Don made a rather glowing recommendation of Mononoke a few weeks ago, which I mentally filed away until recently.
Having watched the first story arc (which spans two episodes), we have: a rather laconic, mysterious man known only as the Medicine Seller who hunts down spirits with an enchanted sword in feudal Japan. That sounds a bit like a setup for your average Shonen anime, except it isn’t.
*early show spoilers to follow*
What we get instead in the beginning is a ghost story told in a rather aggressively surrealistic manner. In this case, a pregnant woman winds up taking shelter in an inn where the Medicine Seller happens to be staying. Since there are no other rooms available, she gets put in a “store room” that turns out to be haunted. An assassin sent by the child’s father tracks her down – only to be killed by whatever is lurking in the room.
The medicine seller interrogates the inn’s owner and finds out that the inn used to be a brothel, and the “store room” was actually where the babies of the prostitutes were aborted. The ghosts of those babies are what is haunting the room. Then the woman seems to enter into the psychic suffering of the prostitutes and their dead children as reality increasingly comes apart at the seams until the medicine seller is able to exorcise them. It’s really unnerving. Now, I’m not sure what Japanese attitudes towards abortion are, but from a western perspective, its a pretty ballsy move to depict it in a tragic and horrific light.
What it reminds me a bit of is Flannery O’Connor, who made use of the grotesque and horrific to jolt her readers out of moral complacency. I don’t know whether Kenji Nakamura and his writers actually had some sort of moral impetus here, or if they just felt it would be something messed up that they could use for dramatic effect. But it goes to show how simply telling a story well can have a potentially powerful moral effect on people. Part of the reason we live in a culture that is saturated with secular leftist values is that they’re by and large the only ones these days who care about good storytelling. Would that more orthodox Christians took note of that.
Anyway, the art is as aggressive as the story. The best description I can come up with is, “Yoshitaka Amano artbook on drugs,” which is saying something, given Amano’s designs. Everything looks flat – in a good way – with a painterly, tactile feel.
So: colour me intrigued.