As a reviewer I try to avoid comparison where possible between one story and the next (and previously wrote a feature about it – comparing apples and oranges), but it is kind of inevitable that comparisons will be made. Partly that is because similar characters or stories will remind you of the previous one though other reasons for comparing are to make a point clear, to point out the strength or weakness of a story, or to help your audience to really get a feel for what you are talking about by linking it to something they are likely more familiar with.
Still, comparisons aren’t always all that helpful. I recently went looking for some reviews of Kamisama Kiss online and found comparisons everywhere (I was curious about what people had said at the time it came out because that was pre-blogging days so I hadn’t really read any reviews of people who watched it when it first came out). On several occasions I found it compared to Fruits Basket or InuYasha and it seldom came out favourably.
While as a shoujo, the comparison to Fruits Basket kind of makes sense, the overall tone and feel of the stories are entirely different. I watch Kamisama Kiss when I want to just have a bit of a laugh and soak up some cute yokai vibes. Sure, it doesn’t really manage character drama all the deftly, but there is the occasional moment where it hits the spot, but realistically, you kind of watch Kamisama Kiss for the weird antics as Nanami learns to be a land god and the supernatural reverse harem that forms around her.
Fruits Basket on the other-hand I watch when I want to go through a bit of an emotional journey. I usually watch it when I’m feeling low and don’t know the reasons for feeling that way. Watching Fruits Basket and watching Tohru help others really helps process your own emotions and there’s definitely a cathartic effect as you see each of the characters she touches slowly come to terms with themselves. About the only complaint for the original series, other than the dated visuals, would be the lack of ending, which is why I’m super excited about the upcoming rebooted series. Whichever way, I wouldn’t have even thought of comparing it to Kamisama Kiss because in terms of why I enjoy it, it couldn’t be more different.
I can’t really comment on its similarity or dissimilarity to InuYasha because despite that one being on my watch list for a very long time, I’ve still yet to actually watch it.
So as the title of this post suggests, recently I found myself comparing The Morose Mononokean to Natsume Yuujinchou. Actually, worse than comparing, I mostly pointed out that The Morose Mononokean couldn’t hold the emotional weight of something like Natsume. And that’s actually really true but it is more or less true of the vast majority of anime and not an actual complaint about The Morose Mononokean.
Now when watching these shows, comparisons do seem more or less inevitable. They both follow teenage boys who have the ability to see yokai. More importantly, the first season of The Morose Mononokean and Natsume Yuujinchou more or less follow the yokai of the week format where a new yokai is introduce, the main characters encounter it and it is either threatening or friendly, there’s a little bit of misunderstanding or a problem to resolve, then someone we fix things and we learn and grow from the situation. Rinse – repeat. Yokai of the week.
However, Natsume Yuujinchou, for all that it really is a monster of the week kind of story, has managed subtle and continuous character growth and built an impressive supporting cast that all feel like fully developed characters in their own right. Admittedly, it is now six seasons in, but it is still impressive how you barely notice the character growth until you go back to the beginning and then you realise just how much ground each character has gained. It is such a natural drip feed of growth and development that you really don’t even notice it but the results are there to see in how each season Natsume is that little bit stronger than he was and his relationships with those around him are that little bit deeper and more interesting.
In short, Natsume is pretty brilliant and you should definitely watch it.
The Morose Mononokean is not.
And that isn’t actually slapping it down. The Morose Mononokean season one was decidedly average in every way. It used the yokai of the week format well enough. The characters were entertaining and the back and forth between the two main characters was actually pretty entertaining. Visually it was okay, but they really did a great job contrasting the mundane world and the yokai world through the use of colours. Everything about it functioned, though it never delivered much in the way of an emotional punch and the characters remained more or less as they began, though a bit more of an understanding was forged between the two main characters.
In fairness, I don’t think it was really trying to pack much of an emotional punch. There are more ‘comedic’ moments dotted throughout, and Ashiya, as the protagonist, is quite the loud and reactive character responding to things with over the top expressions and shock rather than calm deliberation. The yokai frequently aren’t really given a voice and other than fuzzy, Ashiya isn’t really developing much in the way of a relationship with them and he wasn’t shunned or outcast so he doesn’t have to go through the emotional growth Natsume needed at the start of season one.
While that makes The Morose Mononokean a somewhat less compelling watch, it works as it is. Season two expands on the world building and the characters and it has become a much stronger story in its own right. It still has a vastly different tone and feel to Natsume, despite the surface level similarities in premise, but it really is its own show.
But telling someone The Morose Mononokean isn’t as good as Natsume Yuujinchou isn’t exactly helpful when it comes to reviewing, however true I might personally feel that to be. Nor is telling someone that it is similar to Natsume overly helpful because if someone starts it expecting another Natsume, they are surely going to be disappointed.
I think as a reviewer I am going to continue to strive not to overly rely on comparisons to convey my feelings about an anime. They certainly will happen and sometimes fairly thoughtlessly, but I hopefully won’t use them as my main summation of a show. In the case of The Morose Mononokean, through season two I have definitely come to appreciate it for what it is on its own and I’m no longer really looking at what I feel it is missing. Hopefully when it ends and I write my final review my thoughts on it as its own entity come through loud and clear.
Now here’s a question: The Little Fox or Fuzzy? Which is the cuter yokai?
In the meantime, I’d love to know your thoughts on comparisons in reviews and whether you find them helpful or not. Please leave a comment below and get the conversation started.
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