The Morose Mononokean
High school student Hanae Ashiya doesn't have a monkey on his back, but he DOES have a yokai there, this particular one being a ball of white fur (with tiny limbs but ENORMOUS eyes) that is sapping his vitality. He turns to a professional exorcist (and, it just so happens, fellow student in his own class) named Abeno Haruitsuki for help, and Abeno finally, grudgingly, helps him with his problem- but the price is that he must now serve as Abeno's assistant.
It should be noted, first of all, that the English title of the series is not really correct; a more accurate title would be the even-more-alliterative The Morose Mononokean Master. The actual Mononokean is, itself, a yokai. The yokai are spirits that take an endless variety of shapes: some look human (or CAN do so, with some effort, and with varying degrees of success); some look just bizarre (one looks like a plant; another looks like a scarecrow whose face is mostly one enormous eye.) And the Mononokean? It takes the shape of a tea room, that is magically capable of allowing entry into, and access from, just about any point in space. It communicates by writing on a wall scroll, and has something of a sense of humor. Abeno is its master, and he can also create portals to the Underworld, where he sends the yokai he "exorcises". He says he actually does this for the yokai's sake; they can't really be happy in the world of humans. Hanae eventually accompanies Abeno on some of his trips to the Underworld, even though it is actually forbidden for any human (except Abeno) to go there. (The Underworld looks a lot like ancient Japan, by the way.)
How is Hanae useful to Abeno? Well for one thing, Hanae, after his personal experience with that yokai mentioned in the synopsis (which he calls Fuzzy), can actually SEE yokai, which few humans can do. At first Hanae is frightened of the peculiar shapes of these spirits, but he quickly actually develops a sentimental attachment to them, which is both good and bad. The good is that he takes a very sympathetic approach to helping them, which the yokai themselves (and sometimes humans involved) often find more satisfying than Abeno's normal perfunctory by-the-numbers approach. The bad is that Hanae's attachment to the yokai can make him vulnerable. It's also hinted that someone in Hanae's family- possibly his dad- also had some deep (and dangerous) connections to the spirit world. (Hanae just lives with his mom- a florist who takes "say it with flowers" absolutely literally- though we're told, near the end of the show, that Hanae also has an older sister living under his roof, though I can't remember ever seeing her at all.) Our other leading man, Abeno, also has some kind of mystery surrounding himself, in his case involving his succession to the post of Mononokean Master. The show is apparently reserving the right to deal with these mysteries later.
The show's colorful cast of characters is by far its greatest strength; mostly yokai, but there are some interesting human ones as well. I particularly liked Zenko Fujiwara, the daughter of a priest. Hanae saves her dad from a sort of yokai-related curse. It's an ongoing gag that her dad's subsequent attitude about Hanae bounces back and forth between two poles: on the one hand, at times he thinks that Hanae might be a gifted spiritualist or healer (neither of which is of course true), and tries to persuade him to work for the shrine; but then he'll quickly slip into raging at Hanae as a villain with improper intentions toward his daughter (ALSO, of course, untrue.)
Zenko herself, though, I think a marvel, and has become another one of my favorite anime females. She's soft-spoken and calm, though NOT unemotional- we see her get pretty emotional in the episode that introduces her, in fact. She's physically diminutive- Hanae at first thought she was an elementary-schooler (she actually goes to his high school), and a running gag is that when she speaks up Hanae always has to look below his normal field of vision to spot her. She too becomes able to see yokai after a fox-spirit one named Yahiko (who behaves like a bratty child, and who sometimes takes the human form of one) bites her. I really like Zenko's facial design (which looks a LOT better with the dark hair she has in the anime rather than blondish look she has in the manga), and while she's placid, she's not a pushover- she's GOT something on her dad, and always threatens to "tell Mom" about it if her dad tries to keep her from hanging out with Hanae and Abeno. Hanae is kind of an anomaly as well- earnest, naïve, and maybe a tad over-sensitive, a bit different from the "typical" male lead in so many anime series.
I also rather liked the Legislator. The rule-maker of the Underworld, Abeno initially describes him as "a chain-smoking, alcoholic sex maniac in love with his own sister", and while none of these traits would be unprecedented in an anime character- and the latter two are rather common- when we finally MEET the Legislator, he's a "pretty boy" character (as Abeno himself is) who actually comes across as keenly perspicacious and quietly droll.
The major problem in the series is- well, the LACK of major problems in the series. We DO have an exasperating development for Hanae in the last few episodes of this "First Season" (I'm assuming more will be adapted, or at least HOPE it will), but the overall tone of the show reminds me of Ah! My Goddess!, in those episodes where Belldandy had to sort out the problems of some minor deity or supernatural creature. But the Mononokean, unlike Ah! My Goddess!, has neither romance (Zenko worries about Hanae, but they're just friends at this point), nor much in the way of suspense or action (as Ah! My Goddess! could achieve, most notably in the Season One finale and the OVAs.)
The yokai are mostly pretty nice- even the ones of more bizarre appearance; Hanae and Zenko each have their appealing traits, as noted; Abeno is the curmudgeon with (maybe) a heart of gold; the character designs are often quite good; there are a few good gags (mostly at Hanae's expense); and, at least so far, that's about it. The stories are so dramatically "thin" that I almost went just three stars on this, but I'll go four on the hope that we're just setting the stage for more involving future seasons. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Hanae gets mildly violent at one point. There's absolutely no fanservice here- Zenko is, in fact, one of the most consistently fully-clothed female anime characters I've ever seen.
Version(s) Viewed: Streaming on Crunchyroll
Review Status: Full (13/13)
The Morose Mononokean © 2016 Studio Pierrot
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