Can Horror Anime Ever Be As Scary as Live Action?

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?

The Island of Giant Insects (6)

chilling

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.

higurashi

ahh that classic anime look

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.

Demon Slayer ep20-3 (2)

whatever else it may have been, I thought Demon Slayer was very pretty

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.

Charlotte

I’m not sure either

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?

Rini 2020 (7)

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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28 Responses

  1. aina says:

    I’m a coward too! My scream is most likely to be the loudest one when I watch horror movie with family. So I’m actively trying to avoid horror genre. Especially the ones with jump scares.

    As for anime, the closest thing I’ve watched that’s horror might be Kara no Kyoukai. And although it’s debatable, I think that with anime I might be able to watch everything without having to close my eyes.

    • Irina says:

      You’re the second person that’s mentioned that anime. I guess I just never noticed it was horror for some reason

  2. I haven’t been scared by a movie since I was a little kid watching horror flicks on late-night television. There was one where a radioactive dinosaur was rampaging through London. Another was a B&W movie similar to “The Blob” where the Spanish Army (Or was it Mexican? I was too young to differentiate.) called in a division of flame thrower tanks to defeat it or it would have covered the entire world.

    Suspense is a different creature. A really good thriller delivers a surprise after a period of tension. It may or may not involve a startle reflex. A build-up of tension drawing you deeper into the action – as though you were the character – followed by a sudden climax. A climax you knew HAD to be coming but still startled you. I don’t think of that as fear. YMMV but I never get drawn into anything deep enough to actually feel fear. I never feel that level of suspension of disbelief.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that psychological horror is the only real horror. There is so little of it because it is insanely difficult to do. Physical horror (blood and guts) is so common as to be boring. I don’t consider it horror any more unless there’s a psychological component.

    Neither movies nor animation leaves me with bad dreams. OTOH, scary flicks can leave my wife with nightmares for days. Not monster flicks like Dracula or whatnot but flicks about psychopaths. Vampires don’t exist but nutcases who rape and murder for kicks do.

    There have been a few movies that kept me right on the edge of my seat. “Silence of the Lambs” is a great example. So was “Psycho.” No anime measures up to those. The realistic representations of people, props, and backgrounds draw you in much deeper than any animation. I can’t speak for everyone obviously but I cannot inject myself into them as effectively.

    “Perfect Blue” is what I’d consider good psychological horror. I consider it what Hitchcock would have done if they’d let him. But back then we had the Hayes Commission and a lot more censorship in what you could show in a theater. I also consider “Another” and “Erased” and “Devilman Crybaby” as good horror.

    But there are a lot of anime I see classified as horror that I really think of as just action/adventure with lots of blood.

    https://youtu.be/sOnqjkJTMaA

    • Irina says:

      I guess if you don’t get scared by schlock or body horror anyways pretty much all of those whether animated or not would be just t action/adventure with lots of blood. I mean the Friday the 13 and Nightmare on Elmstreet movies are pretty funny if the jumps scares don’t get you

      • My wife has an enhanced startle reflex while I have a very modest one. I tend to think my way through situations other people get emotional over.

        This is a problem. People interpret that it means either I don’t care or I don’t have a clue.

        • Irina says:

          See I’m very unemotional but I still dislike loud noises and flashing light. Overly rational people often have unnecessarily honed responses to sensory stimulus. Possibly because we try to analyse it instead of instictively feel out way through it?

  3. ManInBlack says:

    One word – Shiki!

    • Irina says:

      Shiki has jump scares? I don’t remember any…. I thought it was more the psych drama genre. Dickensian cosmic horror drama archetype.

      • ManInBlack says:

        Maybe not jump scares but it was creepy as hell. I don’t recall feeling so unnerved by the atmosphere of an anime as much as that one.

        • Irina says:

          Like I mentionned that’s the type of horror I think anime does very well. Shiki is a good example indeed

          • “Kara no Kyoukai” has a lot of good horror elements. I mention that here because hearing “Shiki” reminded me.

            • Irina says:

              Of wow, I never even thought of Garden of Sinners as horror at all. As in the thought didn’t cross my mind when I was adding tags to my review. That is so interesting.

  4. Starchaser says:

    I can understand an anime corpse not having the same kind of impact. It’s like, even though they’re people, they’re not *real* people. And with an anime like Higurashi (at least its art style) it does seem kind of incongruent. Though that was its intention, but still, those cutesy characters in that type of state 😔

  5. Anonymous says:

    I tried watching Elfen Lied one time but the scene with the dog and the other scenes for example turned me off from the show. More psychological but still really messed up.
    -K(rogueotakugamer)

    • Irina says:

      I only read it but it was a bit disappointing to me. It wasn’t bad but pretty stereotypical past the midway point.

      • Anonymous says:

        I actually think a sequel is really something that it desperately needs because look at how paper thin the plot was and the amount of plotholese that the show had.

  6. Dawnstorm says:

    I’m watching a lot less horror these days, so I’d have to go mostly by memory. The thing is, though, I don’t think I’m making much of a difference between an anime corpse or a live-action corpse. It’s difficult to compare, because both anime and live-action can have so ludicrous direction that a corpse can be unitintentionally funny (and that’s just the extreme end of the spectrum).

    Nothing’s going to be scary for me, if it doesn’t manage to grab my empathy. Another, for example, lost me pretty quickly, and that’s because the show tried to be create a creepy atmosphere from the get go and extended it into your avarage slice-of-life scenes, too, so that for me the show came across as a try-hard from episode one. They did have the occasional effective scene, but a lot of it was unintentionally funny. When the ending hit, I didn’t really see the huge change towards ridiculousness that many saw: it’s been the sort of show from the beginning for me.

    Then there’s Blood C that’s actually pretty good at slaughter porn, but its also wrapping into a story that doesn’t work, so that in the end I couldn’t get into it at all.

    I’ve never seen Higurahsi beyond episode 1, but I’ve seen clips, and I found them rather hard to watch. I have no idea how the same scenes would work in context. The over-the-top crazy-face is one of my least favourite anime visual, so it’s possible that, if they ramp the stuff up gradually, I’d just suffer from fatigue and watch it while eating pop-corn. I found that context matters a lot and can make things actually less scary, if the show screws up.

    Shin Sekai Yori’s episode 19 (the hospital episode) works amazingly well as suspense horror; there’s no sophistication here, just great atmosphere and pure, instictual horror. Kagewani also managed to draw me in after a few episodes, and I still don’t know how they did it, the show being a 5 minute short with southpark-like cutout animation and more-realistac-than-the-anime-avarage character designs, and extremely corny monster movie set-up. And yet it worked for me. I made the mistake of watching episode 10 of Made in Abyss while not well rested. One episode before bed. By the end of the episode, I was so physically sick that I was afraid I wouldn’t be physically able to switch off my computer. Again, it’s empathy more than the images, here. Good horror uses your imagination against you. (I still don’t know how I would have reacted to the same episode if I had been better rested, but it is an episode that made you feel like you have to do horrible things rather than suffer them…)

    As it is, horror is usally not my anime genre, and most effective horror occurs in shows that have other genres, too, so I often don’t think of them in the context (for example I tend to think of Shin Sekai Yori as dystopian SF, primarily).

    • “Shin Sekai Yori” is great… low key horror that is all the better for not being eviscerations and monsters. And a great dystopian tale as well. Anime needs more dystopias.

  7. A part of the reason I think horror in anime works so well is because of the ability of the creators to use the space that we see much more efficiently. You can only cram in so many obvious details in a live action scene, but since anime is generally drawn, the animation is such that each inch of the page can be filled with subtle cues, making it more unsettling.

    Same reason as why people tend to find still images, like a picture of a creepy tunnel or a horrifying visage much more unsettling than they find movies creepy. If you’ve watched something creepy, you’ll think of it and get scared, if you watch something unsettling, you’ll see it in the shadows of your house.

  8. Pinkie says:

    This has some relevance to a post of mine that will go up on Saturday but I think a part of why Anime Horror works is because it has another curve of suspense of disbelief. Anime characters can do a lot more weird stuff before we notice things are wrong. When Blonde Bimbo 78.213 runs up the stairs in a real life action movie we all know she is acting dumb and can easily be taken out of it.

    Anime has less. .. rules of reality I’d say . So it can keep suspense even when shifting tonally from time to time. I suffer a lot less jump scares, or adrenaline.. but horror anime can provide a much more steady tension burn. An anime girl running up stairs because she’d want to save her favorite plushie.. still can feel legit while in real cinema it would not.

    Because someone is so enlarged and extreme in anime I also find it much easier to care.
    Even if the character is not like me.. we see much more on that face, especially in the dark scenes, anime loses nothing in translation. I’d say Real horror offers a bigger rush, Anime a longer trip.. here I am the Dutchie describing horror in drug terms.. how stereotypical.

    Uwe Bol doesnt make horror movies.. he makes horrid movies.. he just misunderstood. He is actually a briljant film maker that keeps wondering why everyone keeps asking him to make horrid movies. .. then again In the Name of the King was terrible as well even if it wasnt a horror movie. I’d say B-movies is a bit above Uwe Boll. Ed Wood maybe?

  9. oliveunicorn says:

    I know its more under psychological but Paranoia Agent really creeped me out .

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