This is a story about two sisters: Shizuru, is a high school student who is able to see ghosts while her younger sister, Mizuki, is haunted by these apparitions. Frustrated by their abilities, their parents decided to entrust the sisters into the care of their grandparents who live in the countryside. As they adapt to life in the countryside, Shizuru and Mizuki begin to learn about the importance of coexisting nature with these apparitions.
I admit to being a fan of folklore and mythology and, because of this, I'm always rather pleased when a series manages to incorporate the essence of such things into its plot to good effect. Its unfortunate that many series that make the attempt manage to fail in one way or another (Dark Myth being a prime example).
Thankfully, Mokke doesn't fall into that category.
Mokke started life as a manga series by Kamakura Takatoshi, and was first serialized by the seinen manga magazine "Afternoon Season Zoukan" in 2000. The manga was suspended after it's 14th issue however, and wasn't continued until March
2003, when it was serialized in Kodansha's "Afternoon" magazine (which is apparently a separate seinen magazine).
The re-release proved to be far more popular, and spawned the anime adaptation which was directed by Nishida Masayoshi (Allison & Lillia, Eyeshield 21), and produced by MADHOUSE. The series began broadcasting in October 2007, however it was overshadowed by the major releases of the Autumn season that year, something which is truly a shame for this understated, and highly underrated story.
The series follows the lives of the two Hibara sisters, and their various encounters with beings and phenomena of supernatural origins. The elder sister, Shizuru, is a high school student with an ability to see and converse with ghosts and other beings. The younger sister, Mizuki, is in elementary school, and whilst she can hear and speak to ghosts and such, she can't see them, and is often possesed by them.
The story is essentially a supernatural slice-of-life tale which is told using an episodic format rather than having a "true" over-arching plot (very much like Mushishi, Natsume Yuujinchou, etc). This format allows one to jump in at any point with no real loss of enjoyment. Mokke incorporates many aspects of traditional Japanese myth and folklore that actually enhance the story to a great degree, especially given the differing perspectives that are on hand throughout the series (more on this in a bit).
The title is also very appropriate for a supernatural tale such as this, Mokke (もっけ), being the Hiragana representation of the Kanji mokke (勿怪), which basically means "unexpected".
The artwork for the series is extremely well done. The backgrounds roam freely between the picturesque rural setting, to the foreboding shadow infested nighttime forests. The detailed scenery adds a sense of depth and realism to the tale, especially when the characters are involved. In some parts the series may have a slightly surreal "Ghibli-esque" quality about the scenery, but given that much of this tale is set in the countryside that may only be natural.
The characters themselves are well designed. Shizuru and Mizuki have a fresh-faced, innocent look about them, a contrast to their grandparents, who are suitably careworn and elderly. The character design takes a realistic approach in terms of clothing and apparel, however the faces are often very simplistic to heighten the effect of emotions the characters are feeling. The downside to this though, is that there are occasions when the characters have a distinct "cartoon" feeling, which can throw people off by adding a comedic element where none is intended.
The sound is of a very high standard throughout the series. Kawasumi Ayako plays the role of Shizuru extremely well, whilst Mizuki Nana manages to capture the precociously playful persona of her namesake. The real star though, is Hori Katsunosuke, who provides a calm yet stern atmosphere to the grandfather.
The music used throughout the series is generally very good. The OP is a pleasant ballad which adopts a slightly more traditional style, however the ED was a bit too J-pop for my tastes. The background scores used throughout the series were very well selected, however there are moments that feel a little off (but that may just be me). That said, my favourite bits of the score are most definitely the creepy, music-box type pieces, as they are very much in keeping with certain stories told within the series.
The characters are one of the high points of the series. As is common with shows that use the epsiodic format, character development is often disjointed, or lacking entirely. Thankfully Mokke doesn't fall into this category either as both Shizuru and Mizuki are very real characters in terms of their thoughts, actions and perspectives. The most interesting part about the characters though, is how each views the various supernatural occurences in a different way. Shizuru is generally more able to handle some things on her own, and posseses a certain calming quality because of this. Mizuki, on the other hand, is all too aware of the fact that she is easily possesed, a fact which often impinges on her ability to do and say the things she wants.
The most defined character in the series though, is actually the grandfather of the two girls. He works as the local priest and is very familiar with things of a supernatural bent. Most importantly, he knows how to deal with such things, and he has taken on the role of protector for his two grandchildren. The great thing about his character is the fact that he is almost fully developed from the start of the series, and because of this he projects an air of assurance and capability that is sometimes lacking in older characters.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the series is the relationship between Shizuru, Mizuki and their grandfather. The various phenomena that occur can often be viewed from three very different perspectives, giving them a greater depth and impact. In addition to this, the grandfather may be viewed as callous and uncaring at times, however this is a gross misunderstanding. His role isn't simply that of a protector for the two girls, but also a teacher. He understands more than anyone that he has only so much time to teach the girls how to take care of themselves, and his attitude is highlighted well in the fourth episode (Waraiyami, or The Laughing Darkness). His stern nature is actually very important to the series as a whole, and the reason for his sometimes unforgiving method of teaching becomes very clear by the end of the series.
Mokke is an unusual and highly enjoyable series that will appeal to any fan of Mushishi, Ghost Hound, Natsume Yuujinchou, etc. The show has a certain innocent yet adventurous quality that is appealing to those who like folklore and mythology, and whilst it may lack some of the darker elements of Mushishi and Ghost Hound, this is only because it takes a very different approach to the supernatural.
On the whole, this is a very good series that I would recommend to any fan of slice-of-life shows. Fans of Aria would probably enjoy Mokke immensely, and any fan of supernatural shows will find this rewarding viewing. The detailed nature of the phenomena and how to deal with them sets it apart from most other supernatural series, making it more similar to Mushishi or Mononoke in certain respects. The characters are wonderfully realised though, and it is because of them that this show doesn't slide down the path of taking itself too seriously.
If theres one thing that anime can claim a rightfully deserved monopoly on, its the whimsical slice of life genre. No other media, that i know of, can produce so many shows with scenes of people eating breakfast and doing the laundry yet still manage to be interesting, (save perhaps some classic british series like Jeeves and Wooster), but it does it, and not only that but it often does it quite well, one only has to look at series' like Aria, Natsume Yujincho, Hibane renmei, to see this is true. But from here the trail follows that the best slice of life series'
are those that successfully mix slice of life with the supernatural, and so be easily relatable but still mysterious, interesting but not ridiculous, and most important of all, require the audience to think a little to discover the meaning behind each episode…
Mokke for me, took many of these principles to heart, but perhaps sliced off a little to much life and didn't leave enough room in its tummy for a developed plot or story, but more on that particular cake later…
The series tells the story of two young girls who both have the ability to interact with ghosts, Shizuru, a high school student is even able to see them, while her younger sister, Mizuki can't, but is easily possessed by them. In order to find some peace they both move to the country to live with their grandparents, who have had some experience dealing with these spirits. Together they must both learn that they cannot simply avoid or destroy their ghostly apparitions all their lives, but instead must lean to coexist, and maybe even learn something about themselves and life along the way.
In terms of actual plot theres not much beyond the original premise, and thats to be somewhat expected, even preferred in this genre. The story mostly involves episodic plots about one of the girls (rarely both unfortunately) interacting with these ghosts. With Shizuru usually dealing with the creatures affecting those close to her, having to deal with her helplessness and loneliness not being able to talk to or help her close friends. And Mizuki having to deal with the fact thats ghost see her body as a thief sees a stately home with its front door left open. All the while trying to hide her abilities from her close friends and enjoy her childhood as best she can. An upward struggle for both girls, but one that is characteristically rewarding...
Rather than having a continuing story, each episode rather contains a theme, and is very like a parable, with some problem emerging that has to be overcome by our heroines and by the end they are stronger and wiser for the experience. Its makes for pleasant viewing, with some of the lessons being quite interesting and can strike very close to home at times, but it does get a little repetitive, as one sometimes resorts to playing guess the message of the week, as it where. Also one needs a high whimsy tolerance to be able stomach some of these episodes, fans of the gritty, brutal ghost story will find no macabre comfort here, best search elsewhere.
This episodic nature may a defining feature of the slice of life genre, but perhaps Mokke took it a little to far, with the only plot point that has even the slightest effect on the story as a whole is when Mizuki joins a club, (in fact the biggest plot point of all happens in the last few minutes of the final episode!). Its true that the best slice of life series' usually are episodic, for example Natsume Yujincho, (which is probably the closest thing to this series) but Natsume excels where this series stumbles as it managed to include small story arcs and introduce characters that later go on to be an intricate part of the story. Mokke's biggest problem is that there is none of this, characters or plot points introduced in one episode cease to exist in later episodes, even if their problems or stories have not fully been fully resolved. Some may argue that this is how real life works, with not every problem wrapped up into a neat little bow by the end of day, and while this is true i would endeavour to remind them that this is a slice of life series, not a full course meal of life series. It simply make for generally better viewing when things that are set up come to interesting conclusion, my opinion but one i feel is very close to the truth.
With all that said, the real pillars of the series are the characters, with each one of the three mains distinct and interesting. Mizuki the younger sister is energetic and playful, a product of her youth, this can give the impression that she if full of confidence and strong, but closer inspection reveals that quite the opposite is true. Constantly be possessed by spirits has led her to believe that she is weak and tends to laugh away her problems rather that face them, however as the series progresses she does try to rectify this problem, (not always with the intended consequences) and with the help of her sister, learn to find the balance between fighting and coexisting with these spirits. She is very much the heart of the series, providing much of the light hearted comedy and charm that characterises the series.
Shizuru the elder sister, is really quite beautiful, not in some stupid moe sense, but rather she has a very subtle charm to her, the simple art hides the depth-fulness of her character, intelligent, caring, kind, but lonely from never being able to talk to her friends about her abilities. I would insert a vain attempt to compare her to some flower always out of reach, but truthfully, I would rather take a stroll in front of a firing squad… Anyway, while not an amazing character, she does stand out as interesting in a medium, that all to often likes to portray women as being about as intelligent and interesting, as a pile of bricks.
However the star of the show for me at least was the grandfather, who acts as both their guardian and laissez-faire teacher. Rather than rushing in to save the girls anytime they get involved in the other world he prefers to stay back and let the girls fight their own battles. This may make him sound like a cold man but nothing could be further from the truth, as with many things in this series his actions are both subtle and meaningful. He knows all to well that he will not be around forever, and most importantly, he has learnt that one cannot live ones life in perpetual war with nature, but must rather find a way to coexist with what one can, avoid what one cannot and fight only those that seek to destroy us. Saying very little and always keeping his thoughts and emotions to himself, he seems to know exactly how things will play out, but at the end of the day its clear that he cares very deeply for his family, and would never let any harm come to them, nor would he unnecessarily hurt the ghosts and spirits that he has come to understand and respect.
However the side characters are a little different, this ties in with what I was saying earlier about the little to episodic nature of the series, character such as Shizuru and Mizuki's friends, while somewhat prominent, as not given a great amount of that far to overused term "character development". This term has become the go to weapon of wanna-be critics, and i myself have been guilty of this in the past, but i digress. The point is that some of these side characters have interesting features and stories surrounding them, and while some are given quite a good bit of character and even arcs, there are others who are simply forgotten or just outright ignored. Such as the grandmother, who despite being in an incredibly interesting position, married to a man who exercises spirits for a living, and having two granddaughters who can interact with them, very little is ever revealed about her, or if she also has these abilities. All in all these are small complaints but still substantial enough to distract from the story, which is a real pity.
Music wise everything was quite fitting, the opening i found to be quite enjoyable, if a tad dramatic for such a slow paced series. Everything else, like much of Mokke is subdued and pleasant, matching the pacing and the quiet country setting. I am unfortunately not a man of music and so can not speak knowledgeably on the subject, but i do know slice of lifes's and their music quite well, and can say that this is defiantly a very nice addition, while no-where near as memorable as something like Aria, it was instead, (like the whole series) "Quite pleasant".
Overall, Mokke was a fun series that always made for a relaxing and enjoyable watch, containing both interesting and charming main characters. Alas however it lacks enough of a plot to get you really invested, since you are aware that everything will be back to normal by the next episode, and the side characters are very much simply glossed over. Which is a real shame because i thoroughly enjoyed watching this series and would like to have seen more from it, but oh well, C'est la vie. Also a high level of whimsical tolerance is a must if one intends to watch it, however if one is a fan of such classic's as Natsume Yujincho or Aria and wishes to watch something with a similar "vibe" then Mokke may be the perfect dish, just don't expect to be full when its over and you move on to coffee and cigars…
The plot of this story may seem simple at first, but it's development is actually pretty interesting. Usually each episode focueses in one of the sisters (Chizuru or Mizuki) and how the deal with a supernatural creature they encounter (or supernatural event). The story was more funny and childish when Mizuki was the protagonist of the episode and more dramatic and serious when the protagonist was Chizuru. Personally, I found Chizuru's episodes more deep because they transmited her feelings of anxiousness, confusing and most importantly loneliness because of being able to see ghosts. Moreover the story is education as it shows elements about Japanese Literature
(the supernatural events). Finally, the bond between the two sisters is shown continously during the show, how they help each other and how they compliment each other. It might be a supernatural anime but the feelings and thoughts in it are realistic and touching.
The character's design was simple, yet original in my point of view. The background and attire clearly showed how Japanese people in villages live like.
The sound reminded me a bit of traditional Japanese music, it was deep especially at the end of the episodes when they playes the instrumental version of the opening. Though it is kind of susbjective whether one finds it likeable or not.
The two sisters are clearly the opposite of each other, but as I said before they compliment each other exactly due to that reason. Chizuru is kind of pesimistic, quiet and slighly introverted while Mizuki is energetic, extroverted and impulsive. The rest of the characters don't play an important role in the story but in some of the episodes which are focused on them we can see what kind of people they are. It's actually not the typical anime with some school girls making jokes and having fun.
I enjoyed this anime because I found it interesting, I wanted to see what creature would appear in the next episode, if it would be good or evil and how the sisters would deal with it. I believe this series are worth watching if someone is interested in Japanese literature or supernatural events.
Fans of the Mokke manga will want to steer well clear of this show. The anime adaptation is a horrible butchering, which seemingly retains only the characters and setting, and completely rewrites the story into sappy and ham-handed melodrama. Any trace of the subtlety and heart of the manga has been obliterated in one fell swoop.
Perhaps if you have never read the manga, you may find some enjoyment here, but as I am a fan of the manga, I can never see this as anything but a pale shadow of the original.