***I mention Shin Sekai Yori, School Live and Another. If you don’t want to know anything about those shows, you should skip this post. They’re very general mentions though, I don’t go into the plots of these shows at all***
Every Halloween I’ve made it a point to seek out and watch some anime that would fall into the “horror” genre. It’s more challenging than it seems. It’s not exactly the most popular genre out there. This is fact has been a source of much whining on my part.
I’m not a particularly bloodthirsty person… Don’t listen to my friends, they don’t know me deep down… But once in a while I get a horror anime craving. I can’t explain it. I know it’s just going to result in severe lack of sleep and hiding under blankies, but I still can’t resist. And more often than not, I look up a bunch of recommendations on the internet, realize I’ve seen them all since I do this fairly regularly, and give up.
I’ve often wondered why the genre seemed a bit underrepresented. Is it cultural? Do North Americans simply watch more horror on average which is why we also get so much of it?
I have heard the theory that anime was simply not the right medium for horror as it is inherently less scary. As someone who has frequently had to actively take breaks from some anime series because they were getting too intense, I beg to differ! I do guess I see why it may look that way from the outside though.
This said, even a show like “School Live” with its cute rounded designs and pastel palette managed to ramp up the tension and make me genuinely worried about those girls. (Completely random fact, School Live is the show that made me want to start a blog despite the fact that I’ve never reviewed it). Not to mention that anime doesn’t have a set appearance and you can make it as disturbing and menacing looking as you want (provided you find the right artists).
In fact, I would argue that the disconnect your brain makes from watching what are clearly pictures and not real people (less scary) is offset by the fact that you don’t have to worry about unsuccessful special effects or badly integrated practical ones. Everything on screen exists in the same reality as your audience sees it (more scary). Yes, I’ve conveniently ignored the existence of CG in anime for that last argument. Just roll with me, we want more anime!
So on pure medium “scariness” it’s hard to really tell which has the upper hand. I lie.. it’s live action. Live action is scarier you guys… But just pure brown pants moments aren’t all that’s needed for a good horror movie in my opinion. In fact, for me, they’re not necessarily needed at all. Also, the slight dampening that happens due to a story being animated rather than acted out may have some unique advantages.
Let me try to explain. For me, generally, I will be more likely to have that edgy panicky feeling when I watch a movie with actors in it, even if the story is clearly fiction. The Grudge freaked me out even though I have no reason to think any of it is real. But movies that freak me out and make me sleep with the lights on for a week are a dime a dozen. I am after all a fantastic coward. However it’s the stories that get under my skin that stick with me. The slow burn horror with layers of terror that you only truly appreciate (or even realize) in time, when you think back on it.
I will occasionally remember Shin Sekai Yori and still get a little winded from the heaviness of the atmosphere. The hopelessness of it all clawing at my mind. Hundreds of ghouls and slashers that have populated my nightmares will never amount to that type of impact on my psyche. I’m sure it did not have the same effect on all anime fans. Some of you may not even consider it horror at all. But for me it was horrific.
The type of stories where the terror comes from the ideas portrayed rather than the actual images don’t really suffer much from the change in medium. In fact they can even profit as it’s easier to weave in abstract and surreal imagery throughout your anime without worrying too much about shattering suspension of disbelief or bankrupting the production.
Then there’s the subversion shock factor. I mentioned school live earlier, and to me that was a great example of unsettling dissonance. Everything about the show, from design to voice acting to colour palette, instinctively led me to expect something and when I got a very different experience, it threw me off balance. And this persisted even after the twists were all revealed. I knew what type of show it was but my brain had such long standing associations with these types of images that it was always a little *unsettling* and uncomfortable to see them in this new context. For me, it added a lot of bang for my buck.
As for the dampening as a good thing. Once again, I can only speak for myself. As I said I’m a coward. I am not however squeamish and buckets of blood don’t generally bother me much. This said, I don’t think I could have watched a show like Another in live action. First, for some reason I often find that level of gore a little comical in live action movies. Just because that much blood often ends up looking fake I suppose. Not to mention that live action features have to deal with much stricter censorship guidelines, so they often purposefully lighten more intense scenes to avoid harsher ratings.
For me there’s also an instinctive repulsion to pain. What I mean is that on some level seeing the thorn up corpse of an actor triggers a slight revulsion that then affects the rest of my viewing. The scene is gross and I am a bit distracted now. Not as likely to find anything that comes right after it as enjoyable. In a way that may be the point. But the exact same scene animated will be very different for me. It’s still gross and shocking but at the same time I can appreciate the art. I am more likely to think about the characters and implications of the scene because I don’t have that same repulsion that wants to just push the scene away. I am ok with paying close attention even if I find it frightening.
Certainly this is a personal reaction but I’m sure I’m not the only one. I guess the moral here is that if you’re a faint of heart coward like me, you should opt for animated horror. Just don’t go in thinking it’s not scary and don’t blame me if you have to go out and buy a nightlight!