The Morose Mononokean II
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Morose Mononokean II (TV 2) ?
The Morose Mononokean II is developing a real knack for balancing its larger story with its yokai-of-the-week adventures. This week, we get one of the most stock episodic plots in anime: the school cultural festival. Yet the series manages to use this mundane event to further explore the history of Ashiya's family, and his father's connection with the Mononokean and Aoi. It's episodes like these that make me really look forward to each new episode of this second season.
The focus up front is on the culture festival and how much Abeno and Ashiya don't get along, as they try to promote their class's Halloween café. Now, I'm one of those people who will eat pumpkin-flavored anything, but their menu sounds a little much even for me. There are other Halloween flavors besides pumpkin! Either way, the fun comes from Ashiya dressed as a witch and Abeno dressed as a grim reaper coming to blows in the hallway. For how well they complement each other on the job, they really are ill-matched at school. Luckily, Zenko steps in to break things up and reveal the real plot of this episode: Yahiko has gone missing.
The childlike fox yokai harangued Zenko about wanting to go to the festival, despite all the trouble that would inevitably cause. After all, we just had an episode about a yokai going to great lengths to disguise herself so she could party with humans. Zenko relents, planning to keep an eye on him, but naturally Yahiko sneaks off at the first chance and causes trouble. There's something kind of funny about the fact that at a cultural festival with a Halloween café and a super-spooky medical-themed haunted house, (albeit with a heartwarming happy ending!) the real "haunting" happens in the safe exhibits like the ice cream store and painting room. The students get freaked out by paintbrushes that move on their own and food that floats away. I was expecting this to be a much bigger deal, given the lengths Abeno and Ashiya go to ensure that normal humans don't find out about the existence of yokai. But it's dispensed with pretty quickly; they find Yahiko, and Abeno plans to take him home and play with him there. Ashiya is much better at promoting their class café anyway, as a "human bullhorn".
This comes at about the halfway point of the episode, and that's where the story really starts. We get hints of the dad-focus earlier, like Ashiya's surprise at how Abeno looks in the shinigami robes when he's offering to play with Yahiko. He reminds Ashiya of his father, when he approached a young Ashiya wearing black robes that meant to make him look like Santa Claus, but really reminded his son of a shinigami. It's only once Abeno and Yahikoo are alone that the story really takes a turn. Abeno asks Yahiko if he ever knew Ashiya Sakae, and not only does he recall the man, he even remembers him once being an employee of the Mononokean. When Yahiko transforms for Abeno to see, he's surprised to see a black-haired man wearing a school uniform. Sakae was likely just a teenager when he worked for the Mononokean, just like his son.
From there, the story moves back into episodic adventures, but it never fully abandons the arc focus on the past. The next yokai they have to help remembers Abeno from when he was a young boy and the apprentice of the previous master of the Mononokean, Aoi. We've heard a lot about Aoi, but I think this is the first time that we've actually seen her. Aoi was a yokai who can turn into a cat, which makes it kind of funny to watch her order around Abeno, who seems imposing next to her even as a child. This memory might not be directly related to the mystery of Sakae, but I'm guessing he did serve under Aoi before Abeno entered the picture. Either way, it involves the human characters rubbing up against past impressions these yokai had of them, impressions that may no longer be accurate. It shows the way that human and yokai time can conflict, that these baby bird yokai took long enough to grow up that Abeno is now a teenager and the master of the Mononokean himself.
This makes the slightly lopsided structure of these episodes all the more interesting. I remarked on how weird it was that the festival episode got stretched across two episodes, and while this week's installment doesn't quite go that far, there's still a sense that The Morose Mononokean II isn't confined by typical episode structure. In a weird way, I'm starting to think that works as the show moves out of its more episodic adventures into longer overarching narratives. Episodes can be united by a common focus, such as "Sakae" or "the past," rather than purely based on fitting one plot to an episode.
As The Morose Mononokean II takes more and more chances, I find myself more and more excited for each new episode. In the previous season, The Morose Mononokean was more of a pleasant diversion than anything else, a nice half-hour spent in a comforting and inviting fantasy world. Not only is this new season making that fantasy world seem less cuddly (though just as interesting), but it also dives into deeper and smarter stories that bring out more genuine emotions from its characters. What was once just a cute escape is fast turning into appointment viewing.
The Morose Mononokean II is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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