Not to be confused with Princess Mononoke, the Miyazaki film.A spin-off of the third installment of the horror anime Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales. Unlike its predecessor, these mononoke have merged with the powerful emotions of humans, making them even more dangerous and hard to combat.The story follows our mysterious, nameless medicine peddler in his travels and the various people — and monsters — he encounters. To slay each mononoke he must first discover its Shape (form), Truth (origin), and Reason (motive), which often proves far more difficult than it sounds. The series is divided into five story arcs.The animation style is done in Unmoving Plaid similar to Gankutsuou (although to a lesser extent—there are actually some solid colors here and there, for example), and though it may take some getting used to, the way the series utilizes it is absolutely chilling in certain cases.
Mononoke contains examples of:
Affably Evil: The Mayor in Bakeneko, true, he WAS extremely shady in building the railway outside of that and his time with The Café Worker he seemed like a halfway-decent guy, even expecting his subordinate, The Reporter's Boss to just talk to his employee, not mug and murder her.
Black Eyes of Evil/Red Eyes, Take Warning: Played with. The Medicine Peddler's other form has red irises and black sclera; while he isn't "evil" per se, if you're a mononoke you had better stay well clear.
The Bakeneko in the last episode, made particularly scary by the fact that the eyes are seemingly sketched-in and swirling in her eyesockets.
Catch Phrase: "Tada no kusuriuri desu yo," or "I'm just a simple medicine peddler."
Cats Are Mean: Very much averted. Cats are sweet, innocent creatures who only want to help, and even Bakeneko only become what they are because of human cruelty.
Celibate Hero: For all intents and purposes, the Medicine Peddler appears to be happily married... to his 'job'.
Closed Circle: About once an episode, often due to the Medicine Peddler closing off all the exits to prevent the mononoke attacking and/or escaping. Additionally, the Umi-Bozu arc is set on a boat and the Bakeneko arc in a train carriage.
Deadpan Snarker: The Medicine Peddler is shown to possess a brutally dry wit, especially when it concerns people who annoy him or get in his way (like the idiotic samurai from the original Bakeneko arc).
Deranged Animation: Oh yes. Keeps things interesting whenever a Character Filibuster occurs. Notable examples being the reveal of the Umi-Bozu, and the Bakeneko's finale in episode 12, among numerous others.
Due to the Dead: At the end of the Bakeneko arc, the train's passengers are seen placing flowers and praying at the spot where Setsuko died.
Dull Surprise: The unflappable Medicine Peddler. If he's wearing this expression, expect all the other characters to be completely freaking out.
Early Installment Weirdness/Characterization Marches On: In Ayakashi's Bakeneko arc, the Medicine Peddler is less stoic and more overtly snarky than he is in this series, where he is eternally unruffled and limits his snark to the slightest of knowing smirks regarding the events around him.
Faceless Masses: Done very stylishly. The exact specifics depend on the arc, but they'll have clothes, weird skin tones, and usually something... abstract instead of a face.
Zashiki-Warashi: While the background characters have hair and clothing, their skin is blank white or black with spinning flower motifs. This is especially unsettling when they are being intimate with normal-looking characters.
Noppera-bo: The abusive in-laws' faces are never shown on camera; if one of their heads is shown, the face is covered with a demonic mask.
Bakeneko: Anyone who isn't connected with the bakeneko's revenge is a half-dressed fashion mannequinduring any action that takes place in the bakeneko's illusion or in a flashback. Again, it's very strange to see a normal, non-insane woman in bed with a blank-faced mannequin. And one person even turns from a mannequin into one of the main characters, perhaps to represent the audience suddenly realizing that character is important.
Fate Worse Than Death: In Bakeneko The titular Mononoke subjects anyone who steps outside the train car (or simply waiting until they give an important clue) to offing them with invisible cats and leaving them in a perpetual state of rot in its illusion. However, once her killer (her boss) - and therefore her Regret - is revealed, she lets everyone aside from him go.
Flying Dutchman / Walking the Earth: The Medicine Peddler's purpose is to wander the earth eternally, exorcising mononoke; but it's quite difficult to figure out whether he does this out of choice or whether he has been forced to do so and is taking it really well.
In fact, the series ends with an arc set in the 1920s, whereas the other arcs take place during slightly different time periods from before the Meiji restoration.
Heel-Face Turn: In the finale of Bakeneko on both sides with different levels (though its a little unclear in motivations and plot; and it can be interpreted in many ways) The Bakeneko might have realized that even if the people were not entirely good They weren't entirely to blame and were really just bystanders who didn't really deserve a punishment (that honor goes to her boss, who directly caused her death; and the Mayor, who is put on trial for his dubious actions) and lets them all go back to reality. On the other side, almost everyone becomes a better person, either helping the testimony, or paying their respects. The mayor is let go because he simply thought the boss was going to convince her not to run the article that would ruin him.
The Detective, who dismissed her death as suicide out of laziness looks into her death way better than his initial investigation.
The Train Operator, who fell asleep at the wheel and didn't notice her until it was far too late, cooperates with the Detective on his investigation.
The Café Worker, who prostituted herself to the Mayor and lied about it being a suicide to become famous; The Delivery Boy, who was a witness to the killing; and The Widow, Who wanted her dead for being more successful and pitying her, bring flowers to her site of death and pay respect(and may have offered their testimony).
I Know Your True Name: The mononoke's "katachi" (which can mean 'name' or 'form') is one of three factors that must be known to the Medicine Peddler before he can draw the Sword of Exorcism.
Implausible Hair Color: The Medicine Peddler, Genkei (even though his sister has black hair like any other Japanese), Shino from the Zashiki-Warashi arc... not to mention some characters who look like they're of African descent, complete with afros to match.
Inexplicably Awesome: Kusuriuri. We have no idea who he is, where he comes from or how he got his powers, only that he kicks mononoke butt for a living and looks fabulous while doing it.
It Can't Be Helped: In the first episode, the elderly innkeeper gets tired of arguing with the pregnant foreigner over how there's no room in the inn. She just gives up, says it can't be helped, and lets her sleep in the abandoned room in the attic.
Jidai Geki: Though it frequently jumps throughout different eras.
Jump Cut: Used deliberately and frequently, the better to increase viewer confusion.
Literal Split Personality: Or something along those lines. It's implied that the Medicine Peddler's normal and demon-slaying personas are two separate entities who switch places as necessary, and at one point the normal persona passes the demon-slayer a mirror to shield himself with.
Mukokuseki: Mostly averted, with the obvious exception of the Medicine Peddler. However, Shino and Genkei both have blond hair and blue eyes; Genkei's pass without comment, but the innkeeper's servant seems shocked to see Shino's hair color after she removes her head scarf, suggesting that she might really be a foreigner. There's also the fact that said inn is run by two black people...
Older Than They Look / Really 700 Years Old: It's implied the main character has been around a long time. Even in the Bakeneko arc, set about 200 years later than the others, he still retains his youthful looks.
The Rashomon: Absolutely no one tells the truth the first time they're asked for their story. A lot of the time they pay for it, too.
Red String of Fate: A variation involving a red cloth between and unborn child and their parents. A much more traditional example appears in the OP, with a red string tied to the pinky finger.
Reincarnation: Implied. The mononoke in the final arc (episodes 10-12) is a bakeneko, and the characters seem to be reincarnations of the people from the original Ayakashi arc (where the enemy was also a bakeneko). Funny the little coincidences, eh?
Rule of Three: The Medicine Peddler needs the mononoke's Shape (形 katachi), Truth (誠 makoto), and Reason (理 kotowari) in order to purify it.
Scenery Porn: Oh hell, is there ever! The scenery is so rich, detailed and colourful it's like going on a (very beautiful) acid trip.
Shout-Out: The painting on the boat in the Umi-Bozu arc is reminiscent of the 1907 artwork "The Kiss" by Klimt. There is also a Matisse "Blue Dancers" reference in the Nue arc and a Picasso in Bakeneko.
"Silly Me" Gesture: The Medicine Peddler in the ninth episode with plenty of sarcasm, when he 'realizes' that he's given poisonous oleander to one of the characters.
Situational Sword: Why exactly it needs to empathise with the mononoke before slaying it is never explained.
Time Skip: The Bakeneko arc takes place in the 1920s while the rest appears to be set in the Edo Period, but the Medicine Peddler himself hasn't changed at all (besides having some new jewelery). There are arguably small hints in each arc that time skips forward about 50 years in between each of them.
The Medicine Peddler, who amongst other things is blond and blue-eyed. Particularly in the Bakeneko arc, when in addition to being a guy with pointy ears and red markings all over his face in the middle of a Japanese cast, he's also dressed a good 100 years out of date. (Even in the other arcs, his manner of dress is pretty bizarre even for the time, mixing male and female styles liberally.)
It uses aristocratic materials and styles, despite his humble profession; something that nobody ever comments on. But in the Bakeneko arc he at least explains that people who seek folk remedies expect their seller to look exotic. His clothing design and style seems very familiar to the traditional wear of the Ainu, an indigenous Japanese race. Some of his facial markings also appear akin to the Ainu.
Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: The "regret" of some of the mononoke could make them this, especially the Bakeneko in both Ayakashi and the final arc of Mononoke, as well as the Noppera-Bo. The Medicine Peddler even ends up apologizing to the mononoke before slaying it in the manga.
Workaholic: It's even implied in episode 4 that should the Medicine Peddler be unable to exorcise a mononoke (or conversely, should all mononoke cease to exist) he'd disappear from this world. So it's quite difficult to figure out whether he's truly devoted to his duty or whether he has no other choice — though going by his frequent displays of enthusiasm and interest in the mononoke and their histories, he seems to be genuinely fond of 'work'.
World of Symbolism: Pretty much the only way to make sense of the series... especially the Noppera-Bo Arc.