Mouryou no Hako (Box of Goblins) is a relatively obscure anime revolving around boxes, based on the second novel in Natsuhiko Kyogoku's Kyogokudou series.
The year is 1952. Japan is still struggling to get back on its feet after its crushing defeat in World War II. The old folk beliefs are slowly being overshadowed by emerging modernization. And amidst the lonely hills and fields on the outskirts of Tokyo, boxes containing the severed arms and legs of unknown female victims keep turning up. A small private detective agency gets involved in the investigation, and along with them, a very different sort of detective: the coldly skeptical onmyouji, Chuuzenji Akihiko.
Meanwhile, a young girl named Yuzuki Kanako has gone missing. Her troubled schoolyard friend Yoriko witnessed her falling into a moving train late at night, pushed onto the tracks by a mysterious gloved assailant. Kanako was taken to a strange box-shaped hospital deep in the nearby hills, only to disappear from her hospital bed as if transformed into air. Her washed-up actress sister has employed haunted ex-soldier Detective Kiba to find the severely crippled girl before it's too late.
And in the pages of an up-and-coming novelist's newest work, a man on a train encounters a gloved passenger carrying a box with a human head inside of it. A head that is, beyond all reason, alive.
Despite gorgeous animation courtesy of Madhouse, and a plot adapted from one of the finest supernatural mystery novels in recent years, this series is still sadly below many people's radars.
Provides examples of:
- An Arm and a Leg: The killer places the limbs of the girls he butchers into boxes, which he leaves strewn about in various locations.
- And I Must Scream: Poor, helpless Kanako.
- Anachronism Stew
- Arc Symbol: Boxes.
- A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: This is what kick-starts the plot.
- The Beautiful Elite: Yuzuki Kanako and her sister Minami Kinuko appear to be this at first. Very much subverted later on in the story: Yuzuki and Minami aren't sisters, for starters. They're daughter and mother.
- Enokizu Reijirou, who resembles Fai D. Fluorite in the anime and who, in the novels, is often compared to a European porcelain doll; however, he's over 35, much closer in age to the other main male characters than he looks.
- All the significant male characters in the anime are this to some extent. (CLAMP did the character designs, after all, which naturally translates to beautiful guys and girls all-round.) In the novels, Chuuzenji, Sekiguchi and Kiba's appearances are not precisely described, but the implication is that none of them are good-looking at all.
- Body Horror: On the most profound, deep-in-your-soul level possible. For example: how would a head and shoulders, kept alive by wires inside a box, be able to breathe enough to say "...hou..."?
- Cherry Blossoms: Lots. Especially in the first episode.
- Continuity Nod: Sekiguchi's novel seems at first glance to be a metaphor for what's happening with the Kanako/Kubo case. In truth, the girl in the book is meant to be Kuonji Ryoko, the tragic figure from Ubume no Natsu (Summer of the Ubume), the first Kyougokudou novel (with Mouryou being the second). But most Western viewers will not have read the previous novel, despite it being available in English.
- Cute Kitten: The Chuuzenjis have a cat (named Pomegranite!) that shows up whenever a scene takes place at their house, and is often shown playing with Enokizu, despite having no relevance to the story whatsoever.
- Dramatic Thunder: Leading to It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: episode 3, 11 and 12.
- Drives Like Crazy: Enokizu. Unfortunately for the others, he's also one of the few characters in the series who owns a car and actually knows how to drive. And his complete disregard for road rules comes in very handy when they're in a rush to get somewhere, which happens often enough in a story where crimes occur left and right.
- The Four Gods: Referenced in several instances by Chuuzenji.
- Hyper-Awareness: Chuuzenji, to the point where, despite not having any supernatural powers, he figures things out before Enokizu, who can use Psychometry.
- Mind Screw: To the point where it's almost impossible to figure out what's going on if the viewer hasn't been paying attention well enough. However, the ones who have been paying attention are vastly rewarded for their efforts.
- Mr. Exposition: Chuuzenji, whose primary function in the plot is this.
- Mundane Made Awesome: Talking scenes are underlined with gusts of wind, dancing is punctuated with torrential amounts of cherry blossoms, and Enokizu's driving is always as maniacal and erratic as possible.
- Muscles Are Meaningless: The lanky and delicate-looking biseinen, Enokizu, who can punch WWII veteran Kiba across a room. It's even more obvious in the manga series, where we see him simultaneously taking down multiple opponents who're much bigger than him using just physical strength.
- ParentChild Incest: An important part of the shocking truth revealed near the story's end.
- Psychometry: Enokizu can sense and/or see brief visions of things that have left a strong impression on people or objects he comes into contact with, though it appears that he doesn't have to touch them.
- Reincarnation: Kanako believes that she is Yoriko's reincarnation and vice-versa. At the same time. Seriously.
- Refuge in Audacity: To Sekiguchi's shock, Enokizu forces his way into Yoriko's house, after talking to a departing Yoriko. Good thing he did, though, or else her mother would have brought down the house during her attempt to hang herself.
- Religion Is Magic: Averted somewhat. Despite a large amount of attention paid to Shinto, Buddhism and folklore, the mysteries are shown to be psychological or scientific in nature. The series is probably one of the more truthful representations of Onmyōdō in anime.
- Religion of Evil: The Cult of Onbako-sama.
- The Reveal: The last two episodes are entirely devoted to the denouement, with exposition galore courtesy of Chuuzenji, plus contributions from the culprits.
- Scenery Porn: Pretty much every background scene is beautiful and creative in both colouring and design.
- Serial Killer: Kubo Shunkou. If the Ice Truck Killer had lived in the same era, he'd probably be looking up to this nutcase in admiration. Seriously, Kubo's THAT friggin' messed-up.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran:
- Kiba, right down to the flashbacks and the stoic facade that alternates with a hair-trigger temper.
- Arguably Sekiguchi, since there's no way to know whether his weird personality existed before the war or was completely or partially a result of it.
- Averted with Chuuzenji and Enokizu, who were also in the army but saw less front-line action than the former pair and seem to have been far less affected, if at all.
- Shrines and Temples: A couple are shown, most notably that of the Onbako-sama cult.
- Stoic Spectacles: Sekiguchi in front of other people (even his own wife), though his monologues reveal otherwise.
- Telepathy: The entire first half of an episode chronicles the real-life story of Mifune Chizuko, the Meiji-era psychic whose misfortune also inspired The Ring.
- Unreliable Narrator: Yoriko.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Yoriko.
- Not only does the story tie very closely into the myth of the Mouryou, Chuuzenji gives us a downright etymological and cultural low-down of what "Mouryou" actually means.
- It's extremely important for understanding things later on. It also helps if you know a bit about Onmyōdō and kanji, to say the least.