Requiem from the Darkness volume 1 : Turmoil of the Flesh

Image of DVD cover (68k jpg)

Released by: Madman Entertainment.
Region: Four.
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Disc 1:

It has been a while since an anime has surprised me with what it wants to show us in telling its tale. Requiem certainly managed that and in doing so earns quite definitely its Mature rating. This is definitely not the kind of thing to show to young children or those of a more delicate disposition. This isn't to say that the series sets out to gratuitously shock you, far from it. More that the stories it explores are all centred around the darker aspects of the human psyche.

But I am getting a little ahead of myself. Requiem is about a young, idle and rich candle maker who isn't actually that good at making candles - he leaves all that to his staff back in Edo while he tries to persue his real dream. That of becoming a writer, he even has the central theme for his first book sorted out of 100 ghost stories collected into an anthology. To do that he needs to collect details on the various ghost stories around the land and he has been putting a considerable amount of effort into research. All this travel and digging brings our erstwhile hero Momosuke into contact with the Mataichi gang. It is a cordial if not entirely friendly meeting with Mataichi helping Momosuke but warning him strongly to stay away from the group.

Through accidents and intent Momosuke does keep bumping into the group as it seems both are on the trail of ghost stories but for entirely different reasons. It seems that Mataichi and co are here more to settle these restless spirits and bring the guilty parties to appropriate karmic justice for their crimes. Even if this sometimes means they need to be the ghosts for a while. It is an interesting twist on the idea of a ghost story and allows the traditional tale to be explored again in a new way. But Mataichi and co are taking their marching orders from a mysterious spectral eye that watches over both them and Momosuke. That eye seems bothered at the attention Momosuke is giving the group so as the disc finishes the stage is set for the larger question of why Mataichi & friends are doing this and whether this bodes ill for Momosuke...

It is a fresh take on the ghost story where it seems the spiritual world is more annoyed that they are being used as the scapegoats for the worst excesses of human behavoir. As such it usually isn't the ghost itself that is the problem. Understanding what has driven people to such desperate deceptions is where the series earns it rating. One character has been repeatedly raped by her family, another is pressured to provide for their relatives and one simply has bloodlust but refuses to face it. These are not happy souls and the circumstances that has brought them to such a place makes for compelling yet also disturbing viewing. As such I am looking forward to the next volumes just to see where the overall story is going to go with this as there are clear hints that Momosuke is an unwelcome pawn in a much larger game being played out.

What complements the story telling is the interesting visual style used in the series. With the series set in the end of the Edo period in Japanese history the artwork seems to have been designed to echo the woodblock prints of the period with bold linework & strong primary colours for the most part. This is combined with computer graphic techniques to provide dynamic camera movement from time to time and often motion in the background. In the second episode for instance a Willow Woman is a menacing threat and her willow tree often sits on the background undulating and waving in the wind, constantly in motion. My one complaint with the visuals is the 4:3 formatting of them, these are images crying out for a bit of space to let you appreciate them but unfortunately they are a little crammed in thanks to the aspect ratio.

We also have a slightly staid 2.0 soundtrack too. Again this isn't a bad track with good use of the stereo soundfield. But having watched Boogiepop Phantom and the excellent use of the 5.1 soundfield that series' english dub made than I can't help but wish that a similar effort had been made for this series. It simply is exactly the kind of story that could make good use of directional sound to further enhance the story. Interestingly enough the opening and ending credits play out to strongly Jazz influenced themes. Somehow the smooth and almost sultry vocals for the themes work well in fitting to the mood of the series.

The other thing that the series would have benefited from is some cultural notes explaining the various legends and stories referenced in the series. While generally you catch the intent and overtones of the story there is no doubt a chunk of more subtle allusions going on that simply pass us by. Sadly Geneon tends to be very light on extras in general with the releases they produce. It is a shame as they tend to be dubing the more interesting and unusual shows of late where supplemental information is usually most needed. Even something like the reference notes that ADV provided with Gasaraki would be a welcome addition.

Still I can perhaps understand them wanting to keep production costs to a minimum with such an offbeat and decidedly not mainstream series. While this is an often unpleasant look at human depravity it makes for compelling viewing as you try to figure out what compulsion has created the set of circumstances our 'heros' have come across. Definitely the kind of series you just don't see too often.

Philip R. Banks
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