Ayakashi was an anime TV series that aired in Japan in 2006, recounting three ghost stories set in various periods of Japan’s feudal era. The first two, “Yotsuya Ghost Story” and “Goddess of the Dark Tower,” were based on older works, with the first retelling a classic Japanese ghost story and the second adapting a play by Kyōka Izumi. They were also animated in a more-or-less traditional modern style. The third story, “Goblin Cat (Bake Neko)” was original, both in terms of its story and its visual style, which smashed together Japanese woodblock prints and Western modern pop art. You can envision it as the art that would be made if Katsushika Hokusai, Andy Warhol, and John Carpenter had a horrible mishap in a teleporter, merging the three together to produce a hip, horrific ghost story as an animated Japanese woodblock print dressed in powerfully psychedelic colors and patterns.
The show’s audacious style and willingness to remix classical Japanese influences with the most up-to-date sensibilities are visible right from the opening credits sequence, set to the song “Heat Island.” It begins with a lone koto picking out a simple melody line before linking up beautifully with a hip-hop beat machine and a Japanese rapper that evokes a propulsive sense of urgency. The blending of the old and the new is the consistent running theme throughout, as with the archaic “seal script” characters dancing under the credits or the eyeball turning to a diamond and then something that looks like an Edo period silkscreen print of a circuit board. We can see Warhol’s use of repetition as the figure of the medicine peddler is mirrored throughout the back half of the sequence. We also get a hint of the horrors to come when we see the title character’s bright yellow eyes and mouth with too many too sharp teeth, and the spinning flower that gets spattered with blood. Plus, it’s got a great beat and you can dance to it.
Oddly enough, all three of the Ayakashi stories used the same opening song, but it only really fit with Bake Neko. The rest of the show may not have been quite as visually overwhelming as the opening credits, but it used the same modern textures, patterns, and colors in its animation. Unfortunately, the title was licensed by Geneon Entertainment shortly before they shuttered their US operations; the title was never picked up by another American licensor, nor was the follow-up series Mononoke (no relation) that followed the adventures of the itinerant medicine peddler of Bake Neko and used the same striking visual style.
For more about Ayakashi: Bake Neko, check out my review of the Geneon DVD, which is (as of this writing) still available at RightStuf.com in the bargain bin and definitely worth investigating.
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