An interesting title with a strong style and a willingness to combine something new with something old. It's gutsy, but I suspect a lot of people are going to find the combination ultimately unpleasant. I've heard (from Kalli on the THEM boards) that this is licensed to be released in America as "Requiem from the Darkness".
Who can truly understand the darkness that lurks in the heart of man? Well, actually, that guy over there comes pretty close. He might look like a young boy but most people call him Sensei because he's a learned expert. While he's supposed to be writing children's riddles his mind is fixed on writing a classic Japanese construction. A book containing a hundred monstrous stories, and he's become quite an expert on all the terrifying possibilities the darkness can hold. And in this version of medieval Japan they're far from mere fantasies.
Mind you, he's hardly a patch on the guys he falls in with. A group of three spirit chasers, a master of magical talismans, a puppet master and a shape changer who come from the very darkness themselves and seek to seal away those who allow their evil to intrude onto the waking world. They regard Sensei as an innocent, and a useful catspaw who seems adept at luring evil from where it hides. Although they know, and warn, that those who deal with the darkness at such close range cannot help but be corrupted by it.
In other words it's a 13 episode series of weird Japanese ghost stories. If these stories are actually real Japanese myth, and the cultural notes the subtitlers have included seem to suggest they are, then there appears to be no shortage of potential tales to tell. And like most Japanese stories most of them involve twisted and depraved minds that call forth or become homes for these horrors, giving a useful psychological and character aspect to explore as the build up. Into the middle of which walks Sensei and the whole thing comes to a rapid climax.
Which is of course part of the problem, they really are rather rapid. An important part of a horror story is the build up. The feeling that something is wrong and then the slow but steady build up of clues and events until you know something is wrong and even worse it's already here! But with one story per episode (barring a two part story as a conclusion) there's only so much that can be done. As a result the narrative frequently does seem a little rushed and the monsters have an almost unseemly haste to reveal their presence and secrets. It's still decently done, using the time available as well as it can, but it's a bit of a shame really.
The character work is quite interesting, but of course there's quite a lot of people who only last a single episode. The fatality count in this series is quite epic, Japanese ghost stories seem to revel in gore and murder as much as any others. We do get some insight into Sensei, and the complex relationship he shares with the hunters and their hidden boss, but it's not immensely deep. It's more than enough to frame the story though, which I guess is the point. The comparison between the two is interesting, sensei full of bumbling innocence (almost too much) and the hunters having a sort of weary and reserved wisdom about them. Quite a good sense of presence from them. Also the puppet master is an attractive female flaunting her charms quite openly, which sensei definitely notices, and which the series attempts to use to attract viewers (clearly shown in the largely nude closing credits).
It doesn't quite work though, because the first thing you're going to notice about this show is the production. It's a very modern title but the production is extremely unusual. The best summary I can make is "broad brush". I don't mean specifically that it's painted with a broad brush, although it certainly does look like it actually is, but that the production has a sort of aggressively crude production in all sorts of aspects. The character design is very strong, with lesser characters being almost doll like caricatures as befits their minor role. Atmospheric effects are brutal, direct and rough. Even when they are using computer graphics everything looks as if it has been carved like a woodblock print. The linework is full of almost brushlike linework and the color seems to be washed in as if with a broad stroke of a brush. It's really impressive, even the computer graphics has a sort of brutal directness about it. The motion as well is choppy and aggressive.
Does this production work? Um, sort of. Sometimes it presents shadowy images with considerable dramatic power. It certainly works to focus the attention on the point of interest. But at other times its very crudity becomes distracting in its own right. For example at various points lesser samurai are given faces like a block of wood with a peg (as a nose) stuck in it. They're so simplistic that it's hard to see them as actual characters, which of course reduces the dramatic power when they meet their messy end. In fact the overpowering feeling of the production is "old school". From the motion to the linework it could so easily be a really old anime, yet the underlying production lets you know it is a modern affectation.
In summary it's very interesting, but it's such a mix of strengths and weaknesses, and so irregular in its presentation, that I can't recommend it. As many people will hate the style as like it and that feeling will vary from moment to moment as the story and presentation gyrates through the series. It's certainly watchable, and the story is direct enough it's not weird, so I guess that's the category into which it goes. The characters are interesting, but not the focus. The monsters are interesting but a bit too obvious (and sometimes silly). And the aggressive presentation sometimes adds and sometimes subtracts. It's certainly entertaining though, especially if you happen to like horror stories.
As I intimated earlier there's lots of violence, perversion of spirit and blood splatter as befits a horror story. It's sometimes dramatically intense but the low detail presentation and aggressive motion mean it's often not particularly detailed horror. I still don't think I'd be rushing to show it to very young children, but teens and wimpy adults should be able to handle this pretty easy. I quite liked the conclusion story and I love some of the voice acting, the voices for the three hunters are just superbly done. The opening and closing music is gentle and atmospheric vocals in somewhat imperfect English. It probably sounds a lot better in Japanese.
So in summary it's interesting, but worth checking out before you buy. The style and content will definitely not appeal to everyone. And like every horror story once you know how it will end up it might not have that much in the way of re-watchability. Something that perhaps encourages rental over purchase.
A proper and modern cite system still on the way, at some point.