Mononoke

November 28, 2008 at 3:28 am (Animanga) ()

Last night I watched the first five eps (aka the first two arcs) of Mononoke. It’s really really good; the visuals are so colorful and over-the-top you’d think they wouldn’t work for a mystery/horror show but they really do. It’s like this crazy funhouse candy shell over the seething darkness of the human id, and there’s always something that’s just slightly out of true, enough to make it just a little grotesque and creepy. They’re not beautiful, but they are effective and extremely cool to watch. Check it out, yo! And if you need more convincing, here’s a beautiful AMV/unofficial trailer to help sway your mind.

But enough blather! This is a meta journal, not a rec journal! And so, I move on to: thought about the Medicine Seller. Or Kusuri-uri, because the Japanese is more fun to type and say and also shorter.

According to the mythology of Mononoke, ayakashi are spirits. They’re exact nature is unknown and apparently debated by modern scholars, but in the context of the anime they can be said to simply be spirits who were once the souls of the dead, or perhaps the souls of inanimate objects and tools. Whatever they are exactly, they are as numerous as gods (of Japanese mythology) and, in of themselves, not malevolent. However, when ayakashi come in contact with strong human emotion–usually negative–they are corrupted, afflicted with a “divine disease.” They become mononoke. The Kusuri-uri uses his Sword of Exorcism to break the ayakashi off from the emotion that turned them into mononoke, rendering them harmless once more. However, he can only use his sword once the mononoke’s Form, Truth, and Regret are made known to him and the sword. Form is obviously the mononoke’s shape. Truth appears to be it’s objective nature. Regret (or Reason) seems to be the mononoke’s reason for coming in existence and hanging around; it’s the subjective truth. I think.

I’ve read the theory that Kusuri-uri is himself an ayakashi. This works, I think, because unlike a lot of the other characters he doesn’t seem to view the ayakashi as in of themselves dangerous or automatically malevolent. You might say he does them favors, severs them from the emotions that corrupt them and returning them to their previous existence. The ayakashi are, in their own way, victims of circumstance. They don’t set out to be malevolent entities, they are simply turned into them by chance and bad luck. Kusuri-uri corrects that.

But really what I’m wondering is whether or not he might be a mononoke himself. Not a malevolent one, but generally the mononoke that show up are created by contact with negative emotion. Can a mononoke (or benevolent equivalent) be created by contacts with a strong positive emotion? What would you get then? Perhaps someting like Kusuri-uri, a “good” mononoke who goes around correcting what’s been done to the ayakashi.

It’s a very Western imprinting on the story, no doubt about it–it makes me think a bit of the Pandora’s Box tale, where she lets loose all the evil things of humanity, but closes the box on hope, before releasing it too–Kusuri-uri is kind of like hope, the one good thing to stand against all the evil. Is this a model of storytelling found in Asian folklores? I’m not sure. But it’s an interesting question.

Anyway, during the Umibozu arc Kusuri-uri faces his worst fear. He states that it is that “the edge of the world is without Form, Truth, or Regret,” but when forced to face it his body slowly begins to disappear. His stated fear is quite interesting (it might be a mistranslation of “end of the world” but since I know squat about Japanese I’m going to assume it’s correct), because something without Form, Truth, or Regret would be something he can’t dispel, something he can’t save. Does he fear that one day he’s going to run into an evil that really is pure evil, not simply corrupted ayakashi?

Or maybe he really is an ayakashi, given shape and form somehow and sent to go out and dispel mononoke. Maybe he really is a “good” mononoke, and hopes that one day he will be dispelled and can then return to existence as an ayakashi. But if the “edge of the world is without Form, Truth, or Regret” perhaps this means that there isn’t anyone who can dispel him: he’s trapped in human form forever. And yet his experienced fear has his human body slowly dissipate. Can it be that what he really fears is being dispelled himself? He doesn’t seem to so much fear death as simply ceasing to be and not being able to do anything (though it’s hard to tell, Kusuri-uri doesn’t exactly emote very much…)

The warrior forced to wander forever to stand against evil is also a Western archetype of storytelling; I don’t know enough about Asian mythologies to say for sure whether the same model of hero also appears there. This might be my more Western upbringing simply projecting onto the Japanese-folklore-laden Mononoke. Though, this does gain some support when one considers the fact that the last arc (look, I spoiled myself on Wikipedia. Not that it really matters.) is set some time after the other ones (which are in the Edo period; the last one appears to be set in the 1920s or Taisho Era), which suggests that he’s been wandering all the while.

But it’s really hard to tell because Kusuri-uri, like I said, evinces virtually no emotion. It’s difficult to tell when he’s being serious and when he’s just being deadpan. He’s technically aiding humans, but his nature and voice are…well, sinister or not exactly friendly. He’s an enigma wrapped in a puzzle dipped in mystery and dropped to the bottom of the sea. I still don’t get him, but I’m having fun trying.

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