Rambling and other animals. But mostly rambling.

It is dark now, and something else about the mystery genre | Mouryou no Hako 02

No doubt all of you have been out at night at some point in your lives, in proper darkness, I mean. Proper darkness is rare in urban areas because of the ubiquity of electronic lighting, but in less metropolitan areas, or when the moon is new, you can catch some heavy dark. Its rather difficult to describe, and the best I can do is point you at some good representations and bad representations of it in visual media. Dark Souls does it well, Angel’s Egg does it well, M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane does it badly.


One of the first of many things that are immediately noticeable in the second episode of Mouryou no Hako is that the moon and its light is nowhere to be seen, and the environments are all shrouded in a thick, heavy blanket of dark. Now that anime is getting less and less hand-drawn, representations of darkness are becoming, oddly enough, less and less dark. This is both baffling and understandable. Understandable because better technology and higher resolutions allow for increased amounts of detail in drawing, while darkness is anathema to visual detail and depends on a reduction of visual detail, and baffling because you’d expect that better particle effects and shading would mean that animators are freed to draw better ways of making darkness dark. I personally find the assumptions of the first reasoning more attuned to my sense of visual appropriateness. Hand-drawn animation, with its rougher, ‘solider’ outlining and shading has produced things like NGE’s nighttime Tokyo-III and all of Angel’s Egg. Modern animation is for whatever reason less inclined to applying solid, earthy blacks, and favours the ufotable method instead. Neon lights, and the like.
Mouryou no Hako seems to share my opinion of method. I, for example, think that it is better to paint the windows a solid black instead of drawing faded reflections if you want to give the impression of it being really late.


When the night in episode 2 is contrasted with the incredibly bright moonlight of the last episode, it becomes apparent, visually, that a tone-shift is imminent. We’re heading into darker, less certain territory now. There is stuff lurking in the bushes, and beyond the lamplight, and even a few metres away, but you can’t see it until it chooses to step out. This is reinforced by the fact that we are now in the phase of the mystery storyline when things start to step out of the darkness.
Lets see if I can put this in a less indirect way. All mystery is about obfuscation, the withholding of information, or detail, from the reader, but it is important to let the viewer know that information is being withheld. Classically, mystery novels do not let the viewer know how much information is being withheld, resulting in the state of uncertainty you feel when trying to outmanoeuvre an Agatha Christie novel but do not know how much room you have to theorize.

For my part, I think Yoriko pushed Kanako, and that the cycle or reincarnations that is implied in the ED so far is definitely real, but not in the conventional sense of people being reborn with the same memories and bodies and personality.

So, according to this architecture, a mystery novel operates in phases. In the first, it lets you know the facts of the case. These are certainties that can be understood in their entirety, and it is regarded as bad form to scrap these in the final explanation, or have these be red herrings. In the next phase, events happen, but are confusing, or do not feel familiar, or lack context, or are overtly contradictory. The point of this phase is to get the viewer thinking; it is the thought-provoking part of the mystery that begs for resolution. This is the darkness of the mystery genre, the stage in which Mouryou no Hako now is. The later phases involve prodding and probing this darkness, and ultimately culminate in the mystery’s complete resolution. This does not, mind you, have to be a scientific explanation, though it traditionally is in pure mystery.

The tonal shift also shows in other places. Yoriko, in particular, has so far been very certain. Her life was composed largely of predictable certainties: Kanako is perfection, her mother is imperfect and detestable, the moonlight is beautiful, and so on. Doubt does not cross her on these matters, and the rest she cares of not. This certainty is fist chipped at when she sees the pimple on Kanako’s neck, so we’re no doubt in character progression territory here, but in contrast with the depth in which the first episode explored Yoriko’s outlook, this episode sees her become incredibly enigmatic, in a way that threatens to invalidate or contradict the development we have seen so far. Whether it does, or if it doing so is relevant somehow, is yet to be seen, but the fact remains that while we were ‘inside’ Yoriko so far, in this episode we are decidedly not.
…pun not intended.


We’ve stepped out, then, into a world that is well connected and very alien, for anime viewers at least – followers of Natsuhiko Kyogoku’s Kyougokudo series will immediately see this as familiarly unfamiliar territory at most. I haven’t read any of the novels, but I get the persistent feeling that this is a Japanese occult Hercule Poirot novel, and this is the phase in which the characters we know about, the Watsons and the Hastings, are introduced proper, and their circumstances detailed. From my perspective at least, there is a persistent sense of everybody knowing everybody else. A close-knitness about this story that seems to set the scale of this as small to medium, but very very tangled, and quite context-heavy. Its essentially in medias res, though there is no clear delineation of when this confusion, or sense of there being something hiding in plain sight, but being obscured by the darkness, is to end, the way you would find in a conventional fantasy use of in medias res.
The methods of establishing this feeling are the same as in any fantasy or scifi in medias res, though. We have people act familiar and have events happen in a way that deviates from tropes enough to keep the viewer off balance. The key here, once again, is obfuscating not just events, but also how much is obfuscated. The effect is diminished if you let viewers know that a lot exists and is hidden a la Kaminai, or if you let them know that the case is simple, a la most of Hyouka.
Which reminds me, the lighthearted moments in this show are really nice. The colour scheme there is full of oranges, which is fittingly warm.

That’s about it on the style front. As for speculation, well…

Kanako is part of a large, connected family, though I’m utterly blank on the kind of infighting going on. Masuoka(dude in suit) uses the word ‘kanchigaishiteiru’, which I believe means ‘misunderstanding’ more than it does ‘being mistaken’, so there is an element of there being two or more equally suspicious parties at play, or some easily alleviated misunderstanding that is held in place by suspicion and the like on Youko’s part. A completely blind guess on my part is that there is some inheritance stuff going on with Kanako. Youko is out of favour because of her elopement, and there’s an ailing grandfather somewhere who favours Kanako, and if Kanako dies before him/her, the wealth goes to someone farther away from the tree. I’ve no confidence in this, though, because it doesn’t account for the supernatural element at play.

I’ve no idea what’s up with the government facility, though.


One response

  1. Lazy

    The dark, or more specifically the shadow, is a major part of Mouryou no hako and its setting. An early 1950’s Japan where tokyo detectives and countryside exorcists have to coexist in the sepia toned scenery to solve mysteries at the edge of the supernatual.

    Having read the previous opus of the Kyougokudo series wouldn’t really help you to shake off this in medias res feeling, at most you’d be able to put a name on the faces of the 4 gentlemen heavily featured in the OP. Having this feeling disappear progressively is part of the joy of the mystery genre.

    Just like last time your thoughts and speculations are a pleasure to read. It’s also giving me a perfect opportunity to rewatch the series.

    June 18, 2014 at 10:04 pm

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