Review for Requiem From The Darkness: Vol.2 - Human Atrocity (UK)
The first volume of Requiem From The Darkness wasn't an immediate hit with me. It may have had the atmospheric visuals, the descent into humanity's darker natures, and it certainly managed something most animations find distinctly difficult, to be spooky and chilling. But if it had one failing, it was in the stories, which were formulaic and repetitive. Four episodes of evil humans getting their comeuppances courtesy of a trio of supernatural beings, chronicled by a naïve storyteller didn't exactly grab me by the throat. A thirteen episode series is a little short for that kind of rinse and repeat, but I am hoping that volume 2 will throw a little something fresh into the mix.
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 next three episodes of Requiem From The Darkness are presented here on this MVM disc.
5. Salty Choji - Shio no Choji
Wandering through a foggy landscape isn't the best way to gather stories for Momosuke, a fact that he makes loud and clear to the others. They're not listening; they've gone on ahead and entered a tavern, which suddenly vanishes leaving Momosuke alone. The serving girls look a little familiar, and it's no surprise that they have a favour to ask Mataichi and the others. Momosuke has made his way to a nobleman's house, starving and having lost his memory. The lord's retainer helps him back to health, but does so by feeding Momosuke horsemeat. There's a painting of a horse in the house, an image that vanishes every night, a ghostly horse racing through the corridors, and whoever has eaten horsemeat suffers through the night for it. It points to a dark secret held by the lord of the house, a man who is never seen in public.
6. Shibaemon the Racoon Dog - Shibaemon Tanuki
Is life imitating art? There are stories of a tanuki, a trickster animal that once assumed human form, and forgot how to change back. There's also stories of a nobleman's illegitimate son, who grew up doubling for a sickly relative, but who had to go on the run when his services were no longer required. Both stories seem to have combined into one at the Shibaemon puppeteer troupe, who among them have a member with a chequered past, and who has to be confined at night for the safety of others, lest he turn into a beast and attack them. Momosuke has some sympathy for his plight, but Mataichi warns him to stay away.
7. Katabira Crossroads - Katabira ga Tsuji
There was an empress who believed that rather than have a funeral, her subjects should know what would happen to her body following her death, so it would make the process of loss easier to bear. The wind came and blew her shroud off, and it wound up at the Katabira crossroads. Ever since, the Katabira crossroads has been where the corpses of women are found in various stages of decomposition. Seven women have been found so far. Some bodies went missing after death, some women were taken and murdered. Then the next corpse that turns up… is Ogin's.
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 a 4 minute slideshow line art gallery, an art setting gallery with 9 images that you have to click through, and trailers for Tenjho Tenge and Gungrave.
I honestly can't tell you all that much about Requiem From The Darkness: Volume 2. I did watch it, and some of what I watched did register, but it's a show that just fails to impress. It's mood music anime, the sort of show that is fine playing in the background, the sort of show to glance up at once in a while, as you do something more important and meaningful. But when I tried to concentrate in 20 minute chunks, give it my full attention and rigorous scrutiny, I had a hard time keeping my eyes open, and while I'm aware that I did watch the beginning, the end, and all that lay in between, as the end credits rolled, I was hard pressed to remember just what had happened. Requiem From The Darkness is just boring.
Once again, it is the narrative content that drags the whole thing down, despite some excellent character designs, and moody and atmospheric, if limited animation. It's a show that is utterly style over substance, but it usually helps if the substance that remains is still engaging. What we have here slavishly follows the formula established by the first four episodes, a villain requiring retribution, the trio of Mataichi, Ogin, and Nagamimi coming up with a suitable punishment, and Momosuke the chronicler along for the ride. Each time it's 'tell the back story, show the bad guy, punish him, move on'.
It wouldn't have hurt if there was some decent character development, but all the villains seem to blur into one, the three supernatural protagonists never really expand further than their mission statements, and it's only Momosuke who gets small, incremental growth in his character. Here he's ready to craft a suitable demise for a villain that he had previously been sympathetic with, and who had in some way betrayed him. From his initial queasiness about the trio bringing about vengeance upon the deserving, he's slowly growing to understand its necessity, and even wants to be involved.
But it isn't really enough to jolt me out of my downward spiral into the land of Nod. I paid a full, shiny pound for this DVD in a clearance sale. I reckon just one pound for a cure for insomnia is damned good value. I doubt that I'll have any other use for this disc. But like the avid collector that I am, I did wind up buying all four volumes in one go. Just two more left then. I better set my alarm clock.