What They Say:
In feudal Japan, evil spirits known as mononoke plague both households and the countryside, leaving a trail of fear in their wake. One mysterious person has the power to slay the mononoke where they stand; he is known only as the Medicine Seller, and he vanquishes the spirits using the power of his Exorcism Sword. However, in order to draw his sword he must first understand the Form, Truth and Reason of the mononoke. Armed with a sharp wit and keen intellect, the Medicine Seller wanders from place to place, striking down the evil spirits in his wake.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty decent if standard as we get the original Japanese language track only in stereo and encoded at 224kbps. The show is one that works largely a dialogue based design but it has its moments where it does go a bit bigger with what it wants to do with the spirits and other supernatural aspects but also with some good sound effects that’s relevant to the situation at hand. The show works the dialogue the best to be sure with how it unfolds and the overall presentation gives us a good bit of dialogue with some placement and depth where necessary. The other aspects are done pretty well too so it’s a good mix, though one that doesn’t go as big as you might expect it to be at times. We didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2007, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show is spread across two discs with seven on the first and five on the second. This works to spread the arcs across it and that does work well when you get down to it. The series is animated by Toei Animation and it works a particular kind of design with the color backgrounds that lets it have a more textural feeling to it that definitely works well and plays off of its predecessor. The bit rate tends to be pretty middle of the road but the end results are good and the standard definition presentation has the right kind of look to it with the colors being solid and detail coming through well while still having that rough aspect that is definitely what it needs. It’s free of noticeable line noise and cross coloration so the show as a whole definitely works.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized DVD keepcase that holds the two discs, one against the interior wall and the other on a hinge. The front cover shows the style of the show really well as we get our Medicine Man along the center bottom while surrounded by an array of colorful umbrellas as seen from the top. Slide the logo from the top down through the middle in scroll form and it has a good feeling that sets the tone for the show well. The back cover goes a bit simple overall as we get some decent artwork along the top that shows the surreal side of things with the series and just below it we got the summary of the premise that covers it well. THe extras are clearly listed and we get the full breakdown of the episodes by number and title with their appropriate disc as well. There’s not a real technical grid here that lists what’s on there, ut the text does break down the basics along the bottom that has the language options and runtimes.
The menu design for this release is pretty standard here as we get a static screen that uses some of the artwork that’s familiar, such as the first menu that uses the Medicine Man image from the front cover along the left. It’s all set against the grayscale indistinct background that lets the colors pop more. The right side has the logo along the top and the episode selection below it, which lets us see the episodes by number, title and what part of each arc they are. Submenus are pretty nil overall but the whole thing is quick and easy to navigate and loads smoothly.
There’s not a lot of extras here but what we do get is a bit of conceptual artwork done as a featurette and a few TV spots for the show.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While the 2006 series Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales didn’t light the world on fire – in Japan or here where Geneon Entertainment released it – it did well enough that a spinoff series called Mononoke was produced that ran in 2007. Animated by Toei Animation with stories from Chiaki Konaka and directed by Kenji Nakamura, we get five stories here that takes the Medicine Man character from that series and puts him into the lead role here. With his experience with the supernatural as seen before, this makes him ideal to walk through this world to see what he does there and how he can help to ease some of the issues that comes into play. The Medicine Man definitely makes an impact on a lot of lives but he doesn’t always do it to make things better for people but rather just to deal with the issue at hand.
Mononoke puts us into five situations where eerie things happen and people are caught up in the supernatural side of the world. The opening arc is a difficult one as we get a situation where a young pregnant woman is staying at an inn that used to be a house of ill repute. While there, the strange things start happening and we discover that once, years ago, there was a room that was used to handle all the abortions that were forced to keep the women from being pregnant so they can stay working their jobs. Those unborn children have taken form here and it turns decidedly creepy as the young woman provides a way for them to potentially experience being born and coming into the world, but it’s a complicated piece because of all the things going on here. What we see with our Medicine Man is that he tries to find the real reason everything is going on and to help bring it to some kind of resolution. This proves to be a difficult situation just to see what the young pregnant woman sees and the way all these spirits that were never born are coalescing into wanting some sort of life.
While that runs for two episodes, the two three episode stories that we get are similar to each other but also vastly different. The first one has them traveling on a ship where there’s a dark and secretive past that the Medicine Man is caught up in and, like most of the stories, there are difficult choices made in that past that has painful repercussions in the present that must be atoned for. The ship storyline didn’t do much for me overall, especially across three episodes, but the second one is far more interesting. That one takes us to the city where a seeming suicide in front of a train turns into a goblin cat storyline that involves a number of people that were indirectly or directly involved with the aspiring young woman’s death and are hiding their involvement in many ways. Truths come out, but they’re shades of the truth rather than the full on truth until things become serious. As we saw in Ayakashi with the Goblin Cat there, once it has its claws into you, well, you’re screwed until things are truly and fully resolved.
One of the more difficult stories, but one that works well to use animation in the right way, involves a trio of men that are attempting to wed Lady Ruri, a young woman who has possession of an artifact that they want. What it does doesn’t really matter, but the men are willing to win her over as best as they can. What it turns into is intriguing as it works through her family business of running a school of incense. With the Medicine Man involved, they end up going through a number of trials to figure out who is the most attuned to the scents that she has at her disposal. Displaying scents through animation – smells in particular – isn’t an easy thing to do since it’s more dialogue than actual interaction. With this series though, they do some great visual design to bring it to life while giving it that supernatural tinge. Seeing them go through this challenge while starting to realize there are darker things at play, and as the Medicine Man seems to be playing his own game, makes for an engaging two episode arc that brings the scents to life in a great way.
While I had enjoyed the Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales series when I first saw it, I’ll admit it’s not a big or long term kind of show that will regularly drive people to it. Mononoke is pretty much another iteration of it and what we get here delivers a pretty fun show. Series revolving around classic Japanese horror tend not to do well but those that live within this niche crave more of them. Mononoke largely delivers with what it wants, fitting into the same wheelhouse as shows like Mushishi and making for some creepy stories that delves into the social class and pressures of the time as well. It’s not a mainstream show though, so I’m not surprised that it was picked up through this route. This was my first experience with a Cinedign release and they pretty much do everything right and without any problems. While I won’t be clamoring for them to do a lot of shows since I’ll always hold out hope for Blu-ray and dub releases, for those series that really can’t justify them, there’s no reason to be afraid of Cinedign grabbing them and giving them a lease on life.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Conceptual Artwork Featurette, TV Spots
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: New Video Group
Release Date: July 15th, 2014
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.