The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
The Morose Mononokean
How would you rate episode 1 of
The Morose Mononokean ?
What is this?
Hanae Ashiya is excited to make a good impression on his first day of high school. Tasked with picking up groceries for his mother, he spends the trip thinking about the big day ahead - until he runs into a strange fluffy creature that attaches itself to his head. After learning that no one else can see the creature, he realizes it must be a yokai. Furthermore, this particular yokai is draining the life force right out of him! Fortunately, a flyer at his school leads him to the door of the exorcist Abeno - unfortunately, Abeno is about as grumpy as an exorcist can be. In fact, it's looking pretty doubtful that Abeno has any interest in saving Ashiya from his fluffy new friend. The Morose Mononokean is based on a web manga and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Sundays at 11:30 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
The Morose Mononokean seeks to answer a question that has plagued anime for decades: can you sell a show purely on the adorability of its mascot characters? Well, I know I'll definitely be watching more episodes, but I can't give you any other reason except for "this puffball yokai is the most adorable thing I've ever seen."
Apart from this super-fuzzy and most-successful use of cel-shaded CG in the season thus far, The Morose Mononokean doesn't have much to write home about. The episode's backgrounds, character designs, and music are almost alarmingly minimal, and the premise of our plucky high school lead continually getting hounded by friendly yokai he must heal with the help of his unfriendly neighborhood exorcist is charming, but not exactly an edge-of-your-seat draw. On the flip side, the show has a heart-melting sense of humor and gentle wit that makes it easy to watch, like when our hero's florist mother constantly tries to cheer him up using the language of flowers, or his classmates become extremely disappointed when the "dark-haired, mysterious, and sickly new student whose mother is a florist" turns out to be a boy instead of a girl as anime clichés would have them believe. Content-wise, there's a lot to like about The Morose Mononokean, it just seems like the show's production is already on autopilot when it comes to giving the story a unique style or stronger hook.
I have a Grand Canyon-sized weak spot for cuddly monsters though, so I'll definitely be checking back in to see what hapless yokai gravitate to our hero and how he can help solve their problems. It's no Mushi-Shi or Natsume's Book of Friends, but neither of those shows are airing right now, so if you don't mind a less ambitious take on that soothing flavor, there may be some promise in this humble little series.
Let's just get this out of the way: the fuzzy yokai that attaches itself to Ashiya in this first episode is exceedingly cute. Apart from the obvious appeal of being a white fluffball, the creature manages to express a wide range of emotions with little more than two eyes and some basic body language. It's easy to like the thing, even before we get an explanation of what it is and why it's seemingly determined to pester Ashiya to death. It's arguably the best part of the episode, and needs to be made into some kind of plush toy immediately.
The protagonists of The Morose Mononokean may lag behind “Fuzzy” in terms of immediate charm, but they're at least reasonably entertaining. The dynamic between them follows a familiar pattern with the earnest Ashiya constantly getting flustered by the more standoffish Abeno, and it looks like they'll work pretty well as the exorcist equivalent of buddy cops. While there's nothing particularly fresh or original about their interactions thus far, the series does a decent job of following an old formula. With a little time and some additional character development, they might even be as interesting as the spirits they're exorcising.
There's some solid comedy to be found in this episode, courtesy of humorous dialogue and well-timed slapstick as Ashiya's attempts to get rid of “Fuzzy” repeatedly backfire. There's also some emotional substance to be found near the end of the episode, courtesy of a simple but effective appeal to the audience's sentimental side. Few things crank up the “aww” factor like a happy ending to a sad pet story. It remains to be seen if The Morose Mononokean will deliver any sort of overarching narrative, but it's already proven that it can handle episodic stories rather nicely.
There's nothing outstanding enough to push this series into must-watch territory, and I don't think you'll miss anything important by skipping it. It is, however, a competent genre piece that delivers a lot of harmless fun. If you're looking for a weekly dose of optimism and are put off by the manic energy of shows like Love Live! Sunshine!!, The Morose Mononokean should provide a more low-key alternative.
This is the show that made me wish it was an anime adaptation of The Demon Prince of Momochi House instead. Not that The Morose Mononokean's first episode is bad at all – it's a relatively standard take on the tale of an unlucky adolescent who has the ability to see and interact with the spirit world. It has some cute tricks and turns. It just doesn't quite to enough to distinguish itself from the herd right off the bat.
One of the best parts of the story is the protagonist, Hanae Ashiya. Hanae's mother is a florist, so her naming her son “Hanae” is like if my parents had named me “Radiolina” or something after my father's work, but with the added bonus that people think he's a girl. Hanae appears to be unaware that he can see the spirit world until he inadvertently picks up an adorable fluffy three-tailed yokai who immediately begins to sap his energy, and this is one of the things I like about this episode. There are mythologies where people come into their psychic selves at puberty, so having someone just beginning high school discover his powers makes a degree of sense, and it also gives Hanae an edge over other similar protagonists. He can't actively resent or make use of his gifts because he didn't know he had them before, and even if he had hints, he might have just assumed he was as weird as his mom, who can't help saying it with flowers by producing bouquets that symbolically express her emotions. In any event, Hanae is completely unprepared, and unbiased, for his role in the show, which is the key factor setting this up to be interesting.
Of course, now the episode is free to take on a monster-of-the-week format as his new Mononokean buddy, Abeno (clearly a reference to famous Heian onmyouji Abe no Seimei), teaches him how to harness his skills and become an exorcist. Abeno helps him get rid of the fluffball yokai and then naturally turns out to be the kid who sits behind him in class, so our odd couple is nicely and conveniently established. Abeno seems likely to train Hanae not just because he's got the stereotypical moneygrubbing thing going on, but also because he looks like he genuinely needs the help; how adept a student Hanae will be is presumably going to be a source of series comedy.
Another aspect that really worked for me in this episode is the explanation for the yokai who had bonded to Hanae – that it was essentially the ghost of someone's pet and was lonely because no one could see him to play anymore. That played right into my personal sentimentality and gave the episode a bittersweet note that helped to rescue it from mediocrity; it was an unexpected direction for the story to take after most of the episode consisted of Hanae struggling and trying to rip the monster from his back. Played right, this sort of sentimental element could help to keep The Morose Mononokean separate from other yokai-based comedies, while the humor separates it from heavier yokai fare. If it can maintain this balance and provide a solid plot rather than a weekly yokai format, this could have some promise – especially if all of the yokai are as cute as that fluffy one. Do they sell a toy of that thing yet?
It feels a little hard to judge how entertaining The Morose Mononokean will be going forward. Its premise is fairly routine, and the dynamic between Ashiya and Abeno seems well-worn as well - Ashiya is the upbeat but easily frustrated apprentice, Abeno is the grumpy but ultimately golden-hearted master. It seems easy to predict that the show will be largely composed of episodic yokai-exorcising adventures, and while those adventures might succeed on their own merits, the show's consistent variables have yet to impress. I don't yet care about Ashiya and Abeno - they both fulfill their types competently enough, but don't offer me more to hang on to. That said, if this episode's own story is anything to go by, The Morose Mononokean might turn out to be a low-key but perfectly charming show.
The real, undoubtable star of this episode was Ashiya's yokai friend. Even as the creature was draining the life out of Ashiya, you almost had to side with the fluffball - its minimalist features and silly, cat-like mannerisms made it feel more like a needy pet than a monster right from the start. There was a nice inherent comedy in Ashiya's attempts to go to school being thwarted by such a silly-looking creature, and that the ultimate solution involved tossing a beach ball with the thing was a perfect capstone to the episode's drama. I'm not so sure about Ashiya and Abeno, but that yokai is okay by me.
On the aesthetic front, The Morose Mononokean never rises above the strictly functional. Ashiya and Abeno have fairly generic designs, the animation is limited, and there isn't all that much engaging expression work. It's looking like the show's yokai will be handled through a mix of traditional and CG animation, and so far, that's worked out fine - a creature like this episode's yokai is simplistic enough in its design that the use of CG doesn't feel particularly ugly or incongruous. The show's flat aesthetics aren't an issue so far, but may become one if the show tries to engage more deeply in its magical premise; as is, the show is competently executed, but nothing special to look at.
Overall, The Morose Mononokean's premiere was a functional genre exercise lifted only by the undeniable cuteness of Ashiya's first yokai. If you're looking for a mild show with a slight edge of magic, you could certainly do better (last season's Flying Witch comes to mind), but you could also do a lot worse.
It's practically an unwritten rule that anyone who deals with the supernatural for their main vocation has to be at least a little odd, and that description certainly fits Haruitsuki, the titular blond-haired guy. Such individuals generally fall into two camps: those that see it as their mission to harshly deal with the supernatural and those that sympathize with the supernatural via a deep understanding of them. Haruitsuki is the latter (or at least appears to be so far), and Hanae is the outsider who has an affinity for that world that he isn't aware of who's going to gradually get dragged into his world, like it or not.
In other words, the premise here isn't at all original, so what matters is how well it gets executed. Nothing to worry about there, though, because the series is off to a pleasant start. Hanae may not be the most endearing of characters yet, but he's not dislikable, and it looks like there's a lot of potential for his more excitable attitude and Haruitsuki's more morose attitude to bounce off of each other. The story being told about the cute fuzzball who attaches itself to Hanae is an agreeable little starter piece, one which finds a nice balance between light comedy and more serious moments as the fuzzball's situation gets resolved. A couple of hints are also dropped that Hanae's mother might have been involved with yokai, too, back in her day, and possibly even with Haruitsuki in particular. (Though he's passing for a high school student at the end of the episode, his actual age is indeterminate.) On the whole, though, this looks like it is going to lean more towards being a lighter-hearted series which deals with different yokai cases every episode rather than an involved drama. The chipper musical score, which reminds me a lot of a children's movie, certainly furthers that impression and suggests that this is intended to be more family-accessible fare than otaku fare. In any case it definitely shows no signs of having any cruder elements.
The technical merits on the first episode (beyond the musical score) are not spectacular, as the animation depends a fair amount on still shots, but the character designs and background artistry are good enough to avoid complaints. Overall, the first episode is put together well enough to suggest that the series will be a fun little diversion from the weightier fare coming out this season.
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