Requiem from the Darkness, Kosetsu Hyaku Monogatari in Japanese, which translates as One Hundred Ghost Stories, might have been better served by keeping its original title. It could be argued that the original title describes better what the series is all about – it’s ghost stories around a campfire, under the covers on a sleepover with friends. It’s the silly chill derived from venturing into places as a child (dark places that are known and familiar during the day and yet are somehow intrinsically different when you’re alone in the dark) that hold all sorts of invisible dangers that are laughed off later in bravado and relief.
It’s also a little Twilight Zone, for those of you old enough to remember it. Each episode is a new moral story; the bad people get their just desserts, but the good people don’t always escape unscathed, because they were perhaps not entirely innocent after all, or else they were too stupid to stay out of the path of trouble. In this sense Requiem from the Darkness is being very true to its folk-like origins. Most folk tales and ghost stories from around the world were originally designed to teach the young and foolish valuable lessons, as much as they were ever invented to explain the inexplicable. The realities of life – particularly death and all the numerous ways to meet it – were notoriously difficult to caution into children, and so ghost stories were used to this purpose, to protect.
It’s interesting that this Hundred Ghost Stories takes that message of caution one step further into adulthood – in Requiem from the Darkness, aspiring author Momosuke accidentally finds himself involved with a group who seem to be some sort of Supernatural Just Desserts Committee – called the Ongyou. They travel around the countryside, and they appear to be righting wrongs and putting to rest the restless dead. Why exactly is still a mystery after the first volume, but it is clear their orders are coming from higher up (or perhaps further down?), and Momosuke, desperate for material for his Hundred Stories book, is fascinated with them. It doesn’t really occur to him that they might not be the best, or safest, people to be hanging about.
But he’ll learn, perhaps. Or he might meet some grisly end if he doesn’t.
And that’s the other traditional purpose of ghost stories, of the original folk tales of the world rather than the homogenised, watered down versions that have come to us. The old stories taught that not only were there bad things out there, but that sometimes being a good person was not necessarily enough proof against them. Momosuke’s luck, which places him unerringly in the path of harm, might just be balanced by his inherent goodness, but the possibility that it won’t is very real as he blunders into one dangerous situation after another, all unknowing.
While this series isn’t what I would personally call scary, it is certainly creepy, and bloody. Each story is disturbing in more ways than just the sketchy, evocative style of animation and moody soundtrack attempts to describe, and the creative style utilised is dynamic and fresh, more experimental than traditional, which is a pleasing contrast to the subject matter of old Japanese ghost tales.
As entertainment, Requiem from the Darkness won’t keep you up at night, but you won’t find yourself turning it off half way through either. And if you’re a ghost story aficionado, there’s spooky thrills in it enough to inspire the chills and delight of the child you used to be, wondering whether there was anything under the bed, but too afraid to look.