I love ghost stories. Or rather GOOD ghost stories that really are scary and give me the creeps. Out of all the existing horror genres, ghosts have always been the ones that I find most scary... more so than vampires, werewolves, etc. due to their plain unintangible nature and sense of invisible mystery. Therefore having come across the 13-episode anime series Kousetsu Hyaku Monogatari (Requiem from the Darkness) from 2003, I figured it was right down my alley. Well, my expectations were somewhat let down, but at the same time I wasn't disappointed either. Based on the novels of Natsuhiko Kyogoku, the series revolves around a writer named Momosuke, living somewhere in the distant past of Japan, who one day decides to go out across the country to collect ghost stories with the hopes of publishing a collection of 100 such stories. On one of his travels during a stormy night he chances to find himself taking refuge in an old inn along with another traveller he meets just outside of it. Inside the inn he meets another three people: the supposed inn keeper, a creepy monk, and a stunningly gorgeous woman in a very revealing kimono. It isn't long before the other stranger apparently starts to get more and more antsy about the inn and the yarn told of a particular evil spirit who seems to reside in the building, ringing a few too many bells for the traveller's comfort. Before Momosuke even notices he is broiled inside a very live ghost story of his own as the other stranger starts to be hounded by the spirits of his past wrongs... literally. His ordeal ends soon after in his terror-filled demise, leaving Momosuke as the witness of a brutal supernatural "righting of wrongs" as the other three prove to be some kind of avenging spirits out to punish murderers and other sinners who have strayed from the correct path. After a couple of more random encounters with the trio, Momosuke quickly befriends them - or at least to the extent that he can - and starts trailing after them in the hopes of new stories to add to his collection, and even helps them out on occasion.
Requiem from the Darkness aka. 100 Stories is a highly stylish and, in a way, peculiar anime series that doesn't really even look all too much like what people generally would associate with Japanese animation. Yet, it still withholds a lot of aspects that are very authentically Japanese to make it just recognisable enough to not be mistaken completely for something else. Generally a series of standalone tales, there is no real continuous plot, though a very subtle plot line does run underneath it all that finally ties everything more or less together during the final couple of episodes - even if you need to keep a close eye out for it. The most important of these concerns the entity that is - more of less - the being chiefly in charge of keeping an eye on the three main spirits (or demons), though what its exact agenda is is left somewhat unclear even at the end of the series itself. But this doesn't really affect a lot of the enjoyability level of the series on the whole and its assortment of individual stories contained therein, so this little vagueness isn't something that bothers too much. However, here it is where we come into why the series wasn't exactly what I had hoped (or expected) it would be as mentioned above. For as much as the series focuses on various supernatural and ghostly events, the series itself isn't really downright "scary". There are creepy moments here and there for sure, but a lot of the stories actually aren't really all too frightening or unnerving. There is a lot of focus on ancient Japanese yookais (spirits), and a spattering of other traditional monsters like tanukis, fox spirits, willow women and such, but their place is so much in the tradition of Japan where yookais and the like are not properly "ghostly" but parts of everyday life. It is normal in Japanese culture to view these creatures as just another aspect of the country and in tradition they are as real as human beings are.
As such, the traditionalism and their almost tangible nature tends to, while not entirely remove them from the realms of mystery, make them inhabit a world a lot closer to the everyday. Sure a lot of them may not be all too pleasant, but they lack the aura of what really makes ghosts scary in their way. To compound this matter there's also a lot of focus on the actual humans and their private torments, evilness, and sanity. In fact, this series deals a lot less with the actual "ghost" aspects as they do with the psychology and human nature once stepping away from the path of righteousness, and it is this that also tends to positively compensate a lot of the actual scares in the series. As much as the main trio of avengers use any manner of scare tactics to bring their victims to face their horrors of their own crimes, the series is filled with several stories on the condition of humanity and their inherent brutality. People who will kill their own children for the slightest of reasons, or loose their minds upon the trauma of having committed a murder they refuse to believe in, or taking pleasure in killing while hiding this fact in any twisted reasoning they can in order to justify their ways, it is the governing subjects of the weaknesses of humans and how anybody can commit great atrocities without having to pay for them, only to break down upon having to face their deeds, that is at the heart of the series. The paranormal means to this end are really just the tools in bringing the perpetrators to acknowledge their crimes and then having them atone these transgressions usually with their lives (though there are exceptions).
As the main observer of these retributions, Momosuke is often the outside element watching in. He is naïve, clumsy and often tends to wrap himself into more trouble than he can handle even to the point of interfering with these correcting of wrongs that don't always compute within his own sense of moral code. Still, regardless of his at times righteous and bungling attitude, there are instances where Momosuke finds himself also condoning these kinds of tactics through his own hands - a realisation he will come to face when put on the spot later on. The trio of avengers on the other hand clearly know where they stand and don't have qualms working in these ways so as to bring these wrongdoers to atone their straying from the path that has darkened their souls. As the de facto leader is the monk Mataichi, a small and philosophical creature wrapped in fluttering bandages, often masquerading as a seller of talismans. He is generally the one calling the shots and in the final judgement is responsible for blessing their victims souls so they can find peace with his general mantra and a flick of a painted talisman. For the more physical acts of deceiving is Nagamimi, a shape shifter, who can easily masquerade anybody, sometimes with the objective of working undercover or pretending to be somebody from the victim's past - let that person be alive or dead. Being the largest of the three, he also does most of any possible feats requiring actual physical strength and is skilled in controlling beasts of nature. Rounding out the group is Ogin, a puppeteer, who receives the most actual background of her past life than the other two. She is also the more independent of the group, often going on her own to find victims, and even shows some compassion to a few people along the way, such as her "sister" (it's not exactly clear whether "onee-chan" in this instance really means an actual sister, or somebody alike a sister) and even Momosuke at times. Her main talents are also linked in deception, but they're more varied than in Nagamimi's case where she can use her puppet to masquerade as someone living, where she herself can appear as a physical body or not, appear dead or alive, and can even manipulate memories to an extent.
With this main cast we already have a fairly interesting and unique set of people, though the concepts of the clumsy main hero and a very sexy female character aren't anything you haven't seen in anime before, bringing in some level of familiarity to the proceedings. But what is definitely one of the series most unique aspects is the actual art style. The style borders between caricature, general Japanese anime stylistics, and surrealism that makes for a very interesting combination. There is a lot of emphasis on blacks and shadows in particular that give a certain "graphic novel" feeling throughout, while there are barely any clean lines anywhere. All the houses are rickety affairs with twisted and mangled doorways, stairs, and windows, while the surrounding landscapes are almost directly from some otherworldly painting by Francisco Goya had he ever drawn comic books. Even the nameless background characters are a strange mix of human and mutant, with some having barely any facial features at all or sport strangely pointy ears. Momosuke's editor is a very small toad that smokes a long opium pipe, and these stylistics range right up to the avenging demons themselves, too (Ogin for instance is almost indecently sexy and sensual with her low cut kimono that amply showcases her large breasts and fine, shapely legs, while Nagamimi seems like a huge pirate type straight out of Hellraiser). And we even get "300" like silhouettes of people being cut in half during extreme moments of bloody violence, while the mix between traditional cell animation with CGI effects often mix together very well within this mishmash environment of surreal oddness - albeit at times the computer graphics can be a little clumsy and poorly executed, looking like cheap video game material.
So in the final analysis, Requiem from the Darkness is an intriguingly different anime series that, while it lacks genuine frights, is hugely stylish with a lot of psychologically interesting character studies wrangled through supernatural twists and surrealist traditionalism of Japan's past and beliefs. While it may not be as strong in maintaining a solid, over-arching plot, there is usually a lot to like in the individual episodic stories as well as offers some basic information about the rich yookai traditions of Japan that a lot of these stories embody. Therefore it may be most beneficial to see all episodes within a short span of time of each other so it is easier to spot these subtleties in the more important plot centric aspects, while it also does work in smaller bite sized chunks one episode at a time. The voice acting is pretty strong and solid throughout with Toshihiko Seki a suitably clumsy, flustered, and apologetic Momosuke, Ryusei Nakao a crafty enough Mataichi, Norio Wakamoto an appropriately gruff Nagamimi, and Sanae Kobayashi a very sensual and teasingly suggestive Ogin, thus bringing in no real disappointments at any time from any of the cast (which also goes for the secondary cast in equal measure). The opening song is also an odd piece of pseudo-jazz called "Flame" with its almost nonsensical lyrics, while the ending song, "The Moment of Love", is a more full-blown jazz standard, both sung by Keiko Lee in English. With only 13 half-hour episodes, Requiem from the Darkness isn't inordinately long, and makes for an entertaining bit of fun to indulge in. Though I would have liked to see more actual scares (though this may just be a case of personal perspective on what is scary and what is not), the series is definitely worth seeing for any fan of anime or stories with some supernatural and psychological elements mixed together in a very stylish package. Well worth the purchase.
© berlioz, 2010