The days are getting shorter, nights of rest longer, and weather a little more chillier. Without a doubt, the fall season is certainly here and more specifically, the month of October. Usually being counted as the harbinger – calm before the storm if you will before the holiday season and impeding end of the year, it’s also a month in the U.S where Halloween is celebrated, a night where kids dress up in all manner of costumes as they go door-to-door to solicit for candy. Also being an occasion that commonly synonymous with the supernatural and occult (even though it has more roots in Catholicism and old harvest festivals), it has got me thinking a lot about the aspect of horror and how that interpretation differs in other regions of the world. Not being a fan of horror games, movies, and anything gory, I admit that I do like the idea and especially the interpretation that I have gleaned from most Japanese media. And if you couldn’t guess, my experience is closely linked to that of anime and manga, yet can say the analysis is somewhat more interesting.
As aforementioned, I never been a big fan of horror cinema and games. It’s not that I find it distressing or scary, but after seeing a bunch of psychopaths brandish chainsaws and other instruments of brutality or monsters chasing down clueless victims, all the jump scares and bloody aftermath that ensues just leaves me with a feeling of apathy for having to waste time witnessing it. With this evaluation clearly leveled at some of the brand of horror that most Western cinema is stereotypical known for, it is a genre that I have pulled away from. Of course, getting into anime and manga, it is no great surprise that it is a genre that has a wealth lot of material due to Japan’s history and lore. Oddly enough, with all the anime and manga I have seen and the interest I have for mythology, I do find that brand and approach exponentially more attractive and for very simple reasons.
On the surface, Western and Eastern horror do share a lot of similarities and fundamental principles such as: both like to build a sense of tension, deal with grotesque imagery or macabre subject matter, unnatural sources of conflict, and the ugly side of human nature turning up. However, upon closer inspection, one of the biggest diverging differences is that Eastern media does seem put greater importance on psychological pain more than physical. Titles like Higurashi, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, and Ghost Hound are a few good examples as they primarily focus on delving into the characters mind before inflicting any bodily harm. After all, when you really think about it, you can easily mitigate physical injuries, but very difficult to steel a person’s mind. Death, bloody bodies, demons, monsters, and spectral figures are common devices used often to initiate the psychological aspect, but do think they work incredibly well since it does highlight what fear is. Not able to understand or explain that which shouldn’t exist, something that defies what we call “normal”, and able to bring a sense of both wonder and disgust. In my opinion, that is the best aspect of the human psyche to explore.
Picking on the aspect of ghost and demons further, another reason that I like the brand of horror found in anime is because so much of it is connected to the mythology and folklore of Japan. Yes, some of it is altered for creativity sake, but when looking at titles like Requiem from the Darkness, Shin Sekai Yori, Mononoke, and many others – witnessing the weird events and stories unravel, many of the aspects do draw upon popular folklore tales and really interesting to catch a few that do touch upon some that might be lesser known outside its origin. Even better when most of them use it a skipping stone to create something original. So while it might be unlikely to see an anime depiction of a Kappa drowning people or Tsukumogami (household appliances that come alive on their 100 year of service) getting revenge on the humans that have wrong them, it does make you wonder how these stories came to be. And come on, you have to admit that a one-eyed shoe and umbrella having it out for you is way more frightening than it sounds. Having no qualms about the Western depiction of spirits and ghosts, I do find that those shown in anime and manga are a little more interesting and makes more sense given the climate of when theses stories began to sprout up.
However, beyond the creativity, links to legends, and psychology edge, one of the prominent reasons why I do like how anime tackles the horror genre is how well the artistry lends itself to it. For any other genres: slice-of-life, comedy, action, etc – there is only so many designs choices that can used, aesthetics that can be utilized, and techniques taken advantage of to change the core of what the show is. If anything, the content is key. For the horror genre, the same can be said, but do think that the overall artwork, designs, and animation quality plays a significant role in making it work out. Looking at titles like Requiem from the Darkness and Mononoke, they boast a very unique style and do think that the style does highly contribute to making those tales slightly more engaging if only for the presentation. As a recent example, School-Live also falls in-line with using its presentation very effectively. While it might not be a true horror based series, its cutesy art style does go far in subverting the viewers expectations and as a result, pulls off the goal of pulling the viewer into the characters psychological state well and reflective in the visuals for any given situation the girls are dealing with. The same idea can be said about series like Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica and Selector Infected WIXOSS and just love how the visuals alone can go as far as informing and building the atmosphere.
Not to put Japanese horror on a pedestal as there are plenty of subpar productions, but for the most part and what I have seen in anime, it has made me more willing to sample from the genre as a whole and give it another chance. Still a long way from watching a slasher flick a la Alfred Hitchcock style, but do have a fonder appreciation for the craft than I use to. So what about you? What attracts/repels you from the horror genre?