Mouryou no Hako, Episode #03: Devil's hospital

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くれない。

I have come to the conclusion that Mouryou no Hako must be blogged at any and all cost. Impz says it is an impossible series to blog, and he may be right. There are layers upon layers that require penetration, scenes upon scenes that demand a still eye and ear, and moments upon moments that beckon us to immerse ourselves in the story's beautiful, terrifying design.

Episode #03 ropes us in right where it left off in its typical whirling-dervish fashion, picking viciously at the periphery of what I am going to conveniently refer to as 'The Box Incident' from here on out, while leaving the core facts cryptically undisturbed. Clues continue to collect, drip by drip -- most significantly, we learn that the giant box that Sekiguchi stumbled upon is actually the "hospital" Kanako was headed for, a grim and grey death-machine far more appropriately described as a "laboratory" than a "hospital." Given the historical context, it seems these incidents happened at a time when professional standards were less stringent, physicians were less scrupulous and curative medicine wasn't as far divorced from scientific experimentation as one would expect... or hope.

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Kiba is looking more manly than ever.

Actually, before backpedaling to the train incident, we get an utterly terrifying glimpse into psycho-physiological assaults that Yoriko and Kanako are/were subjected to at various points in time. A young lady (Kanako?) awakens under hospital lights to find herself being dissected by "demons", hinting at the truth behind her "treatment"; next, a flashback(?) scene shows a crazed mother-figure suddenly leaping forward and strangling a young girl. Scared the crap out of me. It all happens so quickly that it is difficult to who is who in each scene. The patient under the knife is probably Kanako, and if you pause the video and take a closer look at the next scene, you might recognize the assailant's bland, unadorned features as belonging to Yoriko's mother... or I could be wrong. But the identities of the girls in these scenes are of secondary concern. I think the important thing here is that their identities are being intentionally blended and confused, fastening haunting weight to Kanako's proclamation, "You were me in a past life."

The remainder of the episode is a vortex of snapshots from various dates in August; the initial confusion created by the increasing speed of the vortex is relieved by the fact that these snapshots wind tighter and tighter around the selected timeframe, honing in on Kanako's plight. Detective Sekiguchi is out of the picture for now, though we learn he is but a stone's throw away when Detective Kiba briefly complains about the other detective's involvement as he prepares for another day of observation and guesswork. The date is August 31st, not even a full day after Sekiguchi stumbled upon the hospital.

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"I have found something to protect."

It is not entirely clear to me why the writers have selected certain scenes while leaving out other parts of the story. If we assume the anachronic narrative is an fundamental part of the original work, we also assume that there is a distinct purpose to each of the sections we are shown, as well as a lack of immediate purpose to the parts that have been queued until later episodes or omitted altogether. The intent, I imagine, is not to obfuscate the facts, but to present the drama in a way that best embraces its cast. Consider -- do we even know what the story is about? Who is the protagonist? Is it Sekiguchi? Kiba? Yoriko? Kanako? Whose tale is being crafted through whose actions, and why?

For me, Detective Kiba was in the spotlight this time around. From what I have gathered of his personality, which is at best a handful of fragments and tatters spread thin by the winds of time, something in him has awakened. There is a purposefulness in his step, a hardness to his jaw, a piercing vigilance in his eyes... his passionate actions betray the fire blazing in his heart. It is the same fire that moved him to tears in the movie theater, and the same fire that had nearly been extinguished by the ghosts of his fallen comrades. It may only be a spark when the episode rewinds to the train incident to fill us in on the details of their ride to the hospital and their introduction to its chief physician and his creepy assistant Suzaki, but surely an ember is building strength. Fast forward to the night when Kiba climbs the stairs to find his lovely Youko, mortified, ransom letter in hand, and quickly rushes over to investigate and to console, and we see that the ember has already roared to life. Suzaki's taunt by the stairwell is all too knowing. He understands why Kiba endures the stifling summer heat every single day. It is not for Kanako, but for Youko, and Youko alone.

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Within the hospital-box, devilish, miniature boxes lay strewn about.

Perhaps I've given away my fondness for this love affair. Forget lolitas and harem girls; Youko is a REAL woman and I'm not afraid to admit I am quite captured by her beauty. Sure, maybe I've let myself get a bit sidetracked, but one cannot help but be sidetracked by this anime. There are, after all, so many places for the wandering mind to go! MnH is a fantastic story because it draws from the strength of several sideplots, each with its own ambiance, direction, and unique role within the overall narrative. The new romance that seems to have sprung out of the ashes of Yoriko and Kanako's coffeehouse tete-a-tetes and moonlight dances is no exception. Consider: a detective in love with a damsel in distress (notice the film noir feel) is a much more convincing motivation for this wholly uninviting investigation than honor, which only an epically-proportioned superdetective would work himself to the bone to preserve. Classic murder mysteries have deceived us into thinking that all detectives will resort to such zeal, but the truth is that the world has room enough for only a few Detective Ls. The rest, like Kiba, respectable as he may be, are human. And besides, there is no honor to be gained, just a mystery to solve and a lady to protect. Makes sense to me.

But wait. Is theirs really a love story? Is it really so clean cut? Will the forthcoming events concede to Kiba's heroic notions of protection and duty, or is he inviting betrayal? We need to keep in mind that there are multiple motivations at work here. Perhaps Youko can be absolved of undue suspicion. She *acts* the part of the concerned sister flawlessly, but then again, she is an *actress*. Then there is Masuoka. Kiba, whose sharp eyes let nothing slip by, guesses that the ill-tempered Mr. Masuoka is a lawyer, so there must be the prospect of an inheritance tied to Kanako's demise. And we cannot forget the live-in guardian Mr. Amemiya, ever furtive, peering around corners, timidly offering his help and participation, all the while doing little to free himself or his comrades from scrutiny. There may be more to the situation than Youko is willing to let on, and Kiba might have to find that out the hard way.

There are others: Kanako is under the knife and wire of two doctors who, as far as I'm concerned, might as well be mad scientists. Yoriko's mother is a nut whose paranoia of goblins makes her hate Kanako and drives her mad enough to invite a two-timing hustler of a monk to purge her house -- of yen, if anything, which her male friend and the monk will probably divvy up out of her sight once the deception is complete! (During the exorcism scene, I recalled how one of her dolls looked at Yoriko in the first episode; it occurred to me that the mouryou she blames Yoriko for might be entirely her own doing. We need to watch this woman carefully.) Finally, there is the mysterious dark-haired man who shoves Yoriko, and reminds her in the process that Kanako did not jump in front of the train; she was pushed.

Bizarrely, the story decided to end with Kanako's disappearance from hospital, practically in the middle of Yoriko's visit. I mean, if we know already that she was kidnapped and held for ransom, then why bother with all the fanfare? The note from earlier (later, chronologically) points to a kidnapping, but it happened so quietly and sneakily that we might just wonder, in the midst of everyone's wide-eyed incredulity, if Kanako actually did ascend to Heaven in the mysterious way she claimed all goddesses expire. Until next week...

Next Episode:

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This still scares me so much, I don't even like to look at it. You folks enjoy it.

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7 Comments

  1. Posted October 29, 2008 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Well, I haven’t seen any episodes yet, but I must admit the amount of hype this is getting from some people I know is pressuring me into at least giving it a look. I’ll be back to say something meaningful later, but if the show’s not amazing, I shall hold solely YOU accountable, Maipeisu! *points accusingly*

  2. Posted October 29, 2008 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    @ Omisyth: Nihahaha ^_^ Well I’m not so sure this show is for everyone, as it requires a fair amount of thinking and active participation. Things can just slip right by if you aren’t paying attention. But those daring enough to peel away at it may find themselves with a centerless onion on hand. PLUS, it carries a serious and mature tone that is a lot different than what many fans of newer anime might expect. Taking both of these factors into account, I’m sure MnH is a HUGE bore for a lot of people. But I personally think it is the best show of the season so far, by a long, long, long shot. It is of a substance and caliber that most anime these days don’t even come within shouting distance of.

    …Anyway, if you don’t like it, don’t blame me, blame IMPZ! He was the one that told me about it! It’s not mai fault!!! ::Crumbles into a blubbering mess::

    Actually — and I don’t say this for brownie points, I mean it in all sincerity — considering your penetrating comprehension, I’m willing to bet that you’ll like it. Your insight never fails to impress me. So watch it and come back to let me know what you make of it. That would be awesome.

  3. lelangir
    Posted October 29, 2008 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    This instantly reminds me of Shigurui, and by that token I must watch this anime. Hopefully I’ll be able to drop tora dora and kannagi soon. (Doubt I’ll drop Kanagi)

  4. Posted October 30, 2008 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    I’m glad I’m not the only one enjoying this – I guess it’s a pretty mature series (a lot of people are finding the pacing too slow, but I think you need time to let the facts sink in and think them over). I can see a film-noir vibe too…possibly because of the 1950s setting and the fact that Kiba reminds me of the Raymond Chandler-esque private detective living off his wits and an old-fashioned sense of gentlemanly duty; he’s a great candidate for the show’s hero at this point.

    “Forget lolitas and harem girls; Youko is a REAL woman and I’m not afraid to admit I am quite captured by her loveliness.”

    Rest assured that, as unlikely as it sounds, not all anime fans are moe-obsessed lolicons! It’s great to see, as you put it, a real woman in anime for a change (the enchanting Kuromitsu in Kurozuka is another one who springs immediately to mind). She may well be the femme fatale figure if you film-noir comparison is as accurate as I think it is.

  5. Posted October 31, 2008 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Well, I’m back and better than ever! and I must say that this series is absolutely amazing. The animation is gorgeous, the soundtrack is stellar (and the OP a combination of the two) and the storytelling is so complex and engaging that I feel like if I don’t pay attention to every facet and detail, as you said, something vital will slip past me. I’m not much of a fan of murder mysteries but the multiple interwoven plot threads, combined with the subtle supernatural undertones that pervade parts of the show, never fails to have me on the edge of my seat.

    I’m pretty dure that the woman seen in the flashback at the start of the episode is Kanako’s mother. The advantage of watching all three episodes in succession is that you’re able to link common threads between them, and in episode 1, she mentioned how her mother who was mentally ill, choked telling her to “Die”. Another thing I noticed is that the girl that appeared in episode 2 along side Sekiguchi’s friend looks remarkably similar to the girl’s head in the box.

    That hospital is unsanitary, cold and disturbing, but what surprised me is the amount of electronical equipment in Kanako’s room and the fact that no-one seemed surprise that all of it seemed tied to one patient.

    Those doctor’s are crazy and creepy. I’m pretty sure they’ve killed more patients than they’ve saved. Detevtice Kiba’s resolve is impossible to miss, wbut what I found interesting was that he said he had “an enemy to fight” and “this is my mountain”. This could link back to the memories of WW2 he hasas a soldier; considering the fact we don’t have many details of his past, it makes me wonder what caused him to become so, for lack of a better word, docile in the first place ( his state of mind before this case in comparisonto his state of mind afterwards, or rather, after meeting his ai-doru).

    Youko = deceptive, and no-one will ever convince me otheriwise. Kiba will most likely become further enraptured by her only to have his assumptions about her nature shattered somehwere down the line.

    In my opinion, the story of love between Kanako and Yoriko has definitely taken a back seat to the darker more sinister (as you say) film-noir story that’s unfolding in front of the viewer. Everyone is suspect; this concept could be taken in a more cheesy and predictable direction, but the nature of the show is such that it’s impossible to determine who’s who and what’s what, not to mention the head in the box which has (as of yet) no concrete relation to the seemingly central storyline.

    One last thing, the artistic touches of the show never fail to impress me. The colour red linking Yoriko’s mother’s attack to Kanako’s strangling, and the small hints of grey that show up whenever deep thoughts arise from the characters.

    Sorry if my thoughts seem jumbled (SO MUCH IS GOING ON! SO MUCH!!!), but needless to say, I’ll be following this show avidly. If not to see the mad doctors’ laugh hysterically together.

    MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

  6. Posted October 31, 2008 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    @Omisyth: Waaaa, as expected of Omisyth! My first notion was that the strangler was Youko (this is before I paused it to get a good look at her). When I actually got a good look at the features, she seemed more like Yoriko’s mother. Was the facial similarity an intentional decision? But I had forgotten what Kanako said about her own mother in the first episode, so good call on that. Thanks for catching my blunder. ^_^

    With regards to Atsuko (was that her name?), I also had a creeping suspicion that it might have been her head that was in the box, especially considering the short, dark hair. This is why I never made any conclusive statements about whose head it was in my previous posts. The story makes a lot of feints and leaves a lot of red herrings laying around, and I think it intentionally confuses certain characters’ identities (visually), because I sure as hell can’t tell who I’m looking at sometimes. And what kills me is just trying to imagine how Atsuko could wind up in a position like that! Like, what if she and Sekiguchi had continued to investigate together, got too close to the facts, and she got kidnapped and ended up being experimented on?! Bitter business, indeed.

    Ah yes, and the lovely Youko. I was almost completely in love with her… until my BS alarm went off. Poor Kiba might be in for an ugly surprise.

    …Anyway, I KNEW you would like it! And you are perceptive as ever, as expected.

  7. Shinkun
    Posted July 12, 2009 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    I think the scene on the train with the girl’s head in a box was from the novel “The Girl in the Box” mentioned in the series. And not something Sekiguchi really saw. Sekiguchi is really out of it throughout this series and constantly lost in thought or daydreaming.

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