The Morose Mononokean
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 4 of
The Morose Mononokean ?
"Too much has happened since I started high school," Ashiya says in the opening scene of The Morose Mononokean episode 4. This line could be the summary for countless anime, but for Ashiya, it refers to the many cases he's helped solve as an assistant to the exorcist Abeno, and it's juxtaposed against just how dull his actual high school life has become. He's known as "that weird kid who spends all his time in the nurse's office" to everyone else. Ashiya has exchanged the perfect high school life he wanted for something far more exciting, that's for sure. But is it worth it?
This episode promises to deliver on that question, as we finally get a glimpse at the underworld. Abeno has to travel there to pick up medicine from the Kiyakudo, the underworld's apothecary. Ashiya is eager to travel there, and the yokai scroll agrees that this would be a great idea, much to Abeno's chagrin. He reluctantly agrees to let Ashiya come while insisting that he isn't ready—which this episode largely proves him right about, based on what happens once they get there. However, part of Abeno's misgivings have to do with the line that yokai from last episode gave him, that Ashiya is "dangerous." Those hoping for a direct explanation for that will not get it this week. In fact, episode 4 doesn't really provide much explanation for anything, despite what its title suggests. It shows us what the underworld is like, and it's a much livelier, more colorful place than Ashiya imagined, but it mostly sets up new questions and new conflicts. It's also more based around the show's humor and less around the sentimental moments that made the first three episodes stand out.
Despite being a comedy, The Morose Mononokean doesn't really succeed on that front as well as it does with the heartwarming stuff. Most of its comedic banter comes from Ashiya and Abeno's dynamic, which can be fun to watch in its own right, but it's nothing we haven't all seen in anime many times over (especially bishonen anime). In spite of the greater focus on these two characters and their relationship, this episode doesn't provide as much fujoshi bait as last week did. When we get to the underworld, we do get a repeating gag of how much the apothecary wants to chop up Abeno and Ashiya's bodies for her medicines—which is weird and funny at first, but gets old fast. Abeno even warns Ashiya not to tell anyone that he's a real human, another detail we probably won't get the full explanation for until next episode.
The big plus of this week is seeing the underworld itself. It's even more vibrant than the human world that Abeno and Ashiya inhabit, full of bright colors and a storybook art style for its backgrounds. Most of the yokai denizens are adorable animal creatures, rather than the creepy-cute things we've seen Abeno exorcise over the last few episodes. It comes off as very inviting and easy to get lost in, which is exactly what Ashiya does once he arrives. Ashiya is dead-set on meeting up with "Fuzzy" again. Fuzzy is his name for the white fluffy yokai we saw in episode 1, the one who drained his life energy until he helped exorcise it. Like the viewers, Ashiya took a shine to this thing, in spite of all the trouble it caused him a few weeks ago! Unfortunately, that leads him into trouble when he chases after a Fuzzy-doppelgänger, who also happens to be a thief. It drops its spoils, and a capybara shop owner mistakes Ashiya for the thief. There is seemingly nothing he can do to prove his innocence, not even insisting that he works for the Mononokean.
Luckily, his bond with Fuzzy pays off: the real one comes back to rescue him. This closes off the episode, and Fuzzy's blushing grin is the closest thing we get to a "heartwarming" moment, but it looks like we'll have to wait until next week to get the whole story. So "The Underworld" is mostly a set-up episode, a key for what's to come rather than the self-contained vignettes we've seen for the past few weeks. It definitely succeeds at exciting viewers for future revelations, but it isn't quite as successful as an episode in its own right.
Still, it's good to see The Morose Mononokean proving it's more than a one-trick pony. The pattern for the first three episodes was successful, but it would be disappointing if the show just did that and never delivered on the worldbuilding it promised about yokai and the underworld. Episode 4 at least starts to deliver there, even if it leaves us with more questions and answers. There's a lot to come from The Morose Mononokean that's worth sticking around for, even when it's not tugging at your heartstrings.
The Morose Mononokean is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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