My anime watching experience is fairly wide, having been watching the medium for a fair of number of years now. But it’s also more shallow than I’d like to admit. Reverse Thieves’ Secret Santa project helps bring depth to my anime list, as I’m always given series that I feel I should have watched and sometimes, as was the case this year, very good series that I’d never even heard of.
Of the three selections provided by my Secret Santa, I was immediately drawn to Mouryou no Hako, and I stuck with it, not that watching the series through was hard to do. I generally really enjoyed the show, which often kept me in suspense and almost always caused me to really think both about what was happening in the series, and the deeper themes and meanings being given.
Mouryou no Hako is a supernatural detective series following, almost equally, a wide net of characters who become involved in the near-death and disappearance of one young lady and the dismemberment of a host of other individuals. Spirituality, science, and secrets converge in the plot, which is presented in an often non-linear manner and frequently through the current happenings and by providing parts of novels written by a character portrayed in the series.
I’ll admit that the story, complicated both by a mysterious tale, the aforementioned unusual narrative structure, and particularly Japanese cultural elements, often had me confused. The wikipedia article on the series was my companion, as I frequently referred to it to determined if I had missed any major points. But the intricacies of the series are what make it good – I spent a lot of time analyzing what certain actions or words might mean on down the line. I was also shocked at certain points – and these surprising developments help create a wonderfully unsettling tone.
The themes of the series were also satisfying, as Mouryou no Hako examined the evil of which humanity is capable and, I think, through the mouryou demonstrated the ease at which any of one of us can do the most horrific of acts. The series also dove into a number of other thought-provoking questions: What does it mean to be human? Do our sins catch up with us? What’s the line between good and evil?
That’s not to say that the show was perfect, however. Strangely reminiscent of Zetsuen no Tempest, there were times when the hyper solemn tone of Mouryou no Hako was shaken by character expressions or dialogue that couldn’t have been taken seriously. The ending of the show had me rolling my eyes similarly through at some points, and even worse, I felt a bit jilted when the explanations posited at the end told me that this wasn’t a clever mystery story at all; all the intelligent writing for 8 or 9 episodes was discarded for an ending that was part soap opera, part “let’s create a conclusion here that the audience would never anticipate.”
For all that disappointment, though, I still really enjoyed Mouryou no Hako. It’s a fascinating piece that pushed me to think deeply about ethics, spirituality, religion, and humanity, while entertaining me with fun characters and a dark plot and setting. So while imperfect (and some viewers will additionally be put off by the yuri-heavy first episode and a plot heavily reliant on eastern religions), I was glad to have watched this show; it’s one that I think will remain with me, swirling around in my brain, for a long, long time.