Guest Post: Mononoke and a Chance Ungiven

Today’s post is a guest piece from Tyler Burnette, a great supporter of Beneath the Tangles and admin on our Discord server. We’re proud to present this sensitive and spirit-filled take on a topic that has become a battle now more than it has in many years—the unborn child.

Can you recall moments for in which you have wanted a second chance at something? You may have made an easily correctable mistake or perhaps a more significant moral one because your priorities were out of alignment. Everyone has regrets, and God is always willing and able to forgive us of them because of his immense love for us. He does not have a limit on the number of mistakes he can forgive. We are called to be like God, and while we do not have to acquiesce to all demands or become gullible to repeated offenders, we must offer forgiveness and chances at redemption as God has done for us.

However, what about those who are given no chance at all? Have you ever been in a situation where no matter how hard you worked, no one would grant you an opportunity? Perhaps you developed a desire to become a singer as you grew up, but you simply weren’t gifted with the natural talent of a singing voice. Maybe you were discriminated against in a career because of your appearance, associations, or ideology, and were rejected. Thankfully, most of us still have opportunities in life to pursue what is good in the world and to use our talents to benefit others. Unfortunately, there is one group group of people for whom there is no chance given for them ever in life, and their stories are the most tragic of all.

Mononoke is an anime about a medicine man doubling as an exorcist who travels through medieval Japan, offering his goods for sale and resolving mysterious hauntings by finding out the shape, truth, and reason for the them. It is highly stylized and heavily steeped in Japanese mythology and artwork. A majority of its imagery and style appear to come straight out of the Ashikaga period of artwork. Alas, I am not as well versed in medieval Japanese culture or iconography as the show’s creators, so many of the references and choice of language are lost on me.  It has visually pleasing colors and line work, and the characters are well colored and animated. On the flip side, the story, especially for the first two episodes, is anything from pretty.

The first episode begins with a the Medicine Man making his way to an inn soon followed by a woman who is very far along in her pregnancy and clearly in a great deal of distress. The innkeeper, in a scenario not dissimilar to the virgin Mary’s predicament in Bethlehem, is initially turned away due to them having no open rooms in the inn by the front desk clerk. She claims she is being chased down, and she will die if they do not give her shelter. She is even willing sleep on the floor of the inn so long as she does not have to stay outside during the night. The proprietress condescends to her but proposes an idea that she stay in one of their unused storage rooms. Along the way, we notice oddly shaped Japanese baby nesting dolls randomly position throughout the staircase and hallways as well as spirit ward stickers placed upon the walls that the proprietress does not recognize.

Things quickly turn spooky for the young pregnant woman when she arrives in the room and begins to hear voices of children that the desk worker and proprietress cannot hear. During the night, a henchman breaks into the young lady’s room and tells her he has been sent by her lord to kill her baby as it was the result of an affair with master and that he would not be pleased to learn of the child. In medieval Japanese society, as with medieval western society, an illegitimate child could result in inheritance disputes as well as cause shame upon the father and his family. The pregnant woman pleads with the henchman to spare her life as she greatly desires to have the child and care for it. The henchman disregards her plea, but just before he is able to impale her with his sword, he is grasped by an unknown force, hauled into the air, constrained by ribbons of cloth, strangled to death, and dumped back onto the floor. When the proprietress, clerk, and the medicine man come to see what the noise is, they experience the haunting first hand, and the spirits lock them into the room. The medicine man interrogates the proprietress, and we find out that the inn used to be a brothel, and this room they are in is actually the room in which abortions were performed when her girls became pregnant. The room is being haunted by Zashiki Warashi, childlike yokai who are the spiritual remnants of the aborted children. The young woman flees the room in fear, and upon entering another room, she receives a vision of her past showing her and her master beneath the covers. He tells her that he loves her, but she protests claiming she is just a servant. The lord asks her to marry him. Trusting him, she tells her that she is pregnant with his child. This shatters her dream and her vision changes into the man sent to kill her saying, “You don’t care as long as he’s rich right?” This emotionally breaks the young woman, and she collapses crying onto a table.

Every person’s story is unique and specific to them. While I cannot presume to understand or perfectly relate to women who struggle with deciding between birthing a child or having an abortion, many commonalities exist in some circumstances. Like the young woman in Mononoke, there can likely be much shame and regret that plays into decisions to abort a child. The emotional pressures placed on a woman are immense. The father may not be present, and the child may have been conceived in rape or incest, and telling her family could result in significant reprisal or rejection. It certainly takes a village to raise a child, and without that emotional and physical support, abortion becomes an increasingly viable option. We as a society—but also as individuals—must support struggling expectant mothers in any ways we can, even if it means sacrificing some of ourselves so they don’t have to sacrifice their own.

At a point early in the episode, the inn owner voices skepticism at the woman’s capacity as a single mother, commenting that having the baby won’t bring her any money. The financial burden is more significant today than ever before. A study from CNN indicates it costs around $13,000 per year to raise a child. For women considering abortion, this is a significant issue. Support from the government, work, and family may not add up to enough money to meet the costs of living for two people, and the woman might not be able to see a way through. Self-value and self-doubt in one’s own strength and capability, I suspect, is also important in decisions like this. The significance of the decision and the lack of visibly immediate alternatives puts a woman in an unpleasant vice, squeezed by societal expectations and economic hardship. Most often, people listen to the ones who have the most influence or control over them, and woe to those who have nowhere else to go than a person like the proprietress who values money over human life.

In another scene from Mononoke, we then see a vision of the proprietress in her youth as a beautiful lady, but one with minimal compassion for the circumstances of her girls. She informs the Medicine Man of the nature of their abortion room and that the walls with the diamond patterns are effectively a mortuary for the aborted children. She relates the abortions she performed to an act of kindness, a rationalization to ease the anxiety of ending a life. While she tries to frame in this way, in reality it’s simply an excuse to perpetuate her brothel’s business saying that the children are worthless to her and she won’t let them eat as the girls were sold to her to pay a debt. The imagery at this point is rather gruesome, even if only displayed in metaphor, and I would blame no one for not wanting to continue watch. The proprietress begins pulling on a red cord with bloody hands, and a pool of water at her feet turns to red as some of the dolls are shown floating in the pool. My spine shivered a bit next when the owner shreds the cloth she was pulling on as a baby screams, and we then see drops of blood sprinkled over one of the dolls as the red cloth is laid over the doll’s face. The owner makes her way over to the table the young woman is on and makes the pantomime of stabbing the young woman as she screams, “Stop killing babies!” as the room cuts to normal again with the group sitting in the room.

This does not last long as the Zashiki Warashi manifest as a mass of red ribbons which burst from the walls and form a sentient orb. The Medicine Man tries to find the way to vanquish the spirits, but to his surprise, the young girl realizes that they just wanted to be born into the world. All along they just wanted to be given an opportunity at life and with single a word, she accepts them to be birthed spiritually through her with her child. She rips off the spirit ward that had been placed on her stomach, and blood begins to splatter beneath her. The scene cuts away, showing her as the mother of one child but spiritually the mother of the others who had been aborted. A child in the form of a yokai shows appreciation for her love and affection. She admits she cannot physically raise them all, but with her gesture, the spirits are at peace and allow themselves to be dispelled or released by the Medicine Man. It is unclear what future the woman has with her child, but thanks to her compassion, we can presume that she can live her life without the regret or sorrow potentially experienced by the many other women of the proprietress, her child having been given the chance that so many others were denied.

Having a child is a costly decision in life and should absolutely not be endeavored into lightly. Sadly, many women may not have that opportunity or foreknowledge and consider ending the pregnancy through abortion. It is tragic, as contrary to some people’s perceptions, there are absolutely resources available for any woman struggling with costs of raising a child. If one’s family is unwilling to assist with raising a child, local churches and church members, even of a parish one may not attend or share faith with, may be assist in some way if they know about the circumstances. Additionally, adoption is a wonderful option to consider, and there are numerous resources available for it online and in the real world such as the National Council for Adoption, American Adoptions, Lifetime Adoptions, the Department of Health and Human Services, and many other organizations. Adoption and foster care may not be the ideal circumstances for a child in many situations, but abortion is always the worst option from the baby’s perspective. One might recommend an abortion to a woman whose father may not present by the time of birth, is severely impoverished, and may not have family support. However, as an adopted child, myself, from one of these circumstances, I absolutely advocate for adoption and believe abortion is the worst choice for both the mother and the child. It can appear as the easiest solution immediately, but in the long term there can be no joy in the quickest decision that must be wrestled with for the rest of one’s life.

As birth rates decline in our country and babies are seen as more of a burden than a blessing, as less of a baby and more as a bundle of cells, as less of a tot and more of a tumor, the prospects can be very grim, as demonstrated in the first arc of Mononoke. Stigmatizing women who have had or consider abortions is the wrong way to proceed. We must sympathize with them, and we must wholeheartedly and compassionately point them to a God who offers forgiveness and love in all things. If we wish to see abortions or the cited reasons for them eliminated in our world, we need to endure hardships and sacrifice on the behalf of the struggling young mothers to give them a chance so they might in turn bestow a chance at life upon their child.

Mononoke can be stream on Tubi.

Tyler Burnette has been anime fan since his youth in the late 90s where he developed an affinity for science fiction shows like Cowboy Bebop, Gundam Wing, and Crest of the Stars shown on platforms such as Toonami, Adult Swim, and Anime Unleashed.  Presently his favorite anime is Trinity Blood as it ties in his interests in politics, anime, and theology. He grew up in a non-denominational church which he still attends regularly and graduated from King College with a degree in Political Science and History with an interest in economics and is an avid strategy gamer.


6 thoughts on “Guest Post: Mononoke and a Chance Ungiven

  1. Great article Tyler! Mononoke is one of my favorites, only my second anime with a medicine man along with Mushishi (another good anime). Beautiful visuals, Medicine Man is cool, and fantastic OP. As someone who recently is on the side of life, I have to agree with points being made. I can’t imagine how many abortions were made in the inn and how the women felt in order to, honestly, continue living in the brothel…..

  2. Thank you again for the opportunity to get to write for you all again. I am pleased you deemed it worthy of posting. This has been on my heart for a while.
    Thanks Lea. Appreciate your feedback. It’s not specifically my style of anime, but it brings up very interesting ideas and concepts.

  3. That’s my favorite episode of Mononoke. I find it to be the most human, real and artful of them all. It’s highly symbolic of the role of the medicine man as a detective-healer of the hidden, the strange and the cursed of the world in a way that only the serial killer episodes come close to. He is kind of like Scott Card’s Speaker of the Dead, but even better.

    It’s a very effective horror story, with our own monsters coming back to us. To the point that I think the West would never allow something like this see the light. We’re lucky to have something like this and Now and then, here and there to remind us of where we are, and what to pray and hope for.

    I pray it’s prophetic, too. We have lost so many already, so, so young, and have scarred ourselves so much. I think we truly need to seek peace with them and with God, punish the cold, utilitarian principle in our hearts and take care of everyone among the smollest, with hope. The episode is a great parable of all that.

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