The Morose Mononokean
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 5 of
The Morose Mononokean ?
"The Legislative Lake" continues the previous episode's worldbuilding adventures in the Underworld. We meet a new character and learn a little bit more about this world and the Mononokean's place in it, along with further developing the relationship between Abeno and Ashiya.
Last week's cliffhanger is resolved surprisingly quickly. All Abeno has to do is show up looking for Ashiya, and the capybara backs off. Not only does he realize that Ashiya wasn't lying when he said he worked for the Mononokean, but it's clearly his first time meeting the master in person. The capybara is not only deferential, but fearful, and we quickly learn why: Abeno is the second "master of the Mononokean," and the rumor is that he killed the previous one. Abeno preemptively dismisses that with a line about "I don't know what rumors they're spreading about me on the streets," but it still leaves us to wonder what the full story is there. Maybe the previous Mononokean died of old age, and that concept doesn't exist for the yokai? Or maybe there is something fishy going on—although Abeno doesn't seem like the type to kill a guy.
We don't get any answers for this though. Instead, it's back to Koura's place to heal Fuzzy, who was injured in the fight with the capybara. This episode does a lot to illustrate just how much Fuzzy has bonded with Ashiya, which is interesting given their initial meeting in episode 1, but not unexpected. Once Ashiya figured out that Fuzzy didn't mean him any harm, he treated him like a pet, running around and playing with him, and he was reluctant to send him back to the Underworld. Their companionship is adorable and seems to illustrate to the other yokai how much potential Ashiya has to help them and the Underworld.
The rest of the episode is taken up with introducing a new character and his relationship to Ashiya and Abeno. He's the Legislator, one of the three people who govern the Underworld, along with the Judge and the Executive. We don't meet the other two this week, but with the way this show is going, I figure it's only a matter of time. The Legislator is also Shizuku's brother, and he's apparently in love with her—no wonder she doesn't want to visit him. I wish we could go without the incest in such a cute and cuddly show, but at least Shizuku doesn't seem interested, and it helps to underline the eccentricity of her brother.
The funny thing is that the Legislator isn't really that eccentric. He's built up as a hedonist and a weirdo, but he's actually very chill when Abeno and Ashiya come to Newt Lake to meet him. He spends all his time smoking a pipe and coming off as a sage character, especially when compared to Abeno's grumpiness and Ashiya's enthusiasm. (The blue hair probably doesn't help with the impression; it has a long association with cool-headedness in anime, especially when offset by the Newt Lake's soothing colors.) When Abeno and Ashiya get into a fight, the Legislator stands in between them and laughs, joking about them being "such good friends."
In spite of their animosity, Abeno stands up for Ashiya and insists that he needs him as an employee. You see, the Legislator makes the rules and laws of the Underworld, but the master of the Mononokean doesn't have to obey them except when it's a direct order. The Legislator has let him pick who to hire up to this point, but he wanted approval when he found out about Ashiya without Abeno telling him. The Legislator has pushed yokai as employees on Abeno before, so he's surprised when Abeno suddenly arrives with a human in tow. He's initially dismissive of Ashiya's abilities, before Abeno leaps to his defense. You know, he's insisting pretty strongly on Ashiya for someone who only claims to care because of a debt.
So "The Legislative Lake" doesn't really tell us anything we didn't already know from the previous episodes about the two main characters' relationship. It just further builds on the fact that they really do care about each other, and everyone can see it except them. Yeah, just typing that makes it really clear that this has romantic overtones, especially for fujoshi who love seeing their guys fight before they kiss and make up. I doubt The Morose Mononokean will actually go there, and an actual relationship between the two of them would be pretty weird and probably not work. It's just easy to see it playing for the fujoshi dollar with the dynamic between its two main guys. The main difference this week came from getting to see this dynamic through the eyes of a character with an actual personality, not just another one-gimmick yokai. The Legislator himself is another pretty bishonen, providing an option for viewers who prefer quiet, cooler guys to Abeno's hothead and Ashiya's excitable naïf. I'm sure this is not the last we'll see of him, especially considering we still have two other members of the Underworld government to meet. The Legislator makes one lasting addition to the group: he insists on Abeno hiring Fuzzy. He could use a yokai in his group, and Fuzzy is clearly bonded in some way to Ashiya. This should make future episodes cuter and more fun, and Fuzzy makes a great mascot character for the series. I can't wait to see him snuggle up to Ashiya more.
These past two episodes have lacked the emotional punch of the previous three, mostly taking a breather on that side to beef up worldbuilding instead. While they aren't as good as what came before, it's important for The Morose Mononokean to establish its world and yokai characters better, so it can ground the Earth-bound activities. That being said, I'm still wondering why Abeno thinks Ashiya is "dangerous." Will we need to wait until the finale to find out?
The Morose Mononokean is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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