Recently worn out from the recent sword slashing action of Chrome Shelled Regios, to the high-sea adventures of One Piece, I thought it was time for a change of pace. Having skipped over Mokke for a long time, I finally bit the bullet and settled down to my least favourite genre - a slice of life anime. It didn’t take long to realise the delicate development and supernatural focus of the show made for some excellent viewing, giving a great excuse to pass time whilst learning more about Japanese folk lore.
Set around the lives of two innocent sisters, Mokke explores the influences mischievous spirits have on the lives of Mizuki, a girl easily possessed, and Shizuru, whose natural sixth sense can see those from “the other side”. Essentially episodic, many viewers may be put off with a lack of underlying storyline and the slow pacing of the show. Each 24 minute slot features a different spirit that somehow affects the lives of the girls, whilst explaining in depth the myths and beliefs behind the trouble-making entities – many of which you have probably met in other anime series. Teru Teru Bozu rings a bell?
Although the supernatural element takes the spotlight, there is also a good amount of the series dedicated to Mizuki and the struggle to come to terms with both her unfortunate gift and the world at large. Watching her otherwise typical childhood spent flying kites and exploring suddenly spoilt due to possession by a cheeky apparition gives the viewer a sense of empathy. Her school life can be difficult enough without the added awkwardness of being unable to cross a bridge due to a spiritual hotspot, or the responsibility of protecting a Kesran Paseran. The wide variation of myths and the young girls’ reaction to them saves the overall premise from becoming boring by the 24th episode. The depth in which each occurrence is explained fascinates, but is explained in the language of a child yet the wisdom of a grandparent, making this show accessible to a wide age range.
The only reason I feel I couldn’t score the story higher is due to the wasted potential that came neatly packaged in Shizuru. Mokke is essentially centred on Mizuki, but her elder-sister’s ability to both see and communicate with the mystical beings is almost entirely shunned. The small handful of episodes exploring her powers are vastly enjoyable, and I would like to see more of her grandfather teaching her in “the old ways”.
Standard cartoonish characters and scenery is occasionally brought to life with subtle CG that sparkles in the surroundings. Unfortunately, these stunning moments are not frequent enough to make the animation feel particularly special. The characters feel pretty standard in some beautifully drawn settings, with large eyes blinking on heads that may be a little too large for the bodies. Despite these minor flaws, the characters move with an amazing fluidity, even for a primarily stationary drama series.
The audio is quite simply stunning; poignant pauses punctuate delicately simplistic instrumental pieces ranging from shamisen to piano. From the touching opening vocal track that serenades a montage of beautiful scenery, to a closing tune that is a little more upbeat, every note of the soundtrack seems perfectly chosen. With the music being one of the strongest points of the show, it is successful in drawing the viewer further into the mystical Mokke world.
The seiyuu are also well fitted to their roles, breathing life into their characters. Mizuki is playfully cute, whilst Shizuru has a more refined and responsible tone of an older sister. The voices bestowed upon the supernatural featured throughout the series definitely add to the overall metaphysical atmosphere – the mischievous and harmless spirits sound just that, whereas the darkly warped performance of a malignant house God was genuinely creepy.
Remember those days in your adolescence when you spent long summer days running through wide open fields, looking for a new adventure? That is the feeling that emanates from Mokke, as Mizuki freely lives her life as a child. With sweet naivety, she struggles to overcome those that would possess her for their own gain whilst pretending to befriend her. Watching Mizuki struggle to explain her behaviour to her school friends invokes a sense of nostalgia and sympathy from the viewer. As previously mentioned, Shizuru is a fascinating character who does not receive enough screen-time to shine. The precious moments of her story are fascinating; watching as she comes to terms with her gift, and her struggle to help her younger sister through her difficulties is just not showcased as thoroughly as it could have been.
Although Mokke will only appeal to a small niche of the otaku community, those who can appreciate the slower paced can definitely enjoy what is on offer. The mix of adorable characters and supernatural beings bestows an education in Japanese folk lore and the superstitions these have spawned. Be prepared to sit back and enjoy the audio and visual without being tied down to an overly complicated story, as this show is definitely one to be savoured during a quiet moment in life.
Slice of life series with episodic progression are often difficult series to engage the senses overall, but there's something about Mokke that really draws a person into it. The series chronicles the adventures of two girls with supernatural abilities who come of age and grow with their experiences in meeting a wealth of supernatural creatures, all while living under the care of their grandparents.
Many people may call Mokke the younger sister series of Mushishi, and while that's a proper comparison because the two do deal with similar themes, it's somewhat of an unfair comparison. Mushishi is a very mature, refined series, while Mokke explores the supernatural in nature in a combination of fun, whimsical execution and lighthearted humor, with some serious undertones. I would argue that Mokke would probably suit more mainstream audiences than Mushishi, and unlike Mushishi, the environment never comes to a point where it feels that repetitive. Each episode places the main characters in a different environment, with simple sweet interactions and a message behind each encounter for the girls. At the same time, I'm reminded somewhat of Vampire Princess Miyu, the TV series, in terms of the subtle horror elements that are embedded in some of the stories. They're never overtly scary, but dark in tonality and carry some sense of dark humor, something I appreciated because I could pick up on it, but others who aren't used to it may not.
Each of the stories offered something to me, like reading a series of short stories featuring the same characters. Mizuki and Shizuru are likable girls and grow in their own skin while learning how to adapt to their abilities. They encounter everything from wind spirits in the form of foxes to demons that cause good luck with a catch, among many encounters. Mizuki can sense spirits and finds herself at the mercy of being possessed (something much to her chagrin), while Shizuru has the ability to see these spirits in a normal, everyday fashion. Both girls have their reservations with their abilities and it's shown decently throughout.
One should not watch this series while expecting something "to happen" specifically, but rather, it's more for the anime watcher who enjoys stories that "take you along for the ride" and engross you for the moment, while showing a series of interesting coming of age stories in a simple, sweet format. I actually did like this series from beginning to end, and enjoyed it quite a bit more than I thought I would.
Mokke's animation is simply gorgeous for its time. It takes on a classic animation style and I could probably argue that it's one of the series in the latter half of 2007 that impressed me on this measure. If you watch even the opening sequence, down to the colorization and character designs, it's gorgeous. Most of the episodes seem retain this type of consistency, particularly in the cel backgrounds. Character design is well adapted and consistent for the most part.
Mokke's soundtrack is well noted on most points, with a combination of lighthearted and fun themes with minimalistic undertones. Some are ethnically vibrant in the more serious situations, and others suit the more ominous environments that arise. I wouldn't say the BGM makes the series more enjoyable, but it does compliment the scenery/settings quite well. The highlight of the series for me is the opening song "Kokoro no Ato" by Riyu Kosaka, in my opinion one of the best anime openings of 2007. It's ponderous yet with a minimalistic edge, and an overall beautiful vocal. The producers seemed to note this and play the song in some of the key scenes of the series, but thankfully, they don't overuse it like what X-TV did with the beautiful "Sadame". I didn't care so much for the ending theme, but it's a decent track in itself, lighthearted and playful.
I liked the voice acting in Mokke as well. All of the VAs did a great job of coming into the shell of their characters. Mitsuki's VA gets a highlight from me, because while her character is an up and coming youngster with an immaturity streak, she's so humorous and inherently likable that it's difficult to not like her. I also like the ease that the VA for Mitsuki and Shizuru's grandfather has: serious on most ends, but also a warm, sympathetic character who tries to rear both girls with a steady hand in their abilities.
Mokke manages to handle both its main cast and secondary characters well, though in an episodic progression. Granted, in this nature, there is character growth, but perhaps not as well presented as it could be. Each episode does progress as a scenario where either Shizuru or Mizuki (or both) are at the forefront, dealing with some supernatural force that either befalls them or comes to befriend them. In this instance, it can become repetitive, but the way the series treats each encounter with a supernatural force is distinct and unique, although more humored and precocious.
Shizuru is the more mature of the girls, yet finds herself uncomfortable being the only one who can see spirits. As time progresses, she does come to be more accepting that she's a person with a unique ability, despite worrying for her sister's and loved ones' safety.
Mizuki's a fun girl, sometimes bratty and rambunctious, but inherently likable. Granted, she also has her insecurities with her powers, in that she cannot see the spirits that possess her. Sometimes, they bring her good fortune while others threaten her very being, and the latter makes for some of the more tense moments in the series as she comes across both friend and foe in such spirits. I found it interesting how the series decided to play the abilities of the girls as direct opposites, and treat them as hand-in-hand.
The way the series portrays both Mizuki and Shizuru's guardians (their grandmother and most importantly, their Grandfather) are with the upmost of care. They're more gilding forces in helping them to come of age rather than overbearing, and that aspect was one thing I really liked about their characters.
Secondary characters range from the groups of friends the girls are surrounded by to the various creatures they encounter. I think the secondary surrounding characters are decent, but only serve as a background role and aren't done so much to be 3 dimensional. Some of the creatures, I'd argue, are a little more three dimensional than the human characters that support Shizuru and Mitsuki, but they lack a certain spectrum that allows the viewer to completely be enthralled or in awe of them. Unlike Mushishi, they don't reach quite the complexity or moral ambiguity that mature viewers may enjoy.
I think Mokke is at the very least an enjoyable series and worth watching once. It's more unique compared to most of the series that had been released in the Fall 2007 season, and wraps up on a well enough note (even through the special) to satiate on a general level. I'd certainly buy it if it came to the States, but I'd give a hesitant recommendation. Those who watch it will enjoy it more as a precious look into the supernatural realm from a child's eye, and a decent coming of age story.
Shizuru and Mizuki are two sisters living with their grandparents in the countryside. Shizuru has the ability to see spirits, while Mizuki has a tendency to get possessed by them. The two of them learn to coexist with the variety of apparitions around them, guided by the wisdom of their grandfather. Very picturesque animation, with a slow pace to it, reminiscent of both Mushishi and Aria.