tadanokusuriuri: Very superstitious (Dramatic entrance)
tadanokusuriuri ([personal profile] tadanokusuriuri) wrote2016-10-07 02:05 pm

Application for The Far Shore

Player Information

Name: Ket
Contact: [plurk.com profile] cognitiveleague
Age: 28
Other Characters: Toshizou Hijikata

Character Information

Name: The Medicine Seller
Canon: Mononoke (and also Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales, but for the purposes of game tags, Mononoke)
Canon Point: After the end of the anime
Age: Unknown; implied by the passage of time between the historical periods implied in different story arcs to be ageless and potentially at least a century or so if not several centuries old. (Some fans have theorized that, aside from the first Bakeneko arc and the Umibozu arc obviously taking place within a couple of years of each other, the background details in the settings imply a skip of about 50 years in between each arc, with the final one taking place in roughly the 1920s, which if correct would make him no younger than 200.) Physically, in his early-mid 30s, perhaps a little younger but it's hard to say exactly.


A note on terminology within the Medicine Seller's setting before I delve into the history: the Medicine Seller acknowledges the existence of "ayakashi", which seem similar to the ayakashi in Noragami, but he describes them as being a vast enough and natural enough world that to try and fight all of them is frankly a sort of ridiculous idea. His specialty is fighting "mononoke", a term he defines in-series as very specifically meaning ayakashi that have become intertwined with human emotions through some particular circumstance, grown powerful and twisted under those emotions' influence, and taken on a distinct form influenced by their emotional source. A mononoke's Form, the Truth of the situation that led to its creation, and the feelings of Regret that motivate it, taken together, are the three truths that he must uncover before his sword is able to be drawn.

As in the case of my other character, there's a fandom wiki, but it's... not fantastic, so I'm going to go ahead and write something up. I'll be going into the most detail about the first story arc, specifically because Mononoke's stories follow a very clear narrative pattern, so once that pattern has been established, it's easier to skim over the details of the subsequent cases. As an additional note, I know it's not traditional, but Mononoke gets into some pretty heavy stuff, so I'll be adding trigger warnings in red before going into my summaries of each individual story arc. Here we go.

[Trigger Warnings for Ayakashi: Bakeneko Arc -- kidnapping, rape, physical abuse, starvation, murder, sudden death, loss of a(n adult) child, animal death]

Nothing is known of the Medicine Seller's history before the first time the audience saw him, in the Bakeneko arc of Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales. He arrived, apparently by coincidence, at the home of the Sakai family on the day that their daughter was scheduled to be married away. On such a busy day, the staff was reluctant to let a peddler into the house, but a curious housemaid, Kayo, invited him into the kitchen to talk with her and show what her he had to sell while the more important members of the household were busy. They chatted about the upcoming marriage, and how strange it was that there were so many rat traps around the kitchen -- wouldn't it be easier, he wondered aloud, to keep a cat...?

Their conversation was brought to a sudden end when, as she crossed the threshold of the front door, the young bride-to-be was struck instantly dead by an invisible force, sending the household into a panic. The Medicine Seller, who had sensed something amiss even before the girl hit the ground, arrived on the scene immediately, ignoring the household's samurai retainers' attempts to attack him as he set up fuda scrolls on either side of the doorway. Their opponent, he told them, was not something that could be cut with a sword, and he needed to be allowed to set up barriers for their protection. Suspicious of the only stranger in their midst, the three attending samurai bound him and brought him into the house to be interrogated, while the bride's parents brought her body to a room nearby where they could mourn her in relative private.

As they rifled through the belongings in his medicine chest, searching for poison or any other hint of his involvement in the mysterious death, the samurai came across a strange, bejeweled sword, apparently stuck in its sheath. When questioned, he answered that it was a sword not made to cut humans, but to kill mononoke. He insisted that there was no "trick" to unsheathing it, and when asked if he could do it, answered that he couldn't "yet". There was no trick, but there was a rule -- the sword could not be unsheathed without its wielder knowing three essential truths about the mononoke -- its Form, Truth, and Regret.

As night fell, with no further clues discovered, the family sent a male servant (in spite of the Medicine Seller's protest that leaving would endanger him) out to fetch a doctor for the bride's mother, Mizue, who had fainted and wasn't showing much sign of recovery.

Hours passed without his return, and night began to fall. Kayo, with the samurai Odajima to accompany her, was sent to light the candles in the dead girl's room. But something wasn't right. Odajima felt a strange presence, threatening enough to cause him to nearly draw his weapon against it. A cat's yowling began to ring through the empty halls of the manor, and as they returned to the room where the rest of the household was gathered, blood began to drip from the ceiling, moments before the body of the missing servant fell down into their midst from above.

The Medicine Seller, done playing along, cast off the ropes that had bound his arms in the blink of an eye, shutting down the samurai's attempts to restrain him again without any apparent effort and warning them not to get in his way. With a hail of fuda scrolls, he covered the walls of the suite of rooms the household was gathered in, creating a barrier against their mysterious attacker.

But, as he explained to the remaining survivors -- the bride's parents, her aged grandfather, her uncle Yoshikuni, the three samurai in the household's service (Odajima, Katsuyama, and Sasaoka), the head housekeeper Ms. Sato, and Kayo -- the barrier couldn't hold forever. They were under attack by a mononoke, an ayakashi that had grown corrupted and twisted on human emotions, and taken on a form influenced by the source of those emotions. To unsheathe his sword and fight back, he needed to learn three fundamental truths about the mononoke -- the Form it had taken, the Truth of the situation that had created it, and the Regret that motivated it to grow so strong and destructive. From a trace of black fur left on Odajima's haori, he deduced the Form -- a Bakeneko. To learn the other truths, though, he was going to need someone in the room to talk.

No one seemed particularly willing to. As the night dragged on, Kayo was pressured to go out to the kitchen and fetch some sake, but protested for her safety's sake. But when the Medicine Seller volunteered to go and fetch it for her along with the salt that he needed to get anyway anyway (and dragged Odajima into coming along to "keep an eye on" him), she decided that it seemed safest to stay close at his side and came along on the errand.

After their safe return, he immediately began setting up a circle of salt and a number of magical "scales" used to monitor the mononoke's location and movements, with Kayo's help and in spite of Odajima's skeptical mockery. That done, he began again to press for answers about the Truth and Regret. The household fell into bickering about who had done what wrong in the past, again without really going anywhere.

The bakeneko, though, was on the move. As it prowled through the rooms where the scales had been set up, they began to tilt, one by one, setting off the bells attached to them. The fuda on the walls, too, began to show signs of the strange corruption that appeared on them when a mononoke was close. Still invisible, it approached the line of salt, paused, then began moving around the outside of it, looking for a weakness. It paused again near the room where Mizue was resting, just next door to where her daughter's body had been laid out. She woke up, and dragging herself over to wail in grief over the girl's body, the mononoke began to move again. As if blown by a fan, the line of salt thinned out at one point until a small break in the line appeared. The fuda on the walls of the girl's room lit up bright red...

And the girl opened her eyes, but not the same girl who had been lying there a moment before. Her face was serene, but there was a strange resonance to her voice as she spoke out to the woman kneeling over her body -- not "mother," but "Mizue-sama".

Mizue stopped wailing and started to scream in terror.

Tamaki! It's Tamaki!

Some people didn't seem to have a clue who "Tamaki" was. The ones who did quickly fell into a panic. As Mizue screamed, apologized, and begged the unseen entity not to come near her, the mononoke, still controlling the girl's body, held the Medicine Seller by the ankle and began moving all of its presence towards the wall behind where the grandfather was sitting. Mizue seemed drawn to that wall, pressing herself up against it and screaming incoherently as the rest of the household scrambled to get further away. She began to pull the doors of the rice-paper wall apart, the corruption on the fuda paper darkening and spreading to cover the wall itself until the doors snapped open.

Behind the doors was an army of blood-red cats -- and a young woman in a white wedding kimono. Katsuyama, who had recognized the name "Tamaki", tried to charge at her, but she raised her hand, sending forth a wave of corruption that engulfed him and Mizue both before the Medicine Seller could close the doors to the room where most of the others (sans the bride's father) had retreated. Without time to put up fuda or a salt barrier, he resorted to using his own body and willpower to keep the room from being breached. Odajima tried to help with his sword, to little effect; Kayo, much more successfully, flung the jar with the remainder of the salt straight into the weird mononoke portal that the wall had become, stunning the creature and making it run away temporarily. Quickly, the Medicine Seller sealed off the room, and once again began pressing the remaining survivors for answers as the mononoke's presence began to engulf the rooms inside the original barrier one by one.

The girl in the wedding kimono, Tamaki, was one part of the Truth, and a representation of the mononoke's Regret. What was the secret surrounding her? The men of the household grew agitated with the Medicine Seller's questions, demanding that he fight if he was able to, but he explained again that without the truth, he couldn't unsheathe the sword -- and even with it, everyone had their limits, so having him fight was no guarantee that he'd win. Their room's barrier was beginning to be breached -- but as the fuda turned red, the grandfather pulled a secret switch, revealing one more room that they could retreat to, down a set of stairs hidden behind a painting of a beautiful young maiden.

In the basement room, there was a wedding kimono on display -- but as Odajima asked aloud why it was there, the head housekeeper, Sato, began laughing hysterically. It was hopeless to escape, she said... but when the Medicine Seller asked if she had known what was going on, she deflected, instead pointing the blame towards the men of the household, who she said had brought this misfortune on them all. At the top of the stairs, the grandfather remained behind -- and so did the bakeneko, its distorted, cat-like form pressing against the thin final barrier, slavering as it tried to get to him.

The Truth, the Medicine Seller deduced, was that the grandfather was responsible for whatever had made the bakeneko angry enough to take revenge on his entire clan. The sword reacted, confirming his guess.

The Medicine Seller tried to convince the old man to talk, but he had already decided that the situation was hopeless. He would die soon, and confessing his sins would accomplish nothing. The Medicine Seller insisted, still using his will to try and hold the creature back, that even if it didn't matter to the old man if he lived or died, he absolutely had to cut down the mononoke. He tried then to appeal to the old samurai's honor -- as the man who'd created a monster, he had an obligation to take responsibility for destroying it, and therefore an obligation to confess.

The old man told a story. On a snowy day 25 years before, he happened across a woman in bridal clothes being carried on a palanquin -- to be offered, he said, as a sacrifice. Struck by her beauty, he carried her away with him on his horse. He claimed that he had let her live in the hidden room to protect her, and intended to return her to her village if he could, but that she "took initiative" and seduced him. It would, he said, have ruined her reputation if he'd sent her back to her home after having become physical with her, so out of pity, he allowed her to hide with him and stay as his cherished mistress, taking the best care of her that was possible to take responsibility for his role in getting her into trouble. He was happy with her, but she died unexpectedly, still quite young. Even as an old man, he held in his heart the guilt of feeling like perhaps he was to blame for her wasting away so tragically young.

So, the Medicine Seller asked, the girl's lingering grudge had created the Bakeneko? Perhaps, Yoshikuni suggested, she was jealous that someone from the household was getting married, like she never properly could?

Something, though, was still missing from the story. With the Medicine Seller still trying to use himself to hold what was left of the barrier -- putting in enough effort that his hand, though not touching anything, was beginning to bleed -- Sato began insisting that it was Yoshikuni's turn to confess, and that she "was just following orders." It wasn't her fault, she insisted again and again, as the agitated mononoke struggled against the barrier and Odajima carried the old master down the stairs. A grate had been lowered at the bottom of the staircase, though, leaving them and the two women trapped on the staircase, between the mononoke and the relative safety Yoshikuni and Sasaoka had barricaded themselves into.

All Hell was breaking loose. The Medicine Seller was bleeding heavily and mostly prone, still trying to hold that last barrier with all his fading strength. Sato began to choke Kayo, perhaps seeing someone else entirely in her, flinging wild accusations as she did. Odajima tried to come to her aid, but the old samurai, still riding on his back, put an arm around his throat, insisting that his own safety was to be his men's top priority. Desperate, Odajima begged the Medicine Seller for his aid -- and his honest plea, combined with the two truths already uncovered, was enough to work with. The sword came halfway out of the sheath, and the Medicine Seller, who had been lying on the floor nearly unconscious a moment before, was rejuvenated enough to stand. With the power given to him by that plea, he created a pillar of golden fuda, spreading it out into a wall to serve as a new barrier.

The mononoke, though, just split itself in two and went around the barrier, lashing straight at the Medicine Seller -- knocking him off his feet, sending him tumbling across the room... and showing him a vision.

The mononoke's Regret would be a weapon in his hands, but it wanted him to know. It wanted him to see the truth, and the truth was, the old man was a liar.

He saw flashes of Tamaki as she really was when she lived in that room -- trapped in a cage, naked, emaciated, pale, with dark circles under her eyes.

But she still had a smile for the cat who kept her company.

As he drifted peacefully through the bakeneko's inner world, the Medicine Seller felt a woman's hand gently touching his face. He opened his eyes to see through the cat's eyes as Tamaki scratched its ears and praised it. She was healthy at first, with hope and warmth in her despite her circumstances.

Outside, Odajima and Kayo were still protected by the golden fuda. The Bakeneko painted the walls red with the rest of the people left behind -- then brought them, too, into its own inner world with the Medicine Seller.

Return you?, the samurai had asked. You want me to return you?

The cat had seen how Tamaki was really treated. He saw the man who'd kidnapped her with a sword in his hand, saw how she was beaten for any step out of line, heard the cruelty in the man's voice. He saw the way her body was made use of, too tired and too wounded for any attempt at protest. The Medicine Seller, watching but powerless to affect something projected from the past, showed a rare flash of open emotion -- horror, disgust, a quiet, righteous rage -- and asked, with grave respect, for the Bakeneko to show them all the rest of what had driven it this far.

Tamaki withered away -- no longer slender, but near-skeletal, no longer attractively pale, but grey-faced and faded, her skin covered in bruises and and her hair a thinning, ragged mess. When she seemed like she wasn't eating, the housekeeper, miss Sato, threatened to stop bringing her pitiful rations at all, calling it wasteful -- so she started eating in front of her to keep it from being taken away. She didn't care anymore if she died, but she needed something to feed the kitten. And she did, even as her own body weakened -- because her cat, her good boy, needed to live.

He needed to live, so that until she died, she could have something to love, something to smile about. He needed to live, so that at least one of them could stand a chance to live free someday.

Then came the day when Yoshikuni came and opened the cage. Watching through the cat's memories as well, Kayo was reduced to tears and Odajima to looking away in shame and pity at the realization that he was there not to free her, but to get his turn at using her. When he was caught by his father, he wasn't punished, but she was beaten again for her "unfaithfulness."

That time, the beating didn't stop. The cat, desperate to protect his mistress, left his hiding place. He scratched her attacker and tried to defend her, but couldn't fight a human with a sword, and had no choice but to listen to her plea and run for freedom while the door was open, knowing that the woman who had given all that was left of her own health to care for him was dying down in that basement. Outside, he watched as Sasaoka disposed of her body in a well, and knew that he had failed her.

That was the cat's Regret.

Finally, the Medicine Seller could unsheathe the sword. It wasn't in anger than he fought the Bakeneko, but out of duty, knowing that mononoke couldn't be allowed to exist and cause chaos in the human world -- however degenerate their enemies or understandable their feelings.

With the sword unsheathed, the Medicine Seller underwent a transformation into another form of sorts (which can be seen in the image at the bottom of this page). After a brief fight, he cut down the bakeneko, leaving a thin, grey cat dead on the floor when he changed back to his own normal form. The haunting was over... and perhaps so, too, was the grief that the cat had endured for so many years.

As Kayo and Odajima buried the cat out by the well and left flowers for it, the Medicine Seller left the manor, with as little warning as when he'd arrived. At the threshold of the gate, though, he stopped, overwhelmed for a moment by an impression: long, white robes trailing over the wood of the gate, and a woman's soft laughter as she stepped past him into the street, a little grey kitten bounding alongside her, tangling its body now and then with the hem of her kimono. A soft voice, the same one as he'd heard before: Here, kitty, kitty... Now, now, what a good boy. Come here, come on!

He smiled, and he moved on.

The other story arcs, as mentioned, follow a very similar pattern: We're introduced to a small cast of characters all trapped in a single location, the Medicine Seller appears under the pretense of being a wandering merchant who just happens to be in the area, weird ghost story stuff starts happening, the Medicine Seller kicks his investigation into gear, whoever is hiding a dark and terrible secret from their past really doesn't want to talk, the hauntings intensify, people crack a bit, the truth finally comes out, there's a flashy fight scene, and then there's a typically (though arguably not always) rather cathartic resolution.

[Trigger Warnings for Zashiki-Warashi Arc -- references to sex work, forced abortions, miscarriage, potential pregnancy-related body horror-ish-ness]

In the first story arc of Mononoke, a heavily pregnant young woman named Shino appeared at the doorstep of a busy inn, and, fearing that she and her unborn child would die if she was denied shelter, threatened to make a big public scene unless the innkeeper let her stay somewhere for the night. The innkeeper, an old woman, relented and opened up a room that she usually didn't let customers stay in, though she seemed to hold some sort of contempt for the young woman's determination to make it all on her own and give birth to her child.

In the night, the haunting began. Shino began to hear and see strange child-like beings and mysterious doll-like items around her room, but thought little of it until a man showed up to assassinate her -- and ended up dead in short order.

Once again appearing on the scene, the Medicine Seller began pressing for answers. Shino explained that the assassin was sent by the father of her child -- the heir of the house that she worked for as a servant, who had been good to her right up until her pregnancy threatened to expose their relationship and damage his reputation. She ran away to protect herself and the child that she'd decided she'd want even if no one else did, but she had no idea who had protected them. The Medicine Seller, though, had an idea, from the children's laughter in the walls and a drip of birthwater from the leaky ceiling -- she'd been defended by a mononoke with the Form of a Zashiki-warashi.

Under further investigation, he found out the Truth that the inn hadn't always been an inn -- it had been a brothel before, and in it, with her assistant, the madame (now the innkeeper, in her old age) had forced any workers who got pregnant to terminate their pregnancies, filling the inn with a lingering Regret for the lives that the prostitutes would never be allowed to give to their children. That Regret, taken form in the Zashiki-warashi, was drawn now to Shino, and her powerful will to give life to her own child in spite of her circumstances.

The Medicine Seller went to release his sword and fight the mononoke, but Shino, moved to pity, objected. Against his protest, she removed the protective talisman on herself, and told the Zashiki-warashi that she was willing to be its mother and give it life. Unfortunately, in the process of entering her body, the mononoke displaced the child that was already there -- but she had the chance to say goodbye to the soul of the child that was originally hers, which left on peaceful terms, thanking her for the care she had taken and the sacrifices she had made to keep it healthy so far into the pregnancy. With its desire to be given a chance to live appeased, the mononoke peacefully ceased to be a threat, and once again, the Medicine Seller moved on.

[Trigger Warnings for Umibouzu Arc - implied death by suffocation or starvation, incestuous feelings (not acted on), survivor's guilt. Not in the summary, but if you do watch the series, be warned, a bit of body horror.]

The next story took place on a ship, where the Medicine Seller encountered Kayo again, on her way to look for a new job in Edo. The ship carried a few other passengers: an elderly monk named Genkei and his apprentice, a young samurai with some immediately apparent antisocial tendencies, and a minstrel/semi-amateur spiritualist named Genyosai. After some very nearly friendly bickering with Kayo and awkward introductory small-talk with the rest, the passengers retired for the night -- only to wake up when a horde of ayakashi attacked the ship.

In the night, they discovered, someone had tampered with the ship's compass, tricking the captain into steering them straight into the Dragon's Triangle, a notoriously ayakashi-filled area of the sea. Though the passengers asked for his help, the Medicine Seller explained that the sword couldn't be used against normal ayakashi -- they were naturally-occurring spirits, and lacked a hidden Truth or the sort of entanglement with human emotions that produced Regrets, so there was no way to even draw it against them. With help from Genyosai and Kayo, though, he did work to fend them off through other means.

After a time, the ship was boarded by a strange, fish-headed ayakashi wielding a biwa (a sort of lute). It demanded of each passenger in turn to know what their greatest fear was, before forcing them to vividly hallucinate something based on that fear. The Medicine Seller confessed to fearing failure in his mission, and conversely, that if there were no mononoke left to fight, there would be no place for him in the world. In his vision, he saw his body disappear, his existence erased along with his purpose -- but he faced even that fear with dignity, closing his eyes and allowing it to happen until the vision was over.

When it came to Genkei's turn to tell his fear, the mononoke's story began to come out. The Medicine Seller learned that when the monk was a young man, he had harbored an attraction to his younger sister Oyou, and become a monk to try and separate himself from those unwanted feelings. Some time later, the people of their village wanted to make a sacrifice to appease the spirits of the sea, and were going to use him until his sister, who had harbored feelings of her own unbeknownst to him, volunteered to go in his place, confessing her love for him and saying that since she knew it was hopeless, she wouldn't regret dying in his place instead. Relieved to have his own life spared, Genkei was soon horrified at the callousness of his own selfish reaction -- but not soon enough to stop her from being set adrift in a sealed boat that amounted to little more than a floating coffin.

Genkei, obsessed with his guilt in selfishly allowing his sister, the woman he loved, to die in his place, was the mononoke, and when the truth was on the table, he asked the Medicine Seller to end it and went out with a smile.

[Trigger Warnings for Noppera-Bou Arc -- emotional abuse, suicide]

In the next arc, the Medicine Seller appeared in a prison cell, where he introduced himself to the young woman already in residence there, Ochou, who had recently confessed to murdering her husband and his family. It's a little difficult to say precisely what actually, literally happened in this story arc, but their conversation was interrupted by a mysterious man in a fox-like Noh mask, who broke Ochou out of prison and became a savior figure to her, even offering to run away with her and marry her.

However, the Medicine Seller caught up to them, and brought forth the Truth: that before her husband and in-laws had abused and belittled her, her own mother had done the same, whittling away at her self-esteem until there was nothing left of it. Reliving the memories, watching in horror as a ghostly representation of her child self's happiness left her body behind to its miserable reality, Ochou realized something else:

She had taken a knife to someone, but it wasn't her husband. It wasn't her in-laws. It was only herself.

In the end, though she was already dead, she was given the chance to "redo" the moment when she'd decided to end her life. This time, as she sat alone in the kitchen and listened to her abusive husband and his family laughing cruelly about her behind her back, she stood up and walked away forever, finally choosing to prioritize her own happiness and allowing her troubled spirit to be free.

(There are two main theories as to what on earth all of that mask stuff was about; the most popular explanation is that the masked man was an illusion of some sort created by the Medicine Seller to help guide her through her own process of acknowledging her own past. Noh theatre, in which masks are a key part of the genre, has a history of religious usage in Shinto practice, including in the context of explicitly shamanic or ritualistic practices like exorcisms. The main other theory is that the entire arc took place largely in Ochou's own mind, and more or less everything was a projection of her own imagination as her soul tried to piece together and come to terms with what happened.)

[Trigger Warnings for Nue Arc - None in the summary, really, but if you do watch the show, this one gets a liiiiiittle gory.]

In the next story, the Medicine Seller's travels brought him to the mansion of the heiress to a school of incense, who was entertaining three other visitors, all hopeful suitors. With the three suitors, the Medicine Seller took part in a game involving testing the subtlety of their senses of smell with different incenses, but during the course of the game, the hostess turned out to have been murdered. Though there was no heiress to impress anymore and rather more pressing matters (like murder) at hand, the suitors insisted on playing a second game, now competing more directly over who should inherit the school -- and with it, a piece of wood owned by the same estate, rumored to grant great power to its owner.

The Medicine Seller facilitated this new game, but there was no winner, as all of the contestants died. Or... no, all of the contestants were forced to realize that they'd already been dead for quite some time, killed by a mononoke in the Form of a Nue. Once they'd done that and moved on, the Medicine Seller confronted the mononoke -- the much-rumored piece of wood, the spirit of which was addicted to the attention of people thinking it was special, important, worth killing or dying for a chance at.

[Trigger Warning for the second Bakeneko Arc - murder by strangulation, someone getting hit by a train, animal death. Not in summary because of irrelevance: old timey sexism, really unpleasantly-timed glimpses of ladies' underthings.]

And then, once again, there was the Bakeneko arc.

This story was set in a notably later era than the other pieces -- roughly in the 1920s. The Medicine Seller ended up in the same train car as six seemingly random passengers -- a journalist, the town's mayor, a police officer, a young waitress, a middle-aged widow, and a little boy -- and the conductor of the train, all of whom looked rather uncannily like people from the other Bakeneko arc (and shared voice actors with them; the implication is generally accepted to be that they're reincarnations of people from the Sakai household.) When the train was attacked by a mononoke, he sealed it off and began the process of digging up answers again.

This time, once again, the truths turned out to involve a Bakeneko, and a dead young woman. The woman, Setsuko, was a newspaper writer who'd fallen from a bridge and been hit (along with a stray cat) by a train on the tracks below, her death ruled a suicide. The conductor had failed to see her and stop the train in time to potentially save her, the detective had been too quick to rule it a suicide and close the case, the witnesses had seen and heard things and failed to get justice for her for their own selfish reasons. The mayor was the man she'd been independently investigating, but the Bakeneko's worst anger was reserved for the boss who had betrayed her on the mayor's orders, first trying to talk her down, then taking a match to her work, then finally strangling her in a fit of panic when he realized she'd left the most crucial evidence behind when she came to meet him, could rewrite the article, would take the story to another paper and get him implicated in the scandal of the coverup.

This time, once again, the bakeneko got its justice by being the one to willingly show the Medicine Seller its own Regret. But one big thing was different: though it was a difficult investigation, one that saw the Medicine Seller take more damage in the course of ferreting out the truths than perhaps any of the other cases the audience sees, every one of the people in the car walked out of it in one piece.

The murderer was exposed. The mayor, who had wanted her silenced but not harmed, was left to face his scandal, and the train conductor, guilty and traumatized over his accidental role in her death, was forgiven. The witnesses -- the widow who'd stayed silent to conceal her own affair from public scrutiny, the waitress who'd lied to get attention during the initial investigation, the young delivery boy who'd been too frightened to tell anyone what he saw at the time of the murder -- and the detective who was too quick to assume her death was a suicide all escaped, but not unchanged, each of them to seek redemption in honoring the young woman's memory or lending their efforts to a renewed investigation.

One last time, his task completed, the Medicine Seller walked off into the sunset to find his next task -- but not before addressing the audience directly:

"People are born into this world, but ayakashi simply come into existence. If 'birth' and 'being' are joined by a Truth and a Regret, a Form takes shape. If they gain a Form, they give birth to a Mononoke, that which should not exist. We cannot eradicate the Mononoke. However, we can purify them, and put them to rest. And so there must be a sword, and hands in which it might rest. My friends, let me ask of you your Truth and Regret. So long as Mononoke roam in the human world..."

The sword reacted to his proclamation, signifying the speaking of his own Regret, and with that, the curtains closed.


The Medicine Seller is a tough nut to crack. His outwards mannerisms are distinct enough -- particularly the semi-constant enigmatic air around him and the oddly slow, deliberate, occasionally theatrical way he speaks -- but provide little insight into what's actually going on in his head. He's got a mean pokerface, close to constantly displaying an occasionally slightly unnervingly calm smile or an unimpressed but otherwise impassive sort of look. He doesn't have an identity outside of his work even so far as to have a name, constantly allowing everyone he meets to refer to him by the profession he uses as a cover even when it's become incredibly apparent to everyone present that he isn't "just a simple medicine peddler" as he'd claimed. On top of that, in spite of being the main character of the series and present in every scene, Mononoke isn't a story about him so much as it's a story about everyone else's stories, so his own thoughts and feelings are never as blatantly explored as the rest of the cast's.

That said, there are a few scenes in which he does speak explicitly about his own thoughts outside of simply his speculations about the investigation, and his behavior throughout the series does show certain patterns worth noting.

The final episode of Mononoke, in particular, provides more insight than usual into the Medicine Seller's view of himself and his role -- in his final speech to the audience, one hears echoes of his proclamation, made during the final battle, that he must "cleanse the world" of mononoke. After reminding the audience again of how mononoke are created and that they can't be allowed to exist in the human realm, he directly references his own Regret, perhaps better thought of as his motivation or purpose:

"We cannot eradicate the mononoke. However, we can purify them, and put them to rest. And so there must be a sword, and hands in which it might rest."

This is a job that he takes seriously. Perhaps one has ever been quite so married to their job as the Medicine Seller, but despite the very difficult things he can be called on to witness as an itinerant exorcist of deeply traumatized spirits, it doesn't seem like an entirely loveless marriage. Most of the rare flashes of apparently true emotion he shows are in direct response to the events of his exorcisms, and while some of them are negative (most notably the disgust and quiet-but-deadly fury triggered by the crimes exposed in both Bakeneko stories, but also the shock and slightly desperate concern when the young woman in the Zashiki-warashi arc offered herself to be the mononoke's mother), he does seem to some extent to enjoy carrying out his mission. He seems quietly pleased when his work can give peace or justice to a spirit who'd been denied any, and during the investigations, his calm mask can slip now and then to reveal an incredibly focused intensity, or at times even outright excitement when he's faced with a challenge.

But things like joy and excitement are fleeting; the real motivation, to him, is that he lives by one law and one law only. Mononoke, whatever their reasons, can't be permitted to exist in the human world, and so conversely, he must exist to purify and banish them. It's as much like a physical law of nature to him as it is a duty, and he's at times explicit that it is his only duty -- he isn't required to protect humans or to do good, only to fight mononoke.

And fighting them is a task he's uniquely suited for. The Medicine Seller isn't just intelligent, but cunning, skilled at spotting half-truths and inconsistent details, able in spite of his own relative lack of emotional connections and responses to gain a rapid understanding of how other people think and act under various sorts of emotional pressure. He's willing to do whatever is necessary to get to the truth, whether it's using the bedroom eyes to get a maidservant let him get away with being somewhere he shouldn't be, leaning on someone's personal foibles to try and get a confession out of them, leading someone through an elaborate web of lies to get them to a point where they're ready to open up, or even pointing out that he's not under any obligation to save people in the process of fighting mononoke to help get people scared enough to talk (though, in the last case, the people involved were both Dead All Along and kind of huge jerks.)

It's worth noting at this point that Mononoke takes visual and thematic cues from a number of diverse sources within Japanese religious and cultural tradition -- from standard Shinto purification rituals to the implied cycle of reincarnation between the Bakeneko arcs to shamanic Noh practices, even including subtler elements of Ainu and Okinawan culture and symbolism.

Though it's not discussed explicitly in terms of religious dogma in the show, it's also worth talking about the idea that ayakashi become mononoke because of destructive connections to human emotions in the context of the central Buddhist doctrine of non-attachment. Buddhist teachings often refer to "desire" and "attachment" as the root of suffering in the world. To be consumed by craving for or to cling to anything -- worldly pleasures, counterproductive philosophies and mindsets, rituals detached from meaning, even a sense of self -- is a sort of attachment, and those attachments give rise to strife and suffering. Learning to let go of those destructive attachments and emotions is a core part of the path to Enlightenment and freedom from earthly suffering. Taken in this context, the Medicine Seller's typical demeanor -- calm, detached, unflappable enough to seem at times lacking in humanity -- can be seen not only as a philosophical stance, but also as a tactical advantage against ayakashi and mononoke, which are strengthened by chaotic and restless emotions. He certainly isn't completely without emotions, but his control over them and unusual level of ability to detach himself from them means that they lack the power to control him as easily as they can control humans, and he has a higher than average resistance against temptation, obsession... and the creatures who feed on them.

The Bakeneko, after all, were born of grief and vengeance, the Zashiki-warashi of attachment to what could have been, the Umibouzu of guilt, the Noppera-bou of despair and loneliness, the Nue of longing to be valued and paid attention to... so it's for the best that the Medicine Seller, tasked with keeping mononoke like them from existing in the human realm, doesn't hold on to any emotions powerful enough to become part of something truly dangerous.

Another interesting thing to think about in the context of Buddhist philosophy is the existential nature of the things that do seem genuinely threatening or frightening to the Medicine Seller. While at first glance he seems to be someone near-entirely above emotions and attachments, the Medicine Seller does confess a fear to the ayakashi on the boat: the fear either of a world where he has died and can't pursue his purpose, or a world without mononoke, where he has no purpose. Though he's a man without even so much sense of self as to have a name, the attachment to the sense of who he is that his work imbues him with is still the most difficult, frightening thing to let go of. But when he is forced to face that fear of non-existence and lack of identity, he does so by opening himself to it and allowing it -- accepting his oneness with Emptiness as well as with existence. Later, perhaps having learned from already confronting that fear, he reacts quite calmly to a mononoke literally erasing his face away, even with the good humor to draw himself a rather silly new one before he's restored to normal.

Though at times his ruthlessness, cunning, and detachment from human notions of good and evil or the value of human life can make him seem amoral or slightly alien, he is rarely cruel, and perhaps never without justification even when he is. He shows signs of having a certain degree of innate sympathy for the truly innocent, and disgust or anger towards their tormentors: He is protective of Kayo, shows deep contempt for the men who abused and killed Tamaki, tries to protect Shino from putting her own unborn child in danger, speaks words of pity regarding Oyou having given her life for a selfish man and never even known that he could have loved her, may or may not stage an elaborate Noh play exorcism-intervention to allow Ochou to confront her history of abuse and move on into the afterlife on the high note of finally being able to walk away from her abusers, and is incredibly cold and dry when he interrupts the final killer's confession to finish his excuses for him mid-sentence ("She m..." "Made you kill her?")

Outside of his strong sense of duty and moments of compassion or righteous anger, the Medicine Seller at times displays a more playful side. His intelligence and cunning are usually put to use on the hunt for hidden truths, but his sly nature can turn more mischievous when danger is a little bit further off. He's particularly prone to show this side around Kayo -- he gossips with her about the upcoming wedding when they first meet, and teases her in a friendly manner when they meet again on the ship to Edo. He can also be a little bit on the snarky side when people are rude or unhelpful, like when he makes Odajima carry the heavy salt "so [he won't] have the chance to poison it" after Odajima's continued suspicion of him. Passive-aggressive politeness is a favored method of his for striking back at self-important, grandiose types. Once in a blue moon, he even gets a little bit silly, like when the Noppera-bou steals his face away, and he draws a henohenomoheji onto the blank front of his own head as a replacement.

But at the end of the day, humor and compassion aside, he's a man entirely focused on his life's work -- and a man with the mental strength, clarity, resourcefulness, and determination to keep doing it, time after time, no matter what it takes, so long as mononoke exist in the world.

Spiritual powers: The Medicine Seller is unusually sensitive to the presence and actions of spiritual beings such as ayakashi. He does use tools to help him pinpoint invisible beings' locations, but even without tools, he has an intuitive awareness of when they're being unusually active, even if he's not in the same room as the activity. He can generate magical fuda scrolls out of thin air, which he can move through a sort of very specific telekinesis. The scrolls are white when generated, but in the presence of mononoke, they become covered in black symbols that look vaguely like chicken-scratch-y Chinese characters, and if a mononoke is really close at hand, the symbols change to more abstract patterns in red (with a distinct eye motif). If its presence is overwhelming, the fuda will "corrode" and turn a mottled, reddish black. Aside from indicating the presence or absence of mononoke, they can also be used to seal things off from interference by spiritual entities, from single items to an entire room. In a pinch, he can also use his own spiritual power more directly to create barriers against mononoke -- though this takes a direct toll on both his concentration and his body, and can cause real damage to him if he's forced to maintain a barrier on his own for an extended period of time.

-Physical condition: The Medicine Seller isn't a big guy -- he's noticeably short even surrounded by humans from the Edo Period and wearing rather tall geta -- and while he's in good physical condition, he's not particularly muscular or physically powerful. He is, however, fast -- fast enough to counterattack against a samurai by putting a hand on the hilt of his sword and pushing it back down into the sheath before it was even completely drawn. Thanks in part to his unhurried manner, people tend to be caught rather off guard by how quick and precise his movements can be when the situation calls for it. He's also remarkably coordinated, considering how quickly and smoothly he's able to move in those tall shoes of his.

-Mental abilities: The Medicine Seller is extraordinarily perceptive, particularly with regards to picking up on lies and half-truths. While he's resolute as far as the core tenets of what he fights for, he's flexible and adaptable in his approach to it. He's also very low in emotional volatility, capable of keeping his cool even under extreme duress -- and therefore quite difficult to manipulate emotionally.

-Miscellaneous: In the course of posing as an "ordinary medicine seller", the Medicine Seller has in fact picked up a fair amount of knowledge regarding common medical treatments of his time, as well as some knowledge of vaguely related fields (such as poisons, or mixing ingredients to make fireworks). He also knows a great deal about Japanese folklore and mythology.

-Equipment: I'm assuming that the Medicine Seller's medicine chest will not be joining him in the afterlife without the use of regains. That said, several of his major powers require the use of items in the chest, so I think they're worth talking about in the application in case he does get some of them back. First, the scales kept in the chest allow him to measure the "distance" to a mononoke, by reacting when it comes within a certain range. Second, there's the matter of the Taima sword. When in possession of the sword, with two of the mononoke's truths and a human's earnest request, he can use them to create golden fuda, which can act as a more flexible and powerful barrier against supernatural attacks than the standard ones. The third truth fully unlocks the sword, causing the Medicine Seller to assume another form -- one with white hair, darker skin, red eyes with black sclera, and golden markings on his skin (which can themselves move, and be used to deflect attacks). When in this "battle mode", the Medicine Seller is more physically powerful and less bound by the law of gravity. The sword itself, when drawn, is less a blade and more a giant fountain of purifying energy (about twice as long as the Medicine Seller is tall, if not more so) attached to a hilt. He also has a mirror, usually worn on the necklace around his neck, which can be used to block powerful spiritual attacks aimed at him.

Makeup game: On point.

Strengths: Clever, just / righteous, dedicated to his work, "zen", great at working under pressure
Weaknesses: VERY single-minded, can be a little devious, cold, comes off as suspicious, frankly kind of awkward to deal with

God/Shinki: Shinki
The Medicine Seller's identity is built so completely around his knowledge of his one purpose in life that it will be interesting to play him with the same sense that there's something he needs to be doing, but without the memory and knowledge of what exactly it is. In a sense, he already thinks of himself less as a person than as a weapon for purifying and banishing particularly troublesome ayakashi, so being a shinki probably won't be that rough a transition for him.

He's strong-willed, adept with magical and spiritual skills, and inherently views himself as separate from and somewhat above a lot of human foibles, so I can see him having quite a knack for shinki magic. In addition, he's very emotionally stable and pragmatic, and unlikely to blight his god much if at all.

That said, he doesn't care much at all about what people think of him or about orders or other people's power, so actually controlling him, especially outside of battle, will be like trying to train a particularly willful cat. He'll probably be sort of irritated and disobedient (or even go nora to find himself more satisfying work to do) if too much of his time is wasted on non-ayakashi-related missions... which could get interesting!

(Also, he's going to be really confused about all of the other new shinki having actual names except for him.)
Cause Of Death: A mission went bad, and he got himself eaten by a particularly big, angry mononoke with particularly stubborn humans hiding the Truth around it. Let's go with a nure-onna, that seems up his alley.
Vessel: A round mirror with a stylized golden sun on the back, like the one he wears as a medallion. Capable of reflecting magical or spiritual attacks to block them. When used to Rend an ayakashi, light reflected off of the mirror can serve as the "edge" of the weapon, but this technique can't harm anyone who isn't an ayakashi.
Name Location: On top of his breastbone, like the round marking on his alternate form's chest.
Power: Imbues his god with a form of Combat Precognition -- the ability to instinctively sense what will happen up to about 3 seconds into their own future during high-adrenaline situations, allowing them a head start on countering or avoiding any attacks made against them (or accidents in their immediate vicinity) and making it easier to predict where their target might be in a fight.

Writing Sample

Sample: Here!


Anything Else?: As mononoke are basically just really strong ayakashi, it seems to stand to reason that his powers (not counting those that rely on the sword, which canonically requires a mononoke with a Form, Truth, and Regret to function) would also work against ayakashi, I'd think?

Additionally, here, have a couple of examples of the animation in Mononoke being, like, super pretty.