Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror is a group of three different storylines, of which a couple are adaptations of classic japanese stories. As such, this review will naturally be longer than many I've done before as all three arcs deserve their own review, I believe. Also, not that I have not seen the original versions of the stories told in this series, so I have no prior knowledge of any material covered.
The first story told "Yotsuya Kaidan" is about a woman being betrayed, and effectively killed, by her husband and her seeking revenge as a ghost. The atmosphere is effective, but the actual attempts at "horror" just didn't come off as scary or chilling. Part of this is because the characters didn't have any room to breath and, as a result their motivations and actions just seemed random at times and another is because the horror felt very very forced.
It is possible to develop characters in a short arc, it has been done before in stuff like Aoi Bungaku's "No Longer Human" story arc so..when you don't care about hardly any of the characters, it's hard to care if/when they die or whatever. That said, the unfortunate Tamiya Oiwa was at least decently sympathetic and Tamiya Iemon was very very hate able...but there could have been more depth to the side characters as well.
The art style and music for Yotsuya Kaidan is very well done. The realistic and dark edge the art has really goes a long way to set the mood the story has, particularly the life like appearance the characters have is agreeable. The music is a great mood setter as well, and the voice acting is great. Particularly Hirata Hiroaki, the voice of Sanji from One Piece, did a wonderful job as the down right bastard Iemon.
The second story arc, Tenshu Monogatari, tells the story of forbidden love between a "Forgotten God" name Tomi-Hime and a human named Himekawa Zusho-no-Suke. The Forgotten Gods actually feed on humans and Tomi Hime's mother had actually met a sad fate for falling in love with a human as well, so it's at least an interesting subject in theory for a story.
The problem, once again, is that the characters just don't have any depth to them and the actual love story is handled very..sloppily and is just rushed in general. When the viewer doesn't connect with the characters in some way, it's just really hard to care about their plight or whether they can make it out alive. That said, one interesting thing the story does is how it handles the actual wife of Zusho-no-Suke and how she reacts to his falling in love with a "demon" as she calls Tomi-himi. Of course, it isn't handled very well in the end but it still is somewhat interesting.
Again, the music is very good and the voice work is top notch. Though there really wasn't much that stood out particularly well in the vocal department either, but the voice work did fit the characters and such. The art style is a bit different from the first arc, not quite as dark and, well, it doesn't hurt the tone of the story much at all. Though the actual animations seemed to take a hit, the art did fit the love story and all.
The final story arc, Bakeneko, is as advertised: easily the best part Ayakashi as a whole. Ironically, it is also apparently the only arc to be original to this anime. Part of this is probably because of the fact that the creators could come up with their own story and could do as they wished since they didn't have to strictly adapt a famous work and thus were much more creative in their efforts as a result.
And, oh boy, does it show. Telling the story of a family being haunted by a cat demon and a certain mysterious Medicine Seller's attempt to save said family and put the "Mononoke" to rest, Bakeneko is trippy, suspenseful, and oh so engaging. The story is effectively about how and why the demon is attacking the family, with the suspense being built throughout the first two episode and the last one does an excellent job at pure storytelling as you learn the circumstance of the "Mononoke."
But, definitely one of the high points of this arc is the main character Kusuriuri who is a guy that just oozes cool and is genuinely interesting. You don't really learn anything about him, unfortunately, you just sort of get glimpses of his personality and ability. It's enough, though, to make the viewer wonder just who the hell is he.
The other characters are actually interesting as well, with the families past getting a large amount of development. Ironically, this only serves to highlight the flaws of the other two story arcs as these characters are very well handled in only 3 episodes, which is ONE whole episode less than the others.
Visually, Bakeneko is a treat. The art is beautiful, very detailed and does a great job of highlighting the atmosphere of the overall story. The character designs, particularly Kusuriuri, are very stylistic and just incredibly pleasing to the eye and much of the story is actually told through the art which makes the best of the animation medium to help the story. Really, I'd find it difficult to imagine anyone saying this isn't one of the best looking anime out there. The animation is very well done as well, Toei obviously pulled out all the stops here.
As far as sound, the music is as excellent as ever and the voice work is great. Sakurai Takahiro does a great job as Kusuriuri, adding a great deal to his characters mystique and overall charm. The music in the last episode particularly should be commend as it was powerful stuff.
There is obviously some worth in the overall storyline for these tails as two of them are considered Japanese classics, but it feels as though something was lost during the adaptations. Feeling heavily abbreviated, it's just hard to really care about the happenings of Yotsuya Kaidan and Tenshu Monogatari. Though I will say that the formers take on what a story could possibly mean to a author and how a viewer/reader could influence a story is very interesting.
Bakeneko's tale of a families dark history is just very well done even though it is actually the shortest of the three arcs. The writing was top notch and just did a fantastic job at building suspense.
Art is top notch for the most part throughout Ayakashi, though it does take a bit of a hit animation wise during Tenshu Monogatari. Still, for the most part the characters designs and such fit the mood of each storyline and most definitely do not hamper any enjoyment what so ever.
Great sound across the board, particularly the OP and ED. Never would have thought rap would work so well for a historical piece, but "Heat Island"does. The ED song, "Memento of Spring", is excellent and is very nicely inserted into the end of each episode. The music used during the actual episodes are very nicely done, though not exactly memorable. Just good for atmosphere building.
Voice acting is great with Sakurai Takahiro and Hirata Hiroaki being particularly note worthy as Kusuriuri and Iemon respectively.
The characters' actions are largely questionable for the first two arcs, the actions they take seem sort of random and can sometimes seem to come out of thin air with no buildup. It feels as though what ever character development that may have been part of the original was cut out and, as a result, the characters and the plot just moves way to fast.
Bakeneko has pretty good development considering the story arc is so short, and Kusuriuri is a very interesting character who is great to watch.
I spent a good percentage of especially Tenshu Monogatari just randomly check how much time it had left to go each episode, that should say enough about enjoyment right there. I can tell there is a good story hidden inside, it just wasn't adapted very well that is painfully obvious. Pretty much the same for the first arc.
Bakeneko was, predictably, very entertaining. Interesting characters and plot, along with great art and music add so much to enjoyment.
Overall, Yotsuya Kaidan and Tenshu Monogatari are just plain weak and poorly adapted. This is very much worth watching for that final arc though, and I'd very much say watch this series in it's entirety. Who knows? The viewer may enjoy it much more than I did as a whole.