Mouryou no Hako Episodes 01-02
a little bit of literacy research
Posted by tai on Oct 23, 2008 under Mouryou no Hako, Research

I have decided to pick up Mouryou no Hako, the plot seems intricate and deep, and the art is simply outstanding: many thanks to CLAMP for their character design. For those who have not watched the show, Mouryou no Hako (Box of Evil Spirits/Box of Goblins) is a murder mystery with Buddhist themes presented in a romanticist manner. There is great contrast within the artwork, the colour palette varies from bright and lush to flat and dry to cold and pale depending on the scene. Like romanticist material, Mouryou no Hako uses art and intellectual dialogue to drive the narration, as opposed to being plot-driven. That isn’t to say that Mouryou no Hako is plot-less, but the development of this show is much less like your typical anime and much more like experimental or avant-garde productions. I found this plot review on Random Curiosity quite good if you are interested.

A show with this depth to it doesn’t come from nothing. Especially being a novel adaptation, there are a lot of references to external literary works which serve as a template of themes and ideas to mold the show towards. I’m no historian or poet or cultural anthropologist so there’s no way for me to verify this information, but I would still like to share what I have gathered as ancient Japanese literacy seems to have been quite important in guiding this show.


六歌仙 Eng. the best Waka poets lit. six great poets

The Rokkasen was a title given to six Waka poets. They were the six primary contributors to the Kokin Wakashuu (古今和歌集 alt. Kokinshuu古今集), the first volume of a 10th century Heian Imperial anthology of Waka poetry. The laureates are as follows, listed in the order mentioned by Yuzuki Kanako.

  • Sojo Henjo (僧正遍昭), a Buddhist monk.
  • Bunya no Yasuhide (文屋康秀)
  • Kisen Houshi (喜撰法師), also a Buddhist monk.
  • Ono no Komachi (小野小町) is the only female laureate of the Rokkasen. She is often referred to in other literatures as a symbol of fleeting beauty and romance.
  • Outomo Kuronushi (大友黒主)
  • Ariwara no Narihira (在原業平), an aristocrat. He has been associated as the hero and possible the author of The Tales of Ise, a collection of poems about themes including the coming of age, joys and sorrows of travelling, and lost loves and romance. It is also speculated that he was the primary source of inspiration for The Tale of Genji which is subjectively referred to as the first novel. The themes in The Tale of Genji are very Elizabethan; it is about the ascent of a young boy to emperor, his forbidden relationships and the cost of having such relationships on his imperial life. The novel is written under a Buddhist doctrine, showing the vain significance of life through its impermanence and fragility.

Waka (和歌)

Waka is a genre of Japanese poetry. It became stagnated prior to the Heian period due to the popularity of Chinese-styled kanshi (漢詩) but was revived and became widespread after Japan disassociated from the Tang dynasty. Waka verses are phrased to 5-syllable and 7-syllable sentences, typically alternating between the two and ending with two 7-syllable lines.

Tennin Gosui

天人五衰 Eng. The Decay of the Angel lit. Five Death Omens of an Angel

Tennin Gosui was the last installation of Yukio Mishima’s Sea of Fertility tetralogy, soon after its completion he committed ritual suicide. The novel is about a man who raises a young boy he believes is a reincarnation of an old schoolfriend. The boy is kept oblivious to this matter until four years later the man’s companion explains this matter to him. In an attempt to fulfill the prophecy the boy attempts suicide, but succeeds only in blinding himself. In a later conversation, the man finds out that others have completely forgotten his old schoolfriend and questions his own existence.

Knowing the background of the literature mentioned in the show gives a good sense of the direction Mouryou no Hako is headed. I will leave you to make your own conclusions about the significance of these works for now, and I expect myself to revisit these works quite often as the show progresses. If you have any corrections or sources for additional information about these literary works, please let me know.

  • On October 24th, 2008 at 00:54,
    usagijen wrote:

    wow, that’s quite some research you did there! Talk about being inspired 😮
    I found this show to be captivating, and I really think a rewatch of the episodes is necessary to appreciate it to the fullest. Will be looking forward more insightful posts like this, coz I’m too lazy to research on my own xD

  • On October 24th, 2008 at 02:00,
    blissmo wrote:

    I didn’t really like the first episode of this series, but CLAMP’s drawing was what made me want to at least check the first episode out. I guess I’m just not the type who can enjoy ‘deep’ films like this, plus the talking dolls wasn’t scary and the train scene reminded me of The Eye or Red Eye or w/e its called and Ghost Train.

  • On October 25th, 2008 at 10:34,
    tai wrote:

    @usagijen – to me, rewatches are imperative to understanding an episode. Especially for something like Mouryou no Hako, there’s too many small but significant subtleties that are too easily missed

    @blissmo – I wasn’t expetcing something as supernatural when I read the series outline, and if I had I probably would not have picked up this series. I normally don’t deal well with horror/supernatural but I think it was the artistic and poetic approach that tamed it for me.

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