Princess Mononoke — it’s better. This 12-episode series is based on the Monster Cat story told in Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror. So if you haven’t read my review of that series, I suggest you check it out.

This series follows an unnamed man simply known as the Medicine Seller as he wanders around feudal Japan in search of mononoke (spirits) to slay. However, slaying mononoke isn’t an easy task. Before the Medicine Seller can unsheathe his exorcism sword, he needs to know the shape, truth, and reason of the mononoke.

In order to illustrate these three pieces of information the Medicine Seller needs let’s use a familiar face, Mayoi Hachikuji from the Monogatari series (spoilers for that incoming).

The Medicine Seller's sword of exorcism from the anime series Mononoke
The Medicine Seller’s sword of exorcism

Shape refers to the physical form of the mononoke. In Mayoi’s case, although she doesn’t actually look like this, her shape would be the lost cow since that’s the type of apparition she is. Basically by figuring out the shape, the Medicine Seller knows what kind of mononoke he’s dealing with.

Truth refers to what the mononoke in question wants. Once we have the shape, it only takes a little more work to get the truth. For example, a lost cow wants to guide humans astray from their path, thus getting them lost as well.

Reason is the final piece of information the Medicine Seller needs. This refers to why the mononoke appeared in the first place. The lost cow apparition appeared because Mayoi died while on the way to her mother’s house. Since she never made it to her destination, her soul lost its way.

Zashiki-warashi

It’s going to be tough, but I’ll be attempting to give you a brief summary of each arc of Mononoke without spoiling them (other than the shape). The first arc is Zashiki-warashi. These are Japanese spirits which often take the form of small children and perform mischievous deeds.

These mononoke appear before a pregnant woman while she’s staying in a hotel room which isn’t rented out to guests under normal circumstances. And unfortunately for her, the Zashiki-warashi found in mononoke aren’t exactly as wholesome as their counterparts from actual Japanese legends.

This arc takes place over the course of two episodes.

Sea Bishop

Sea Bishop is the next arc and takes place over three episodes. In this arc, the Medicine Seller finds himself aboard a boat with a rag-tag group of other passengers. Their boat then gets caught in the sea of apparitions and everyone has to figure out why this is happening.

This arc is set up more like a murder mystery. There was no murder committed aboard the boat, but the passengers are all hiding something which could end up being the reason the ship stopped where it did.

Chiyo from the Monster Cat story in Ayakashi also makes an appearance in this arc. She even references the events of Ayakashi.

Faceless Monster

Other than the final arc, Faceless Monster was the most predictable as far as I was concerned. However, that didn’t make it any less good. This arc covers two episodes and follows a woman who seems to have fallen in love with a mononoke.

But, this woman also has a new husband who is abusive towards her. Because of this, she wishes to escape from her unhappy marriage and be with the mononoke she loves. While that actually explains a lot of the plot to this arc, it’s the final twist which really wraps everything together nicely.

I think this arc had my favorite visuals of the entire series. The outdoor backgrounds are beautiful, and I liked seeing the different masks the Faceless Monster wore.

The Faceless Monster wearing a fox mask from the anime series Mononoke
The Faceless Monster wearing a fox mask

Japanese Chimera (Nue)

The Japanese Chimera arc is two episodes long and actually reminded me a decent amount of the Monster Cat arc from Ayakashi. It’s not really the same arc, but it had a similar vibe to it — I don’t think I can explain it any better than that.

In this arc, four suitors appear at the home of a wealthy woman hoping to win her hand in marriage. To do so, they will be competing in the art of incense smelling. This is a sport(?) which I could probably dedicate an entire article to at a later date.

Anyway, the mononoke this time around is a Nue, which is Japan’s version of the Chimera from Greece. Nue don’t appear all that often in anime but if you’ve seen either Boruto or Dororo, you may be familiar with them.

Goblin Cat

Oddly enough, Goblin Cat (Monster Cat) is the final arc of Mononoke and takes place over three episodes. Although we already had a Monster Cat arc in Ayakashi — which may be why this one is translated to Goblin Cat instead — these two arcs are very different.

Sure, the shape, truth, and reason are all essentially the same, but even if you already know it all from Ayakashi, you won’t enjoy this arc any less.

This time around, the story seems to be set in a later time period, probably the 1920’s rather than some time time in the 1800’s. Because of this change in time period, the majority of the arc takes place in a “modern” setting, aboard a passenger train.

Also Chiyo makes an appearance in this arc as well, though she has no memories of the other arcs. This could mean this arc takes place in an alternate timeline.

Conclusion

Overall I give Mononoke a 9/10, which I believe is one point higher than what I rated the Monster Cat story of Ayakashi. This series really just takes everything that made the Monster Cat story so good and improves upon it by turning it into 12 episodes.

As for the OP/ED, I definitely liked the OP for Ayakashi more than the one for Mononoke. However, I think the EDs for the two series are tied.

And, as one last fun fact, the Medicine Seller is voiced by Takahiro Sakurai, the same guy who voices Meme Oshino from Monogatari and Arataka Reigen from Mob Psycho 100. All three characters interact with spirits in some way: fighting, balancing, or faking respectively.

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