The Morose Mononokean II
Episodes 1-3

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Morose Mononokean II (TV 2) ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Morose Mononokean II (TV 2) ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Morose Mononokean II (TV 2) ?

It's time to return to the cutest, cuddliest yokai mystery anime ever. That's the impression I remember having of The Morose Mononokean when I reviewed the first season way back in 2016—and three years later, it still holds. Even when the show tries to explore more scary or dark material, there's always something sweet and healing about its tone. Or maybe it's just hard to see that tiger as threatening when he looks like he just walked off a Lisa Frank notebook cover. Either way, it's exactly the kind of show I'm here for this winter season.

I had to refresh myself on who everyone was when I started watching season 2, but I almost wish I hadn't. The Morose Mononokean II does a great job getting you back up to speed with an opening two-parter that reintroduces most of the recurring cast members. We're reminded of how much fun Ashiya and Abeno's dynamic is: one serious and grumpy, the other sweet but forgetful, and both of them persistently arguing with each other. As Abeno says later, Ashiya can be too careless, while he is too careful. Yet deep down, they really do care about each other; Abeno's yokai pals even say they've never seen him so concerned with a human before Ashiya. It's the perfect dynamic for shipping, but even that appeal takes a backseat to the soothing good times.

There's also the fun of exploring and learning more about the story's world. The yokai's Underworld is colorful, bright and pretty weird, and it's always an adventure when the show digs deeper into it. The Morose Mononokean likes to alternate between Underworld-focused episodes and those that follow humans in the mundane world, but I'm glad it started with the former. Episodes 1-2 also indulge in some world-building; we already knew the Legislator, but now we find out more about the Executive—a griffin or similar mythological animal—and the Justice—the aforementioned tiger. Sidenote, I love the fact that the "three branches of government" are symbolized as cute animals. Montesquieu would be proud.

The fun thing about the Underworld is that you never know what to expect from its various creatures. As Ashiya himself points out, it's a place where a capybara can be an aggressive jerk, despite being one of the chillest animals in our world—and a tiger can be a friendly helper and even a vegetarian! It turns out he was only opening his mouth to give Ashiya back his sandal. He gives him a wild ride to deliver a scroll to the Executive, who also has an owl as a doorman. I'm assuming we'll get to see more of these characters in the future, given the foreshadowing at the end of the episode. The Executive is also concerned about Ashiya and Abeno, asking another yokai to spy on them in episode 3.

That's a good way to tie in what seems like a one-off episode into this larger arc. I remember the first season of The Morose Mononokean being good at that too; it was always surprising to see who would show up a few episodes later in a more important role. Episode 3 first focuses on Egen, a yokai who's come to observe Ashiya and Abeno's high school so she can open a school of her own. The yokai world suffers from some pretty serious educational deficits, judging by Egen's surprise at the students' literacy and the teachers' knowledge of their subjects, so it's probably a good thing that Egen wants to do this. Ashiya and Abeno find themselves in the tricky position of needing to help Egen while not showing their classmates that they can see yokai. Abeno "solves" this problem by being grumpier than usual, leaving Ashiya in a tizzy about what's bugging him.

I like the way the episode keeps playing with our expectations, changing the most likely culprit for Abeno's behavior. When we find out that Abeno had taken her around the first two days when Ashiya was out with his friends, we figure that's why Abeno is mad at him. Of course, that poses the question of why he didn't tell Ashiya he had work. We then find out about Egen's double-motive for visiting the mundane world and how Ashiya suspected it—and figured he kept away from Ashiya for his own protection. That was also why he didn't ask him to work the first two days. Then it turned out that Ashiya didn't fully realize how he came off to his employee; he was just trying to be quiet.

The Morose Mononokean II has a winning formula: a fun dynamic between its two leads, a colorful cast of supporting characters, and a vibrant fantasy world to explore. It's something I had forgotten about in the three years since its previous season, but I was joyfully reminded through these first three episodes. I'd highly recommend it even to people who might not be into yokai or bishonen anime otherwise. It's just a cute and fun show to relax with in your room during the winter. I can't wait to see where it takes the Executive story. Why is he "concerned" with Ashiya and Abeno, and what does he plan to do with Egen's findings? I'm sure we'll find out soon!

Rating: A-

The Morose Mononokean II is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rose is a Ph.D. student in musicology, who recently released a book about the music of Cowboy Bebop. You can also follow her on Twitter.


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