This supernatural anime made Judge Dan Mancini hungry for a Scooby Snack.
To the next world, we commit thee.
Requiem from the Darkness (Kosetsu Hyaku Monogatari) is a bit like an anime version of The X-Files, offering episodic detective tales with a focus on folklore and the supernatural.
Facts of the Case
Set at the end of the Edo period, the show follows the exploits of an author named Momosuke who travels Japan gathering supernatural tales for his book, The 100 Stories. His companions, of sorts, are three supernatural beings: sultry Ogin (the puppeteer), diminutive Mataichi (the trickster), and hulking Nagamimi (the bird caller). The trio, who reside in limbo between life and death, must usher wayward spirits to their final rest (often with cold-hearted tricks and a focus on repaying them for their evil deeds in life).
Pain of the Damned offers episodes 8, 9, and 10 of Requiem from the Darkness.
• "Field Gun (Nodeppo)"
• "The Unkillable (Kowai)"
• "Flames of Desire (Hi no Enma)"
This trio of Requiem From the Darkness episodes is built on a conceit common to ghost stories in both Japan and the West: troubled souls of the (not so dearly) departed seeking closure to unresolved conflicts preventing them from crossing over into the next world. Requiem is bleak because its ghosts and monsters are bent on revenge for evils committed in the world of the living. The common, deeply cynical thread in all three stories is that the monstrosities of the supernatural world are born of the evils of the material world. The most horrific aspect of each story is not the ghosts and monsters, but the behavior of the human characters, their seemingly boundless capacity for cruelty to one another. "Field Gun" is perhaps the most explicit example of this dynamic. Through flashback, we learn that the lengths to which various human characters go in order to possess the titular weapon—itself a symbol of evil—far outstrip the malevolence of denizens of the underworld.
Murder, rape, oppression, deceit, manipulation, and intimidation are common relational currency among the human characters. The rogue Kowai hunted by Ogin is so driven by self-interest, he's more monstrous during his life in the material world than when he literally becomes a monster in the afterlife. The relational twists and turns between Shiragiku and Tatsu in "Flames of Desire," explore jealousy between friends, the capacity for loved ones to destroy one another for personal gain, and the venal human inability to share in another's happiness. Each of the shows is punctuated by acts of fairly graphic violence, and it's telling that the goriest content mostly occurs between the human characters. The supernatural elements add a veneer of sometimes palpable creepiness, but the real acts of terror are grounded entirely in the natural world.
The problem is that man's inhumanity to man is a rather obvious theme, and one demanding powerful storytelling in order to avoid cliché. Requiem never delivers the sort of Twilight Zone-style a-ha moments it seems to be attempting. The climaxes of this trio of episodes fizzle either from predictability or a last second revelation of information that snaps the tale into focus while feeling contrived and wooden. Each story comes off as a rough draft in need of polish. Violence, brief nudity, and thematic intensity make the show inappropriate for children, but the stories lack the structural sophistication to appeal fully to adults (young or otherwise). Moreover, the show's almost relentless sobriety of tone insists the episodes be taken seriously, though the shallow thematic content of the stories would benefit from more wry, dark humor.
In terms of Requiem's presentation on DVD, the transfer is distinguished by its color. The animation is bold and graphic, with thick bands of black representing stark shadows, contrasted by broad swathes of color, which come across beautifully on the disc. There are minor compression problems, but the image is strong overall. The presentation is full screen, maintaining the show's original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
The stereo presentations of the default English-language dub, and the original Japanese are both impressive, if not overwhelming. Voice acting is perhaps slightly better on the Japanese track, but the English isn't bad. There are slight variations in the mixes, but neither is clearly superior in terms of the technical quality.
Extras are limited. In addition to the three episodes of the show, the disc contains a Line Art Gallery with 21 pages of character designs; an Art Setting Gallery with 10 pages of full color renderings of the episodes' various locations; and trailers for Geneon releases, Saiyuki Reload, New Getter Robo, and Tokyo Underground.
I walked away from Requiem From the Darkness: Pain of the Damned feeling like I'd watched a few episodes of Scooby-Doo as reimagined by Takashi Miike (Gozu). A collection of cornball mysteries wrapped in surreal ultraviolence, the show's striking style isn't enough to overcome its lack of substance.
To eBay, I commit thee, Pain of the Damned.
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