Mouryou no Hako, Episode #04 – This is why I watch anime.

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Maipeisu is flypaper for freaks.

What better way to kick things off than with a shot of SEKIGUCHI holding a bloody cleaver in front of a girl's body parts strewn about the background? Oh no, that's not me being sick, that's the beginning of the episode. If you think that's disturbing, and you have already watched it, you may have unwittingly skipped over the implication that there will not be - there *cannot* be - a magic bullet solution to this case, because there is no single culprit to accuse. Hell, at this rate we may need a magic Uzi. That, my friends, is far more disturbing.

The iconic serial killer who commits string of unique crimes invites the idolatry of copycats, a possibility that lurks dangerously in the background of a murder investigation as additional victims are discovered. However, if the details remain concealed from the public, the notion of copycats cannot congeal into a distinct possibility. How can one copy what one has never seen?

Though Kiba bases his assumptions on this logic for a short while, all of his educated guesses go flying out the window when he learns about Dr. Mimakasa's past involvement with the military. Arranged alongside the military's plans to engineer an immortal soldier, the scene from the beginning of the episode and sightings of a darkly-dressed man wearing white gloves point to a multi-person operation, compared to which the quickly fading prospect of a lone killer actually seems... inviting. (Note: If you aren't watching this series, you NEED to be watching it. Seriously.)

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Medical experimentation. Military research. Murder.

We are only four episodes in and I am ready to bow down in awe. This is anime at its finest. The first, monstrous segment of the episode rains shuddering impact after impact: bloodstained Sekiguchi wonders aloud why his latest 'experiment' failed as his subject's empty gaze stares into nothing, her body in pieces on the ground; the OP airs, then the episode picks up right where it left off last week, bombarding us with stills of the party's contorted expressions - astonished, bewildered, puzzled faces - while frantic echoes gather up the pith of their verbal crossfire. Kanako has disappeared! Suzaki is dead!

The police snap into ready rank and file, and one can almost hear the gears of an official investigation cranking slowly into motion. Kiba retreats to another room with Fukumoto and Youko; there, he desperately entreats her for her trust. Why can't she give him more answers? What is she not telling him? "Who is your real enemy?", he growls as he leans close, his eyes gleaming passion. She replies in barely above a whisper, "...you." The animation is staggering. The emotion, utterly palpable.

It is not over. Kanako appears in the next scene, or rather, a grey-haired and gold-eyed semblance that could just as easily be her apparition as her weakened, bedridden body. She watches Yoriko, Youko and Kiba, bathed in blue, as though through the watery lens of a dream. The three fade like a distant memory; sleep's seductive embrace again pulls her beneath the surface of consciousness for an indefinite stretch of time.

She awakens next in a stark white room, and watches bodiless limbs ascend the walls and fall abruptly through a trap door in the roof. The sheet covering her flies off in a fury, revealing - horrifyingly - mechanical limbs where her real arms and legs ought to be. Their cranking sound is ghastly, alien. She sleeps. AMEMIYA's voice is the last to greet us, as evil, greedy eyes peer inside a metal box to gaze at her sleeping body and gloat at the "work of art" before them. A train whistles, as the screen fades to black. [Commercial break.] WTF??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?

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I'm loving the 1950's feel.

I usually dislike writing summaries in episodic posts because I assume, perhaps wrongly so, that readers have either seen the episode already and have no need for a rehash of what they already know, or haven't seen it and would much rather not have it all spoiled. However, the aforementioned arrangement of scenes is an unusual case; it is so powerful that even if you have seen it already, it is worth watching again to contemplate its tremendous impact. Each scene is an important piece of a masterful narrative that rotates round and round its mainspring, grinding a bit deeper into the gravelly mystery with every revolution.

After having ruminated upon Kanako's kidnapping and even borne witness to her dreamy interpretation of the surgeries she is being subjected, we are ready to step back into daylit reality and examine the murder incidents Sekiguchi referred to in Episode #02. During the first two or three weeks of September, a total of four victims are identified as the original owners of several limbs found packed neatly into boxes and tucked into random corners of people's compounds. Kiba is officially off the case, unfortunately, and must ponder the meaning of all this from the sidelines (his "base camp", as it were) of a nearby apartment, completely reliant upon his protege's legitimately acquired information. Amemiya has gone missing.

The townspeople blame a kasha, a youkai said to scatter the limbs of ill-fated cadavers. The detectives know better; however they can do little but for the strange politics at play, which ironically afford Sekiguchi and Atsuko more investigative freedom than Kiba himself. The real professionals are held in check by government eyes, eyes easily blinded by a badge's shiny brass and quick to ignore meddlers who might succeed at any number of transgressions whilst they busy themselves with the minutiae of legalities.

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...

I mentioned before that Sekiguchi was a detective, but come to find out - he is actually a successful author with a reputation for dark subject matter. "Personal novels", he calls them, but does that mean that they are about his actual experiences, experiences most authors would only dare explore in imagination? What if the girl from the opening scenes was Atsuko? Her hair and eyes are a different color, but then again, they are the same color as Kanako's hair and eyes in her dream. More intriguingly, when could this have occurred? Let us not forget that we are still in flashback mode. Sekiguchi's little bloodstained pout could have happened long after all the other events had played out, which exchanges what little relief might have been offered by knowing that he isn't a suspect in the current case for the assurance that this dark, dark story has no end in sight.

Revelations about Mimakasa's military involvement are what tie everything together at the end of the episode, so we know for sure that the militaristic origins of the medical experimentation are going to play a significant part in the story. And considering how Kiba has another haunting vision of soldiers being fragged towards the end of the episode, I'm wondering if the military won't play a huge role in the case, or if there are some very troubling memories Kiba has forced out of his head that could be relevant to the investigation. He clearly harbors unresolved emotional ties to his past as a military man. How potent are they, and how will they affect his character in episodes to come? Yoriko has already gone off the deep end, Youko has revealed herself to be a liar (albeit a beautiful, stunning, gorgeous one), so Kiba, you must remain strong and preserve your integrity to the very end!

The seemingly unconnected murder cases may actually be linked to Kanako's kidnapping if Dr. Mimasaka's method truly was to assemble an eclectic assortment of body parts in Frankensteinish fashion. The killer could be collecting limbs here and there for his bitter business, selecting only the ones that suit his taste and casting aside the rest. Prostitutes would be a relatively easy target; after all, the man with the white gloves can be seen claiming one as his latest victim in the middle of the red light district where no one thinks too much about the dirty dealings going on around every corner and in every dark alley. But why go through the trouble of placing the limbs in boxes? Mimakasa Medical Hospital had received little press before, so wouldn't this only generate more unwanted attention? I'll leave the guessing aside for now; I just want to bask in the mood. Until next week! ^_^

Next Episode:

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Yay! More characters from the OP!

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8 Comments

  1. jonah
    Posted November 3, 2008 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Hell yeah! This series is getting better and better. It topped my fall-season watchlist and I’m total agreed with Maipesu. Seriously, YOU NEED to watch it!! The original author and the director really pulled it off. I can assure you!

    I’m hoping this series will get more attention to others. In my opinion, a better fansubs group is needed to bring an even better quality of translation (no offense to Aero fansubs). ^.^

  2. lonewolf
    Posted November 4, 2008 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Nice blog and I’m with you that this is the best anime this season. Pity a lot of people does not seems to like it because it featured no mecha, yuri, action, panty shots or moe characters.

    I find it interesting that both of us can be watching the same 4 episodes and have slightly different interpretation or speculations of what has been going on. This to me is a true sign of story telling at its finest!!

    Here what I think is the deal with Kanako. She was really pushed by a man in dark coat and white glove (not Yoriko imagination) who I highly suspect to be Masuoka. She was so badly injured that the only way to keep her alive is to bring her to the MimiSaka Medical Centre so that her limbs can be replaced with mechanical arms and legs. I do not think that part was a dream.

    Suzaki probably has a hand in Kanako’s disappearance, probably together with Yuko and Amemiya (who has not shown up since) That’s explain why Yuko freaks out when Suzaki was killed because Kanako got taken away to a place she no longer knows.

    The opening sequence is probably just Sekiguchi’s visualisation of his writing process and which he has taken inspiration from after talking to Kiba’s junior at Lake Sagami.

    But if the man-with-the-glove is Masuko, why is he committing the murder and stuffing limbs in the box?? And why go to a detective agency?? Somehow the two does not connect yet so I probably not correct with my speculation too ..lol

  3. Posted November 4, 2008 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I was expecting this to be a Chandler-esque piece (which I suppose it is in some ways) in that I’d be constantly forming theories in my head and trying to work out who the culprit is, but I’m still happy to sit back and immerse myself in the gorgeous creepiness. The animation went a bit stilted at the beginning (the still shots detracted a bit from the suspense felt when everyone realised Kanako had disappeared, I think) but the imagery and atmosphere is fantastic.

    I’m enjoying Chaos;Head for the head-trippery and ‘whodunnit?’ as well, but the more…mature?…way that Mouryou no Hako is directed is making it the more enjoyable for me. It is indeed a shame that it’s not more popular with fans, but I’m appreciating the fact that it’s something a bit different…and wonderfully chilling.

  4. Posted November 4, 2008 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    @jonah: I’m hoping it will get more attention too! D: Nothing bugs the hell out of me like seeing something utterly awesome slip right by unnoticed. No matter, though! I will be diligent in my blogging duties!

    @lonewolf: I actually think we’re on the same page about most of this. I hope my post wasn’t too confusing, but I do agree that Kanako actually had her limbs removed. I just thought that the scene in the white room was her delirious interpretation of it all, what with the legs and arms walking up the ceiling and getting sucked out a trap door.

    My wish was to suspend any further speculation until more clues were available, but I just can’t resist a good mind game. One thing I thought about is this: if Masuoka’s innuendo was true, Youko seems poised to benefit from Kanako’s death in some fashion. Yet, at the same time, she really seems to care for Kanako as a sister… to an extent. Consider this: what if Youko wanted to find a way to have Kanako “die”, but keep her alive at the same time? Perhaps she hated working as an actress for money, but say, for instance, she had no access to an massive inheritance that Kanako was intended to receive. When she ran off with Amemiya, he could have told her about a *method* to immortalize people that was left over from military experiments of the past. In short, she could have her sister die but keep her alive at the same time. The plan then would have been to get her in an “accident”, “try” to “save” her, stage a kidnapping and have the real surgery done. But something went horribly wrong… or maybe Youko just got cold feet and decided she couldn’t go through with it when she heard that other women were being butchered in the process for their body parts… this theory is probably WAY off, but I thought I would share it for shits and giggles.

    @Martin: Glad to see someone’s out there who shares my taste in dark/trippy anime! ^_^ The mature context and refined directing style for this anime definitely put it a notch higher than Chaos;HEAd for me. And I think the animation is gorgeous — it looks like a frigging OVA! …Hmm you, didn’t like the stills? I can see why you might have felt like they interrupted the suspense of the scene. But I really liked how they focused on the people’s expressions at that point. I almost think a straightforward dialogue wouldn’t have been able to capture it all in the succinct timeframe that they set aside.

  5. Posted November 5, 2008 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Sorry for the lateness of this comment, a lot on my plate lately.

    KYAAAAAAAAAAH!!! Avoiding all this OMG THIS ANIME IS SO F**CKING AWESOME preamble, let’s get straight to the analysis.

    What struck me most about the opening scene is that Sekiguchi seems to be attempting something, by which I mean, I believe he may be trying to revive Mamisaka’s immortality experiment; this is mostly supported by the fact that he’s wondering if “the doctor knows how to do it right”, which I assume to be Mamisaka, simply as ZOMG Sakari dies so damn quickly!

    Mamisaka = SUSPICIOUS. There’s just something about his expression the moment that Kanako was discovered to be missing that screams this is all part of my evil scheme, and this is in no way helped by his connection to immortal soldier experimentation. On a side note, Ishii’s reaction to that entire situation makes me believe he is nothing more than a superior officer who’s managed to snake his way up through the ranks by opushing all his problems onto his subordinates; when confronted by officers, he immediately looks to Kiba to do something after standing dumbstruck and gawking like an oaf. Him and Fukumoto just seem pathetic to me.

    Yoriko. You’ve got a few screws loose. And I love it :P I’ve long given up on how their dying/rebirth/butterfly ascension? thing works now. Focus is now on delicious criminality.

    Youko looks as if she’s being held back by some barely-kept secret. It seems to me that she has every confidence in Kiba’s skills, but until we get the background on Kanako’s family/inheritance, we can’t truly learn why she considers him her enemy. Sexual tension ftw.

    Creepy, disturbing, beautiful and weird are all I can say about the “clock-work shoujo” scene. What’s interesting is Kanako’s feelings on her sister’s movies; she hates them. Perhaps there was more animosity between the two than we are lead to believe? And something’s nagging me; did Kanako refer to herself in the plural in the past, or is this the first occurence? If so, who is she speaking of when she says “we”?

    Sekiguchi’s character comes off as introspective and lacking in confidence, and perhaps even dangerously melancholic. He certainly seems like someone who could end up getting caught within his own fantasy world and begin slicing and dicing those arond him. He even says (though indirectly)that when he’s writing about such things as absurdity and insanity, he’s just writing what comes to his mind. C-C-C-Crazyyyyy. And I will never stop protesting that the original head in the box was Atsuko. NEVER!!!

    The fact that different body parts are being discarded leads me to believe (most likely as you do)that the white-gloved man (who I think is safe to assume is the serial killer, at least at this point in the narrative) is creating what he considers “a work of art” from assembling different pieces of women and attaching them to Kanako’s body. Move over Mamikasa, there’s a new Frankenstein on the block.

    The possiblity of Youko being forced out of acting adds yet another layer of deceit to this already intricate web of deception. Though, I don’t know why Kiba would suspect this of being Amemiya’s doing. THe guy’s completely unassuming! And simple-minded. A shadow… that’s disappeared…

    Have to mention the strangely deformed tank that Kiba saw as being the Kasha. There was something strangely hypnotising about this scene, and there’s every reason to believe that it represents more than Kiba’s inner thoughts (and trauma?)

    Introduction of amazing detectives and clairvoyance ftw.

  6. Posted November 7, 2008 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Has anyone see boxing Helena? Reminds me of that movie…

  7. Yubikiri
    Posted November 13, 2008 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    My head hurts and I still don’t understand a single thing, and I’m having a hard time keeping up with who’s done what because the story telling’s so fragmented ( or maybe I’m just really dumb).

    And I’m loving every moment of it. Loving it so much.

    Where can you get fansubs of this?

  8. Posted November 13, 2008 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    @Yubikiri: Check out lolipower.org; they will have something up.

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