Anime Series Yamishibai

Yamishibai 2 Ep. 1-7 and my futile search for a decent horror anime

playable teaser

People usually ask me, “If you could make an anime, what would that anime be about?” In the past, I often didn’t have an answer to give them; I haven’t tried penning my own stories in a long time. Thinking about it now, however, I really think I have a certain fascination with horror. But that’s what makes it so unfortunate! The few horror anime that I have encountered are just so ineffective. I just recently tried to watch the Another dub a couple weeks ago, so the show is still fresh on my mind. Not only was the plot tedious and mind-numbing, the biggest offense to me were the show’s pretty, pristine characters. Even when they were killed off one-by-one, it was like someone splashed delicious jammu all over their 90-lb. anime bodies.

another anime

The same problem extends to Shiki, a show that people — people I respect, I must add — have sung praises for. I just think the characters on the show are too pretty, too attractive, and too fuckable. Long after the show has ended, people aren’t talking about how scary it is. People are instead pairing the characters up in fanfiction, and can you blame them? When they’re that pretty, we may as well make them fuck. Even when a show like Higurashi tries to make pretty characters look scary, the result is just goofy as fuck. And sure, the stories for both Shiki and Higurashi ain’t terrible. Hell, if I’m judging Shiki by its story alone, it’s a decent anime. But there’s a different set of expectations when I go into a horror anime. I want to feel that palpable sense of fear. I want dread to creep up on me. I want to feel so uncomfortable that I stop watching.

shiki pairing

You can’t help but feel that this is somewhat counterproductive, though. If a show is so effectively scary, then nobody would want to watch it. But the point of any show is to get people to watch it. So what do you do? I guess that’s why I think the execution of fear is so interesting in itself. You have to strike a balance between attracting an audience and repelling them. It’s like eating spicy food. Make it too hot, and people won’t touch it. If your goal to serve people food, then you’re not doing it very well. Then again, is there perhaps some merit in making a dish so hot that only a few brave souls would be willing to try it? Hideo Kojima recently spoke about a topic very similar to this:

“One thing that you have to keep in mind is that, if a game is too scary, people just won’t play it. In movies or attractions … if it gets too scary you just keep your eyes shut and soon it will be over. But if it’s a game, people will just stop. So that’s why there’s a limit on how scary you can make a game.

“But in this case we’re totally ignoring that and, you know what? If you don’t want to keep on playing through the game, so be it. We don’t care. That’s the game we are aiming for, we’re aiming for a game that will make you shit your pants. So, players, make sure you have a change [of clothes],” said Kojima.

But even if we assume that an anime director like Kojima exists somewhere out there, i.e. an anime director brave enough to make his or her viewers shit their pants, is this even possible with anime? Is anime capable of being that scary? Maybe horror just doesn’t lend itself to an episodic format. It’s kind of hard to maintain fear and tension when you constantly have to take weekly breaks in the middle of the storytelling. Plus, there’s only so much you can do with mainstream broadcast anime. It’s not all about guts and gore. It’s about creating the appropriate atmosphere, an atmosphere you won’t likely achieve if your anime is all about teenagers attending high school and hanging out with their precious nakama. Take P.T., Kojima’s latest offering. I just can’t see something like it ever being an anime.

yami shibai

But enough about my misgivings with horror anime. Instead, let’s take a look at Yamishibai. If there was an actual horror anime airing right now — and M3‘s emofest doesn’t count — I definitely would be blogging it. All we’ve been getting lately, however, are a bunch of shorts. Pupa was an incredibly shoddy adaptation, though. As a result, I didn’t have much hopes for Yamishibai. Still, as the old adage goes, beggars can’t be choosers, so here I am, writing about these ghost stories. Normally, I would also try to analyze and deconstruct the shows I watch, but these episodes are only four and a half minutes long. So instead, I’ll just focus primarily on my reactions to them.

Ep. 1

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A police officer tries to show off his ventriloquism to an audience of children, but when a wooden talisman falls out of his puppet, the damn puppet starts to talk on its own. Still, the guy manages to entertain his audience anyway, so the situation isn’t really scary to anyone but him. To me, puppets can be creepy, but only if you’re isolated from the rest of the world. For example, if you walk into an empty room, and the puppet’s eyes suddenly turn to look at you, that would be unsettling. In a room full of people, however, I think puppets are pretty mundane. And on that note, I’m just not getting a big feeling of dread from the anime’s opening episode. The police officer is isolated in the sense that no one else could notice anything wrong with the puppet, but there isn’t any actual danger here. The puppet is harmless.

Ep. 2

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A girl visits her friend’s place to have some dinner. As she is waiting for her friend to finish cooking, however, she spots an eye in the… air conditioner? I think there is supposed to be a jump scare here, but there is no build-up whatsoever so I am not quite sure what to think of a random eyeball popping up out of nowhere. When the friend finally finishes cooking, a shadow begins to slowly emerge from the kitchen sink as the two girls sit down to enjoy their meal. Naturally, the girl is freaked out about this, but her friend can’t seem to see the shadow. So instead, the friend thinks the girl is just reacting poorly to her cooking. As the shadow slowly envelopes itself around the friend, the friend continues to berate the girl more and more for, well, not liking her food. And this is the primary problem with the episode for me. It just feels a bit goofy to see the friend argue with the girl: “I ALWAYS THOUGHT YOU HAD A SHIT ATTITUDE! WE’RE NOT BFFS ANYMORE!” Uh, okay. Anyway, I think the fight distracts from the actual horror of the episode.

Ep. 3

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A kid brings home one of those Matryoshka doll he had found, but his mother disapproves of it. She leaves the house just to throw it away, but ends up disappearing for a lengthy amount of time. When she finally returns, the kid notices that something is off about his mother. Over the next few days, the mother would behave oddly, randomly crying or laughing at strange times. The kid tries to voice his concerns to his father, but predictably enough, the father hasn’t been paying any attention to his wife. There’s a common theme here where only the victim can see that something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. To top it all off, they’re powerless to stop it.

Eventually, the kid tries to get rid of the doll himself, but he suddenly feels a compulsion to open the doll and look at the other layers. He begins to notice that the inner dolls display the same emotions his mother had been exhibiting in the past few days. Finally, he comes to a doll that appears to be representing his mother. Even then, the kid doesn’t turn back. He opens the doll once more, but then the anime suddenly cuts to pitch black as we hear screams in the background. Afterwards, the father returns home to find both his wife and son acting strangely. Needless to say, the doll has possessed them both. Eh… the story piques my interest, but the execution is pretty lackluster. Done in a proper way, I think the doll should strike fear in both the kid and the audience. We should be flinching as he opened the doll.

Ep. 4

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So far, I haven’t liked any of the episodes, so you’re probably thinking that Yamishibai just isn’t for me. Well, it turns out I actually really like the fourth episode. I think it does everything pretty competently for an anime. A guy is in love with a girl who lives in a building across from him. One day, however, he spots a strange shadow sneaking into her apartment. And that’s where it all begins to go wrong for the guy. Yes, there’s a jump scare at the end of the episode, and usually, jump scares are pretty cheap. But I actually like this jump scare, so let me try to explain why. First, unlike the first three episodes, the guy is truly isolated. The other victims were only isolated in a sense, but they still had company. The guy here is totally and completely alone in his apartment. Second, the episode subverts what we’d normally find comforting. The girl is supposed to be someone he’s fallen in love with, but here she is, her body bent into an unnatural position:

Yami Shibai 0401

The story has taken something beautiful and turned it into the grotesque. To add further to this, the guy’s own apartment turns into a mini-house of horrors. He should feel safe in his own home, but he doesn’t. There’s the fear that the horror may have sneaked itself into his own home. From this point on, the story slowly builds up to the jump scare. Here, the camera hugs the guy’s right shoulder tightly, making you think that something might pop out and scare him. Nothing does. He starts to hear strange noises in his apartment. Then, he notices that his bathroom door has been opened slightly ajar. He pulls it back… only to find nothing yet again. What makes the episode work for me is the slowly building tension. But because the guy continually finds nothing, he starts to question his own sanity:

“What the heck am I doing? I’m getting scared over nothing. This is stupid. … Hmm? Huh? The window’s open… I know I didn’t open it. But… Did it open on its own?”

When horror poses both a physical and a mental threat, that’s when I think it’s the most effective. We know the danger is there, but because there’s no evidence, it’s unsettling. As a result, when the jump scare finally arrives, I think the anime has built up to it properly. It’s not about whether or not the jump scare actually surprises you. It’s that it’s not just a random scare like the eyeball was in the second episode.

Ep. 5

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Boring. A girl is in love with her senpai, so when she hears that some coin lockers can grant wishes, she decides to give it a shot. It works like this: “If you put a picture of the person you like in the locker with the doll inside of it, your love will be realized.” The girl didn’t know which locker the doll is in, however, so when she picks the 10th one — 10 being the number on her senpai’s baseball jersey — she finds a creepy-looking doll inside. But oh well, when in Rome! She sticks her senpai’s picture in there. The next day, she returns to the locker and finds that the picture is gone. Suddenly, her senpai is behind her, and it seems he has heard about the rumor too. When she tells him she had stuck a photo inside a locker with a doll inside it, however, he starts to freak out. Before he can explain to her what is wrong, however, the doll has left its locker and attacked him. Aaaaand he turns into this:

Yami Shibai 0501

So what is it? A lump of coal? Meh. The episode just isn’t remotely scary or creepy. There’s no sense of isolation, no sense of one’s sanity slipping, no subversion of anything, etc. Plus, these urban legends gone wrong stories are just kind of lame. I mean, how did it even start? And why did the senpai seem to know so much about the doll? If he knew it was so damn dangerous, why didn’t he even come close to the locker to begin with (not that it would’ve mattered)? All because of love?

Ep. 6

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I like the idea, but as usual, the execution is off. Kids have long been associated with the supernatural. We seem to think they have the ability to see ghosts and whatnot. When a couple’s kid starts referring to a Nao-chan, a name neither parent can seemingly recognize, it naturally creeps everyone out. Is Nao-chan just the result of a kid’s overactive imagination? Or is Nao-chan real? Unfortunately, Nao-chan is very real, so there’s no mystery here. In fact, we see too much of Nao-chan, as it creeps itself into the kid’s mom one night. The idea of Nao-chan becoming the kid’s baby brother is creepy on paper, but the way it happened just didn’t creep me out one bit.

Ep. 7

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More weird than it is scary. And weird is fine provided you’re also unsettling, but I’m not sure if this story is all that unsettling. Every time a businessman puts a coin into one of those toy machines, he gets a capsule that contains a memory of his childhood. He finds an eraser he had once lost, a pet dog he had to get rid of, a first love that had abandoned him, etc. Addicted to the machine, he continues to stay there, feeding it coins. Before he knows it, he has turned into a decrepit old man. I guess the story is trying to warn us that this is what we’ll turn into if we don’t let go of our past regrets. But again, this is more weird than it is unsettling.

So I’m all caught up now on the second season of Yamishibai, but I’m not sure I’m interested in continuing with the rest of the show. Overall, the anime has been more miss than hit, and after seven episodes, I’m still hungering for something that can really put the fear into me. The search for a decent horror anime goes on… but maybe I should just give up on it completely.

12 replies on “Yamishibai 2 Ep. 1-7 and my futile search for a decent horror anime”

@Another: Great atmosphere and IIRC the creator is the husband of a prolific author Fuyumi Ono (12 Kingdoms). Decent animation and nice scenery for a horror story but plot became nonessential halfway. In the end the characters were acting so bizarrely it became more a dark comedy than mystery/horror. A lot of potential wasted considering it had a nifty setup w/twins, curse, dolls. and desolate village. Also, left me with a unnatural fear of umbrellas.

@Shiki: I gave up halfway and read parts of the manga out of boredom. Lol, if you thought anime character design was weird than the manga is 2x worse. I thought it was OK before I dropped it despite being a VAMPIRES VS MYSTERIOUS ILLNESS VS TOWNSFOLK plot with teen MC. It reminded me of King’s ‘Salem’s Lot as a anime. I think everyone dies or something at the end.

@ Yami Shibai: I watched the entirety of S1 because I thought it had unique animation and it was short enough. I had hopes for S2 would have more of a theme opposed to random urban legends in Japan in everyday life. Not really. The college guy story was the only one that frightened me and IDK some of the stories the MCs are just doing stupid things that wouldn’t even make sense in a regular story.

Side note: I think horror manga actually has more potential than anime because you can control the pacing and my imagination is always scarier than some jump scare or escaped convict from the local prison in town.

I liked anime series that were borderline horror/supernatural stories .

The few series I completed would be Boogiepop Phantom, Ghost Hunt (lol animation quality is so low that it ruins some monsters), Panania Agent, Perfect Blue, Mouryou no Hako (CLAMP design is YMMV but story is good up to a pt), Red Garden (well, it takes place in IRL NYC, so that’s always fun), Dennou Coil (more supernatural but interesting future), and Shinreigari: Ghost Hound (small village horror).

@Another: Great atmosphere and IIRC the creator is the husband of a prolific author Fuyumi Ono

I didn’t really feel the atmosphere. I thought it was corny.

Paranoia Agent is EXCELLENT. Among his other works, that’s why I respect Satoshi Kon enormously. RIP Space Cowboy :(

Ugh, Shiki was awful. 90% of the runtime was the villagers running around in circles while everything is right in front of their faces. It is painful.

I thought Season 1 of Yami Shibai had a couple of good episodes.

Echoing the love for Paranoia Agent, though I probably wouldn’t say it’s horror so much as psychological thriller.

Another had a pretty good atmosphere for the first two or three episodes before it became Final Destination.

Thing is good horror in general is hard to find and I just don’t see it working at all in animated form. Even tho it is more adventure then horror I would love Stephen Kings the Dark Tower series animated by a credible Japanese studio. The Dark Tower is just such a great series in general shame it only has books and comics.

Also there are q decent number of movies that are simply made for viewers to piss themselves, Kojima was just hyping up his work what ever it was don’t really play his games. Zelda from pets semetery clearly had the goal of making people shit themselves. You have a fucking creep in a isolated space taking full advantage of the uncanny valley effect by moving in a human yet inhuman motion. I was so scarred of that shit as a kid I no longer could watch the movie I just hid under the cover till the movie was over to scarred to view the T.V. again that my friend is terror. .

Great post because horror in anime has been something I’ve been thinking about for some time. Especially the point of character design.
Character designs are very important in horror I feel, and it’s been expressed in this post. If you’re going to be drawing bishounen and bishoujo type characters, you gotta raise the horror substance waaay up to over-shadow the “anime hotness”. If not, well, viewers are going to focus more on the characters than the actual thing that a true horror show should focus on: the supernatural and the extraordinary. It’s all about a world or a set of circumstances that are LARGER than the characters themselves. The characters are just players in a type of game. In a way, they have to be helpless. If your characters are sucking away the horror of the show, then the writing itself is weak, thus creating a sub-par horror story. There’s a certain failure when ero-artists are drawing up thousands of hentai illustrations about characters from a horror show without putting much stock in the actual horror itself (I’m looking at you Higurashi). Then again, not many people can actually write compelling and genuine horror, so what do they do? Have a cast of sexy characters so at least the show has at least something.
And for all its flaws, that’s one thing that I found that Yamishibai does well. They use mundanity in character designs to remove itself away from the childish and bubbly typical anime look. Thinking about Yamishibai being illustrated in that style would have completely decimated the mood and feel that it’s going for.
And that’s where I think Higurashi failed. The show’s focal mystery premise is done superbly in my opinion. But the characters as well as the gore of the show detracted much from the quality. The popularity of the show was probably just from the shock-value of committing horrible brutality on moe characters. That was its novelty, maybe even a gimmick. And that’s the sour point for me. Great, have the characters die, but you don’t have to graphically show them suffering just because you want spray-blood. Splatter, gore and jump-scares are probably the lowest form of horror. It’s just exceptionally cheap and short-lasting when good psychological horror should leave the mind and body racing while leaving a permanent and haunting memory.

PS: Fuck P.T. but it is excellent. It disturbed me to the point of forcing me to take a break from it for a little bit. There’s a great balance of jump-scare, psychological and atmospheric horror that a lot of indie horror games from the past few years have also done well. The puzzle aspect of the game is very solid as well, chilling and mind-fucking. If this is what Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro can do with a short playable trailer like this, I’m having pretty high hopes for Silent Hills. If it can capture the same sense of horror that the first few games of Silent Hill had, it could bring back the greatness of the genre. God knows that the series needs a very serious shot-in-the-arm after the train-wreck of games from almost the past decade.
PSS: Loneliness in horror is important. Important being understated.

PS: Fuck P.T. but it is excellent.

It’s sad though to see all the self-proclaimed hardcore Silent Hill fans whine about how the game doesn’t feel like Silent Hill. The problem with the last few Silent Hill is that they’re too much like Silent Hill. It’s Flanderization to an extent. Every game has to have sexy (read: boring) nurses. Every game needs a big, hulking stalker. Every game needs to have an otherworld that’s really just a bunch of shitty, metal grates. Silent Hill is largely forgotten because it’s become formulaic. And here, we have a potential reboot that looks to build on atmosphere and tension, and all the hardcore fans can do is whine.

You know what they say: “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.
Nah, for video games they should probably change it up a bit.
I’ve long learned that video game fans are probably the most self-entitled divas to ever grace this planet. It’ll take the finished product of Kojima and Del Toro to forcefully rub into fans’ faces to tell them to shut up and jam.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was a tiny bit of fresh air due to “no combat” but still, it suffered from not-so-great execution. The story wasn’t that great either.
I’m pretty confident that Silent Hills will be of a higher quality in terms of horror elements than anything that will be released in that time frame. I get that The Evil Within is survival horror but it looks to be more splatter and gore than psychological and mind-fuck (although I’ll bet there’ll be some measures of those too).

Horror to me is best when it knows how to be subtle and realistic in its horror, or when the horror limits your preceptions and uses the remaining senses to be the one that get to your mind and soul. That is why Horror works wonders in books and radios and probably why one of the most popular podcasts was a love letter to old-time horror radio. Creepypastas work because you let the words (and some pictures) tell the story. Junji ito doesn’t rely on bright colors and fluid animation to tell a good spooky story.

And that is the problem with horror anime (and many modern horror movies): It’s too polished. It doesn’t chip away anything. It doesn’t make you feel anything. It doesn’t TRY to be raw or realistic. it’s just one big gorefest with pretentious speeches on the side.

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