The Morose Mononokean II
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 13 of
Morose Mononokean II (TV 2) ?
Spoiler warning for the manga version of this arc.
Ashiya Hanae not only starts out this episode possessed, but ends up getting possessed twice: first by Sasa, the spider yokai, then by his own father, Sakae. Episode 13 is the perfect coda for all the speculation about Sakae that's built up over this season, suggesting even more father-son strife in the future, should we get a third season. It's left me eager to dig into the source material—even if it does things much differently from the equivalent manga chapter. Either way, The Morose Mononokean II is powerful for how its supernatural drama ties into more universal concerns: Who are we, and how much does our upbringing factor into our identities?
Being "doomed to become your parents" is a thing that even people with wonderful relationships with their families worry about, because nobody likes to think they're set on an irrevocable course by fate. We all like to think we're autonomous individuals, and that our choices are our own, with our backgrounds and histories playing only a marginal role that's less important than our individual wills and desires. This becomes much worse if you know your parent was not a great person, and you still see aspects of them in yourself. Ultimately, that's why the saga of Ashiya Sakae is so compelling, because of what it means for Ashiya Hanae. How much can Hanae escape his father's legacy, both as an employee of the Mononokean and as a person moving forward?
Hanae starts out this episode under Sasa's hypnotic control, trying to open up her cage to set her free. Given how powerful she appears to be and her malicious attitudes toward humans, she'll be a real threat if she's set free to menace Hanae and Abeno. The latter has to use his hypnotic "influence" to avoid being killed by her; in the manga, she almost has Hanae do this under her influence. But suddenly, Hanae is able to shake off Sasa's influence—only to be possessed by a new entity, giving him a deeper voice and yellow eyes. But if those eyes aren't enough of a clue for us, Sasa recognizes this person; it's his father Sakae, using Hanae's own body and abilities to enact his revenge on yokai. Now Abeno has to fight for the suddenly much smaller and terrified Sasa.
We never quite get an explanation for Sakae's beliefs other than that he sees yokai as "beneath him" as a human, and he's proud of himself for shaking off "Aoi's influence." This is the first direct confirmation we get that he worked under Aoi—something Abeno later confirms looking through the coded pictures Aoi put in the "record" on Sakae. She had to keep Sakae's employment from the rulers of the Underworld, because she knew that they wouldn't trust her employing a human. Then Sakae did nothing but prove them right by killing and imprisoning yokai. Now he wants to force his ideals on his son. It's only through proving to Sakae that Hanae wouldn't want this—that he's a nonviolent guy who loves yokai, despite fearing them at first—that he's able to back down. When he doesn't believe Abeno's words, he sees the truth through the memories in Hanae's brain.
At first, this seemed like Sakae's own memory, but we learn later that the "Sakae" that Hanae saw as a child was really Aoi in disguise. She has the ability not only to shapeshift, but to make herself visible to humans who can't see yokai like Hanae's mother and sister. So Hanae has never really met his father, only an idealized version of him. Still, his father "exists" in his mind in some form, which is able to take over in sufficiently stressful situations. It's like a higher-stakes version of the way people might sound like their parents when they get angry. I like the way that this subverts the usual "lineage" prophecies in similar anime. Hanae does indeed come from a powerful bloodline, but one that could be a hindrance to his goals rather than helping him. His powers can easily take a turn for the worse, so he needs to suppress them to some extent. And Abeno needs to suppress the knowledge of this connection in order to protect him, hoping Sakae doesn't pop out at any inopportune moments. Since Sakae does seem as least somewhat motivated by protecting his son, I hope he doesn't take things too far. But this still poses the question of why Sakae is able to do this from beyond the grave. Did his spirit go into his son when he died? Does he have the ability to come back from the afterlife via Hanae's mind? Or is he not really dead? Is it only because he bound Sasa, so maybe a "piece of him" was residing within her?
Despite all these questions, The Morose Mononokean II manages to tie enough of a bow on things to feel like a conclusion or at least a pause in the action. The manga version of this scene greatly differs, because Sasa actually dies, the nature of Sakae's "possession" is even more ambiguous (he's never stated to be living in his head), and the overall tone is one of more foreboding and sadness than the comparatively optimistic anime. I like some of the anime's changes, like Sasa surviving; Fuzzy's speech to her about how humans saved him is really sweet, a solid reminder we need at that moment as to why Hanae is worth all this trouble. Sasa's arc in general was a nice reminder that even the most seemingly "evil" yokai still have understandable motivations, and they deserve the chance to keep living just like humans. It's a nice way for a finale episode to sum up the themes of the season in a way that still leaves room for more. But Abeno's reaction to Sakae's connection to Hanae rang false for me. He seems far more relaxed about this in the anime than I expected; the manga's tone worked better for me in that case. I understand the need to keep an upbeat tone for the finale, but this feels like something that will be handled very differently if we get a season three.
Episode 13 is far from a perfect episode, particularly in how it tries to adapt a tonally-disparate manga chapter to work as a season finale for the anime. The manga chapter works more like a cliffhanger, so making it feel like a proper ending was always going to be a struggle. Still, there's a lot of promise here to get me excited for the possibility of a future season. I always enjoyed The Morose Mononokean, but season two felt like far more "essential" viewing for the story. Even when the plot structure got somewhat confused, it always nailed the emotional and character beats underneath. Now that I'm hooked, I really hope we get more in the future, because I can't wait to see where it grows from here. Until then, we'll always have the manga.
The Morose Mononokean II is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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