Requiem from the Darkness
Near the end of the Edo Period, the son of wealthy merchants decides to turn his back on his family’s profession and become an author instead. While he has done little but write children’s riddles, he hits upon the idea of writing a collection of stories about the mysterious and the supernatural. One rainy night, a chance encounter with a monk and his strange associates on a mountain will pull the author into a world of darkness he can scarcely begin to imagine. He finds himself pulled along with a trio of people apparently dedicating to cleansing corruption from the land: Mataichi, a mysterious monk; Nagamimi, a hulking master of disguise; and the beautiful Ogin. Are the trio truly fighting corruption or are they perhaps servants of something much worse?
When I began watching Requiem from the Darkness, I could not help but be struck immediately by its very unusual visual style. The character designs are all over the place. We have several characters that are done in a rather normal anime style but others that are grotesquely proportioned and yet others that are rendered in what could only be described in a crude manner. The shot style, scene design, background work, types of pans, color work and all other visual aspects demonstrated a similar diversity. One scene involving a village, for example, might seem relatively normal but the next could present a hypersurreal image that invokes Dali. A recent article in Newtype USA had the tag line: "This anime is like none you've ever seen." I must say that I agree.
The net effect of this curiously (and dare I say unique) stylized design work is to generate an atmosphere that could only be described as nightmarish. It is all the more striking since much of the scenes in this show focus on the normal looking lead, the author Yamaoka. It is an odd experience at first getting used to seeing such a normal looking character talk to the varied and bizarre inhabitants that populate this show’s image of Japan. However, even these choices go far beyond just setting the nightmarish and dark mood for this title, as the nature of the character design is closely related to reinforcing the role of certain characters and themes in this show. While you do have the obvious example of certain corrupt and/or evil characters being grotesque, it is often some of the most normal seeming characters in this show that are the most dangerous and some of the more dangerous looking are far more benign. This in turn helps reinforces one of the show's themes concerning the often banal surface nature of evil and corruption.
Besides the visual elements, the setting and nature of the world was done in an inventive manner. Though there are most definitely supernatural elements and occurrences in this show, Requiem from the Darkness is not simply a period piece where monsters are real. Instead, subtle supernatural elements are contrasted with the far more pervasive and the all too real corruption of humans. Though, as I noted, there are definite supernatural elements, the actual amount of blatant supernatural occurrences and creatures is actually rather low overall in the series. In its own way, though, that makes the show a bit more effective as a horror title. Humans, in their many varied ways, are capable of vicious and depraved evil that would almost make the idea of supernatural monsters comforting by comparison.
Moral and ethical corruption and its impact on society lie at the heart of what Requiem is trying to explore. The path of personal corruption might start small enough but can feed on itself and perpetuate itself until it threatens the basis of society in general. I suppose in this regard, Requiem from the Darkness shares a certain didactic quality that is common to many types of horror stories while also exploring the ways the ordered Buddhist and Neo-Confucian influenced communities of the Edo Period might choose to deal with disruptions of an societal order that isn't as stable as it once was.
As this show’s general plot is so intimately tied to human psychology, most episodes feature a lot of exploration of individual people’s motivations and actions along with letting the main lead, the author, develop a bit more. Though, at times, he seems to be more reactive than proactive in many of the events that are occurring, his reaction to the events and the often seemingly ruthless actions of his newfound companions made for interesting drama. Starting out a naïve author, his exposure to the decadence and debased nature of many in a time of corruption, slowly begins to affect him and cause him to face the question of what truly makes a person a monster. It was interesting seeing him tackle with moral questions about whether certain types of actions were immoral and what sort of mercy the corrupt deserved.
Though I was satisfied with the development of the mysterious trio, I must admit I was a bit disappointed that by the time the show ends we don’t know more about their background and how and why they are involved in their activities. As the show closed toward the end and certain conflicts occur, it would have helped if the show revealed a few more details about the nature of their “employer” and clarified a few of their backgrounds. Though they did give enough tantalizing clues to let the viewer begin to make some of their own conclusions.
Some of this might be linked to the fact that original creator of the novel did not want to necessarily reveal too much. It seems that a sequel novel to the original Kosetsu Hyaku Monogatari was published last year. I have no idea if they are planning to make an anime out of the second novel, but it will undoubtedly provide even more details about Ogin, Mataichi, and Nagamimi.
Despite my overall admiration for this title, I can’t say it truly rises to excellence. Though the above character issues did not bother me much, there are some issues with plot pacing. The bulk of the show’s run is rather episodic and although they do take time to do character development with these episodes, they follow a certain general formula that begins to get a bit repetitive particularly after the viewer has a full realization of the nature of what the trio is actually involved in. Toward the end though, a final transition in plotting style along with some challenges to the main lead, makes for a fitting coda. I don’t know how well this show did in Japan but I would love to see the second novel animated as well.
A uniquely stylized and disturbing trip into the dark depths of the human soul that ends up as an effective horror title despite the lack of a robust central narrative. If you don’t like horror or dark anime, you’ll probably want to drop a couple of stars. Hello Kitty this is not. — Jeremy A Beard
Recommended Audience: Though the stylized nature of the visuals and certain techniques (such as solarizing scenes of intense violence) somewhat dampen the impact of the violence in this title, it still ends up extremely violent and grotesque in parts. Sex plays a role in several episodes as well. Though there are very few scenes that are particularly explicit in content, the very nature of these scenes and their implications are often highly disturbing in their own way. Excluding those elements, there is simply the themes and plotlines this show deals with. Almost every form of human depravity you can probably think of makes an appearance at some point in this title. It really is only appropriate for older audiences.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Requiem from the Darkness © 2003 Tokyo Movie Shinsha / Chubu Broadcasting / RKB / RCC
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