Review for Requiem From The Darkness: Vol.1 - Turmoil Of The Flesh (UK)
It's hard sometimes, weighing your natural predilections and preferences against the heft of a good bargain. The horror genre isn't one that I choose to frequent, I find the real world far scarier, so there is a consequent dearth of horror DVDs on my shelves, and those usually the ones that I am required to review. It's even more apparent in my anime collection, as trying to scare me with moving photographic images is hard enough, trying to do it with animated bits of paint and celluloid is an order of magnitude harder. I just don't think primary colours and bold lines go well with spooky and creepy, and it's a very rare anime that actually manages to put the chills up me. But when it's going at a pound a DVD in a sale, I begin to think that a horror anthology anime series may just be the ticket. My OCD being what it is, here I am, reviewing the first volume of Requiem From The Darkness, subtitled Turmoil Of The Flesh, and unlike most of the horror movies coming out of Hollywood nowadays, this horror anime is actually rated 18.
Momosuke is an aspiring writer at the end of the Edo period in Japan. He's made a living writing children's riddles, but he would much rather be remembered for more weighty work. It's why he's currently wandering the country, looking for material to contribute to his 100 Stories. But that journey takes him unexpected directions when he runs into three odd characters, Mataichi the Trickster, Ogin the Puppeteer and Nagamimi the Bird Caller. These three people wander the land, seeking out the darker, sinful sides of human nature, devising suitable punishment for the sinners. It's a twisted world of dark spirits and vengeful demons, and Momosuke is caught up right in the middle.
The first four episodes of Requiem From The Darkness are presented here on this MVM disc.
1. Azuki Bean Washer - Azuki Arai
Rain isn't good for ink, as Momosuke finds out when he's caught in a storm. It isn't a prestigious start to his career as a chronicler of stories, one that looks to be a short one when he almost falls off a cliff. A passing stranger rescues him, and advises him to go back the way he came, lest he wanders into a nightmare. But seeing the steep hill behind him, Momosuke opts instead to follow the stranger to a dilapidated shop in the middle of nowhere, where he finds shelter from the storm along with some other travellers. There's a story behind the shop's sorry state, as the shopkeeper relates to his soaked customers, Ogin, Mataichi, Momosuke, and a monk named Enkai. Ever since an employee with a savant talent to count beans was murdered, an Azuki Arai spirit has haunted the shop. But it seems that Enkai already knows this story, in fact he knows far too much about this shop.
2. Willow Woman - Yanagi Onna
The Willow Inn has quite the reputation, and not a good one. Its owner Kichibe has run the place for many years, and for many years his relatives have pressured him to marry and produce an heir, so that the inn stays with the family. But the legend goes that the spirit of the willow tree that gives the inn its name is in love with Kichibe, and it's a jealous spirit. Four times Kichibe has married, four times he has become a father, and four times has his wife and child been murdered in mysterious circumstances near the willow tree. Now he's getting married a fifth time, but this time he's marrying Ogin's sister. When Momosuke goes to investigate, and if possible stop the wedding, he's surprised to see some familiar faces.
3. Enchanted White Fox - Hakuzousu
So why is Momosuke in the process of drowning? It seemed like a good idea at the time. Strange things keep happening around Mataichi, Ogin and Nagamimi, and following them around the country ought to yield plenty of material for his book. But learning exactly what they do, exacting terminal vengeance for perceived sins, didn't seem all that humane, especially given their methods. So it was that when they targeted a hunter named Yasaku, whose blood thirst had turned from foxes to people, that Momosuke tried to show him some mercy and warn him of the trio in advance. After all, how could a man who is unaware of his sin be judged? What Momosuke didn't know was that he was the one being judged.
4. Dancing Head - Mai Kubi
Momosuke is still following the trio around looking for inspiration, but he's bored quite frankly, nothing seems to be happening. That's until a woman runs head first into him, pursued by an aged and determined samurai. Mataichi and the others seeing this meeting remark on how Momosuke happens to attract the worst kind of luck. For the woman Oyoshi doesn't have the best life, and that's even without the overbearing presence of the samurai. The only way she and her sister Otama can get by in her village is because she is concubine to the head fisherman. But now that she's taken a shine to Momosuke, his life is about to get a load more complicated.
Requiem From The Darkness gets a 4:3 regular transfer. It's a standards conversion as usual, but it's a striking animation style that doesn't particularly suffer as a result. Requiem is full of shadows and darkness, uses a limited dark pastel palette, bold lines and strong contrasts to create and build on a very effective spooky atmosphere. It's a gothic looking anime style, eschewing the traditional clean and slender lines for something more grotesque and warped. It's a style that would be at home in a Tim Burton movie, although it may just be too creepy even for him. It's made all the more unsettling with a veritable menagerie of character designs, with traditional looking characters like Momosuke and Ogin, interacting with escapees from a Judge Dredd comic. Mataichi and Nagamimi are far from what you would consider normal anime character design, and the same ethos applies across the board.
You have a choice between DD 2.0 English and Japanese, with optional subtitles and a signs only track. The show gets a couple of easy-listening jazz style theme songs that seem at odds with the tone of the show but wind up working surprisingly well with the moody and atmospheric imagery. I went with the original language track as usual and was happy enough with that, but what I sampled of the English dub was quite pleasant to listen too, well acted and with the cast suiting their characters. The sound isn't all that expressive, but it's distinctive enough, and puts across the creepy and unsettling aspects of the animation well.
The disc gets the usual animated menus and jacket picture, and you can enjoy the textless credits, a 4-minute slideshow line art gallery, an art setting gallery with 10 images that you have to click through, and trailers for Samurai 7 and Samurai Champloo.
Requiem From The Darkness almost has it all. It's got the dark, moody visuals; it has the quirky character designs, the creepy feel to the animation, and the sense that all is not quite right in this particular world. It has the cool theme tunes, it has the unnerving soundtrack, and just enough sound design to keep you on edge when you need to be, and lull you into a false sense of security when you least expect it. It also has no qualms about pushing the boundaries of taste, in its exploration of the darkest, most warped aspects of the human psyche. Three of the episodes in this set feature among their plot points, infanticide, we go into the minds of serial killers, there's incest, gender bending, people being stabbed in their eyeballs… it's not for the faint-hearted. What we don't have are interesting stories, and we also lack engaging characters.
It's very clear from the off that the show follows a fairly rigid routine, that of a particularly depraved killer getting his or her comeuppance at the hands of the supernatural trio of Mataichi, Ogin and Nagamimi, with Momosuke around as an observer, and occasionally interfering as well. First the crime of the guilty party will be explored, either through flashback, or through some intricate trickery on the part of the trio, then they will come up with some suitably grisly, imaginative demise for them, a moment to reflect on the dark depravity that lies at the heart of man, and then the end credits will roll, all for the cycle to begin again in the next episode. The only real variation comes in the criminals and the form of their crimes. There's also that tendency for Momosuke to get involved that adds a little variety to the stories. He tries to find the good side of Yasaku in the third episode, believing him to be more a victim of circumstance than architect of his own villainy, and of course being proved wrong. Then when he meets Oyoshi in the final episode, there's something of a spark between them, made all the more tragic by how Oyoshi's story turns out. Her circumstances are such that the trio's punishment is more deliverance than purgatory for her.
I guess there is some variety in the stories after all, but that's buried beneath the non-existent character development. What we get are little more than clichés and ciphers. Momosuke is an eager young space cadet of a would-be writer, his voice is barely broken, and he bumbles and whines his way from one situation to the next. Mataichi is sly and tricky, Ogin is a little slutty and wanton, and Nagamimi is just big and imposing, and there's very little to these characters beyond that. Naturally there's no hook in the guest characters from episode to episode, they are either victims, or the most reprehensible examples of humanity that you can imagine, so you have to hope for something more from the regular cast to make things interesting. In these four episodes though, they rarely go beyond their one-line descriptions. Unless some reason to be interested in these characters becomes clear in subsequent episodes, then Requiem From The Darkness could be one of those series that is quickly forgotten.
Momosuke is travelling with this trio of spiritual avengers hoping to gather material for his 100 Stories. If these are the tales that he will write, then I don't think he will have a best seller on his hands. Maybe volume 2 will spice things up a tad.