I’ve been interested in the idea of horror anime for a while. I always thought that since anime tends to get a little bit more “out there” then it would be a good medium to explore some fucked up stuff.
That hasn’t really seemed to be the case, overall, however. I’m not saying I haven’t enjoyed the creepy anime that I’ve seen. Serial Experiments Lain is pretty damn good, I enjoyed the majority of Blood+, and Paranoia Agent is a quality series—but none of these are even remotely scary. I’ve started watching Parasyte recently, but honestly I can’t tell if I like it yet, and it’s too silly to be scary. The popular Attack on Titan can be disturbing, but again, it’s not scary.
So, what else is out there? What will scare me?
Apparently I’m a huge chickenshit because I ended up being scared by ghost stories that appear to be marketed toward adolescent children.
It was an easy decision to start watching Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories, or Yami Shibai, since the episodes are only FOUR MINUTES LONG. It wasn’t like it was going to take up much of my time and it’s on Crunchyroll. So, I nestled down on the couch with my laptop—alone in the dark—and decided to give it a try, my expectations low as can be.
The first episode gave me goosebumps. Literal goosebumps, my hairs standing on end. Maybe it’s because I was alone and I don’t usually watch things alone, but the whole four minute storyline creeped me out.
Maybe it’s the art style that makes it all creepier. The art style’s not even good—sometimes it’s downright awful. The whole thing is meant to mimic the kamishibai method of story-telling, which are paper cut-outs in a box. Every single episode begins with an old man in a mask rolling up to some children at a playground with his bike and box drama, and he tells them a ghost story.
The stories themselves are very simple, Goosebumps-level simple, very folklore-ish, but the way they are done is just so unsettling. The timing of things, the dark backgrounds, the putrid color scheme, the way the cut-outs blend in and out. The fact that there is ALWAYS a bad ending for the protagonist, and you’re sitting there, waiting for that to happen in four minutes time, anticipating something at every moment. It’s very nerve-wracking.
It’s very reminiscent of the scary stories told at a slumber party. I used to be all about that, my friends and I would go out into the dark woods and try to scare each other with stories we’d heard, and that’s what this feels like. But then someone took that story and made creepy paper cut-outs and dark backgrounds and showed it to you in the dead of night.
For example, the fourth story/episode, titled Kami, or Hair, starts out with a teacher working late at a “particular elementary school” because she needed to make copies of some newsletter. Nobody is around, the hallways are long and dark. The teacher walks to the copy machine and her heels echo throughout the hall until she’s in some dark corner of the building where the innocuous copy machine sits. Obviously there’s something up with the copy machine, and the way the whole thing pans out is riddled with jump scares—and jump scare blue balls—being truly creepy and unsettling. The next episode has a cool idea involving an elevator where there are oppressively dark rooms shown, things moving in the layers of darkness. Simple concept here—great execution.
I mean, they’re not all great. But that’s a given with most things.
I ended up watching up to episode 11, then that episode scared the fuck out of me and I had to actually pause it until the partner came home. That story was extremely reminiscent of things my friends and I did to scare ourselves as kids, had you staring at a photograph where there was subtle movement in the darkness. I could feel the jump scare coming, and my heart began to beat too fast and I couldn’t handle it.
Yamishibai actually managed to scare me more than all of the horror movies I’ve seen recently (aside from It Follows, so that may say something about my taste, but the same people criticizing are often the same people who like Insidious and The Conjuring). I didn’t exactly finish all of it and for all I know the second season blows, but I liked what I saw.
I recommend watching it, even if you aren’t impressed by jump scares or ghosts. It’s pretty cool regardless, and it only takes eight minutes to watch two episodes. Also, if someone could explain the psychology behind why something as simple as a Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark-esque ghost story show scares me more than most horror movies and made my heart sink, that would be great. I don’t think I’m a wuss, but here I am.