Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mōryō no Hako Episode 1

Oh my gosh, it snowed last night!! XD Technically, I only saw a layer of frost on one of the lawns across the street from my dorm by looking out the window, but still!! I'm from south Florida, and the only time that I've seen "snow" before was a layer of frost in my great aunt's backyard in Washington D.C. when I was 10. So for me, this is a big deal (if only because I'm looking forward to more snow). Anyway, on to my gushing review.

Any fan of horror, mystery, CLAMP, or dark, cerebral anime in general (a la Serial Experiments Lain) should view this. Yes, the character designs are done by CLAMP, the animation is by Madhouse Studios (of Death Note fame), and the story is based on a novel (an adult-oriented, literary novel, not a light novel) by Natsuhiko Kyogoku, whose novel The Summer of the Ubume, is due to be published in the U.S. in August next year. Additionally, the screenwriting and series composition was done by Sadayuki Murai, who wrote the screenplays for Boogiepop Phantom, Perfect Blue, Cowboy Bebop, Millenium Actress, Kino's Journey, and Bubblegum Crisis: 2040 (among numerous others). Few series have such a mouth-watering pedigree.

And so far, Mōryō no Hako is living up to its promise. The artwork is lush and stylized without sacrificing animation frame rate, and the foreground-background integration is flawless.The animation boasts high quality control, and I never noticed any obvious short cuts being used. Even for a series with very little action, every character gesture, or rustle of clothing and hair, has been rendered as smoothly as one could hope for from a modern anime studio working on a television series. The rich, yet not overly bright or glossy color palette and masterful lighting does an excellent job bringing each scene to life, and the backgrounds are realistically yet artistically detailed, without betraying the overly polished, obviously computer animated look found in some series that opt to juxtapose hyper-realistic backgrounds with anime character designs.

The prologue begins with a man sitting alone on a train. He notices a stranger sitting across from him holding an ornate box, which he opens to reveals the head of a teenage girl surrounded by flowers, still alive.

With our interest piqued, the story moves to a town in post World War II Japan, in which two high school students, Yoriko Kusumoto and Kanako Yuzuki, meet who come to become deeply enamored with each other while believing that they are each other's reincarnation. I won't spoil the end of the episode, but it's a nail-biting cliffhanger. :)

Alongside the beautifully executed romance between the sophisticated Kanako and more down-to-earth, middle class Yoriko, there are numerous other cryptic plot developments, like another man shown toward the end riding a train in which the windows become smeared with the bloody hand prints of his deceased war comrades.

Despite the far-fetched mystical elements, the tight story writing and editing keep the story flowing smoothly, with empathetic, intriguing characters serving as the story's backbone. All of this, combined with the animation, gives the series a dualistic atmosphere of dreamy mysticism alongside down-to-earth historical realism.

But enough of my effusions about how good this episode is. ^^ Every anime fan should at least try it, if he or she wants to view something different from the norm.

Overall Episode Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (not perfect, because I want to see how the aftermath of the "nail-biting cliffhanger" will be handled in the next episode.)

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