I think before we start on this one, I’m going to have to define some terms here. Like “horror” or “scary” or “anime”…No wait, I think we all know that last one…
O.k. so when I’m talking about horror here, I’m talking about the schlocky jump scare, monster type horror. Not the deep existential stuff. Seeing as Perfect Blue is one of my favourite movies (animated or otherwise) and Shin Sekai Yori completely f’ed me up and still haunts me to this day, I think it’s safe to say that I think animation can be terrifying and deeply affecting. But can it create that same surface level mix or revulsion and tension we associate with even the stupidest Blumhouse productions?
Blumhouse has put out some great movies in the last few years. I have to find another example of B-movie exploitation fare. Uwe Boll?
Like I said, I want to concentrate on horror anime with more jump scares and body horror. Like Another or The Island of Giant Insect or my current watch Higurashi: When They Cry. This doesn’t mean these titles can’t also be deeper and existential, simply that they have these surface elements regardless of whatever else.
The more, let’s say uninvolved, horror stories I have watched do tend to rely on these and have very little else mind you. And I was wondering whether this was at all viable for anime. You see as I was watching Higurashi (and I will eventually let you know what I think about the series, this is just a general observation), it did strike me that it has a lot of shocking scenes but I just don,t react to them as I would in a live action movie.
I should note that I have watched quite a few movies with a similar premise to Higurashi so it makes the comparison rather straight forward. However, unlike past horror animes, Higurashi uses a particularly cute style that has aged a bit as well. As such, there is a much more marked dissonance between the style and the subject matter.
I am a well-known coward. “Well-known” being relative here. I have not made it a secret that I will sleep with the lights open for weeks after watching anything even mildly associated with the horror tag. And yet I still want to watch it. But when seeing what should have been git wrenching scenes of blood and gore in this anime, I was mostly interested and slept just fine afterwards. This may also have to do with the fact that I haven’t moved to any new small towns recently.
The fact is, no matter how great the story and direction is, an anime corpse will never have the same impact on me as a live action one. And the less detailed and more cutsey the style, the less impact it has.
But just because I’m not jumping or hiding my eyes behind my hands, does that mean it’s less scary? I’m not sure to be honest.
Like I said, I’m sleeping fine and I’m not scared the monster under the bed will act up, but I’m also thinking back on the story during the happy light hours much more than most horror movies I’ve seen. The fact that I’m not somewhat disgusted by what’s being shown on screen means that I’m paying way more attention to it. My brain is picking up on all the animation details way more as well.
I’ve spent entire episodes biting my nails in suspense for what will come next and I can’t even count on the visuals to give me a proper heads up since everything is all brightly coloured and cute. It’s like my mind is constantly trying to figure out how I should be feeling as I’m watching the show which is throwing me off balance and heightening the tension.
The thing is, these are two different types of scary that I can’t really compare. I prefer the anime type of scary, the one that keeps you riveted to the screen. I have similar reaction to suspense movies like Silence of the Lambs for instance. With the more immediate visceral stuff, I often end up tuning it out. This said it sort of forces anime to have more going on than just the scares.
Honestly if all a horror anime has to offer is disturbing pictures of mutilated characters or disturbing pictures of giant monsters, I’m going to get bored very quickly. Way quicker than I would with a live action. Somewhere very deep in my brain a drawing is always going to be a drawing but a photograph could be real and that’s something I just can’t turn off.
It’s not a bad thing mind you. The fact that the very medium forces better narratives in horror. Am I stretching it because I really love anime and I’ll take any excuse to call it the entertainment of choice? That’s a pretty safe bet.
Still, I have watched a lot of horror through my fingers and the few anime offerings I have come across in the genre, although maybe not exactly all outstanding, still tend to fair better than average on my enjoyment meter. And I do think part of that is because of the inherent difference in jump scares and gross out horror from one medium to the other.
Have you noticed such a difference? Do you have a preference?