horror

Song of Saya

Song of Saya (Visual Novel)

Song of Saya

  • Trailer: Fan-dub trailer
  • What it’s about: The fact that he survived the accident was a miracle. To expect him to come out unscathed was too much to ask. Fuminori Sakisaka awakens from the car crash that killed his parents with a bizarre form of agnosia that distorts his perceptions of the world around him into a Lovecraftian hellscape. His friends are writhing fleshy monsters, his food a disgusting mess of gore and filth. Determined to hide his condition for fear of being condemned to an asylum, he contemplates suicide – until a young girl, angelic in contrast to the putrid meat-corridors of the hospital, appears by his bed and introduces herself as Saya.
  • Why you should try it: If you’ve never tried a Visual Novel before, this is a great place to start. Written by the acclaimed Gen Urobuchi, the story takes about the same time to complete as a one-cour anime, and is unusually linear – prompting you for only one *real* decision on how you believe the story deserves to end. Saya no Uta is a story of horror and devotion, of love and monsters both human and otherwise. For all that “tentacle monsters” are a big part of the Western perception of Japanese media, there is a surprising lack of true Lovecraftian horror. Saya no Uta takes up that slack, and weaves into it threads of isolation, sinister desperation and a romance that is both beautiful and horrifying. Finally, the soundtrack is fantastic – I don’t think Shoes of Glass is ever going to come off of my playlist.
  • Caveats: If you are the type of person who requires trigger warnings on the media you consume, steer well clear. Saya no Uta contains murder, rape, cannibalism, slavery, sadism and body horror. It also features H-scenes (porn) with an under-age girl. If you’re not squeamish, or if you’re a fan of Gen Urobuchi’s other works (Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero, Phantom: Requiem), you really should give this a try, though.
  • Themes: The philosophy of aesthetics, and how our senses define us, from our morality – why is it alright to poison cockroaches but not puppies?  – all the way to our sense of identity. The question of which option is the *true end* of the story is left up to the audience, and it’s a tough one to solve.
  • Similar works: Within anime, I’m going to have to say Pupa, but it’s a terrible show and you shouldn’t watch it. Outside, try the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
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Serial Experiments Lain

Serial Experiments Lain

Slain

  • Trailer: English dubbed trailer
  • What it’s about: Lain is an isolated, troubled girl. At home, her parents and sister barely acknowledge her existence, and at school her only link to her classmates is her friend Alice. Hers isn’t a unique situation, of course – all across the world, people are becoming disconnected from their real lives, in favour of the digital experiences of the Internet. But increasingly strange events seem to point to a deeper connection between Lain and the world of the Wired.
  • Why you should watch it: Lain is a unique experience. It’s a moody, existential work that trusts the audience enough to let them draw their own conclusions about what is going on, about what is real and why things are playing out as they are. The sound design is fantastic, getting a lot of work out of extended silences, and the soundtrack suits the show. The director’s background in Japanese horror shines through in almost every aspect of the show – there are no (or few) “jump scares”, but Lain manages to evoke an intense feeling of isolation and unease. If you’re up for a slow-burning psychological show that presents you with puzzles and questions you’re going to have to spend some time (or a second viewing) unwrapping, give it a go.
  • Caveats: I think the above section should be enough to decide whether to watch the show or not. It is slow-burning, it is existential and philosophical, and there isn’t a lot of traditional anime “action” going on. Decide for yourself if that’s what you’re looking for, because the show makes no apologies.
  • Themes: The division of fantasy and reality is the heart of the show, with a lot of musing going on about the nature of the self – if everyone agrees on the nature of reality, or that you are a certain type of person, can you really dispute those perceptions? Can a person have more than one identity at a time, and deliberately craft those identities to display different aspects of themselves while still remaining whole?
  • Similar works: The works of Satoshi Kon, particularly Paranoia Agent. Texhnolyze, Ergo Proxy.

Parasyte

Parasyte

kiseijuu

  • Trailer: PV Trailer
  • What it’s about: Alien parasites have quietly begun to appear across the world. After seizing control of a host body, they blend in while discreetly murdering and consuming new victims. Shinichi was almost the victim of one such being, but some quick thinking trapped the parasite within his hand. Now the two of them must co-operate to survive, as other aliens see their situation as an unacceptable risk for exposure.
  • Why you should watch it: Adapted from a tremendously popular manga series from the early ‘90s, Parasyte is a thriller with a tinge of horror to it. The entire run of the source material is being adapted, which makes a nice change from partial translations meant to act more as advertisements than standalone works. Madhouse have also shown adroitness in adapting the story to a more modern world – nothing seems particularly dated or out of place. The soundtrack is fantastic – even if you don’t want to watch the series I’d advise picking up the OST. It’s also one of those rare works that are eminently approachable from a non-anime watcher’s point of view. There are no overused jokes, tropes, or other pandering. Just action, suspense, and a solid character arc for the protagonist.
  • Caveats: It’s fair to say that Shinichi and Migi carry the show, in that very little time is spent developing any of the secondary cast. The dubstep elements of the soundtrack were slightly controversial during the opening episodes, but I think they fit in just fine. While clever editing and composition limit the censorship, there’s still a little bit here and there.
  • Themes: Cold logic versus emotion. Prioritisation of one’s own survival versus the survival of the community, tied in to a general environmentalist theme. Humanity as a natural/”evil” force.
  • Similar works: Tokyo Ghoul‘s protagonist faces much the same sort of situation. Shiki offers the same kind of horror, but ramps it up significantly.

Deadman Wonderland

Deadman Wonderland

Deadman

  • Trailer: English dubbed version
  • What it’s about: The police arrive at a school to find a classroom full of dead children, with only one survivor – a young boy named Ganta. The evidence of his guilt is overwhelming, despite his protestations of innocence, and the verdict is both swift and decisive. Death. The sentence is to be carried out at Japan’s only private prison, Deadman Wonderland, where inmates must participate in death games for the amusement of tourists.
  • Why you should watch it: This is an action show through and through. It pulls no punches, with deaths, fights and assorted ultraviolence in nearly every single episode. The conflicts and threats that Ganta faces are continually ramped up, and every time he begins to get a handle on his current situation, a new wrench is thrown into the works. The characters are entertaining in their insanity (and Shiro is adorable), and there’s a mystery to be solved under the surface of the story, but it’s the fight choreography and the fluid animation of the action scenes that are the major draws for the show.
  • Caveats: This is not a show you should try and watch with a 480px pirated stream; there are a *lot* of dark scenes – not thematically speaking (though that’s true too) – but in a literal sense of having the screen mostly black. Watching it on BluRay helps with the contrast but, annoyingly, there doesn’t seem to be a single release without some degree of gore censorship. Finally, the series ends quite abruptly. While it settles all of the immediate conflicts, it feels a lot like the first half of a story than a solid conclusion. But there’s always the manga to turn to if you want more.
  • Themes: Typical shounen fare with the power of perseverance and friendship,
  • Similar works: Mirai Nikki, Btooom!Elfen Lied. Outside of anime, The Hunger Games.

Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

mnemosyne

  • Trailer: English dubbed trailer
  • What it’s about: The fruits of Yggdrasil float unseen on the winds across Tokyo. Most have no effect, but on rare occasions a person can unknowingly absorb one, becoming immortal. Rin was one such person, and in the years since, she has set up a private detective agency looking to help people with unusual problems. But many seek the immortality that she has gained by accident, and are willing to use any means – technological, biological or otherwise – to achieve their goal.
  • Why you should watch it: Mnemosyne is a thoroughly mature thriller series. Comprising six 45-minute episodes, it’s packed with levels of violence, sex, and gore that would make even HBO proud. The show has a rich and vibrant mythology and its storytelling style is ambitious, refreshingly different. I also quite enjoyed the way that the story spanned over sixty years. It was a nice touch to have the characters age, move on, and die, giving room for the next generation. All except for Rin herself, of course. The English dubbing for the show isn’t half-bad either.
  • Caveats: The soundtrack and fight choreography don’t really do the show much justice. They honestly seem kind of phoned in. The show is unabashedly erotic at parts – don’t watch it with anyone you’d be uncomfortable watching, say, Game of Thrones’ more raunchy scenes by your side. Finally, the violence is used well for shock value to begin with, but it starts edging uncomfortably into “torture porn” at some points.
  • Themes: The search for immortality, contrasted against people wasting their lives or dying early.
  • Similar works: Speed Grapher, Canaan, Kara no Kyoukai

Alien Nine

Alien Nine

aliennine

  • Trailer: English dubbed version
  • What it’s about: Alien landings are now an everyday occurrence. Rather than inspiring horror in the populace, they’re treated with a tolerant annoyance and captured for their own safety. To this end, Yuri’s elementary school class have nominated her to be on the “alien party”, responsible for tidying up after the falling spaceships. There’s only one problem: Yuri is terrified of aliens.
  • Why you should watch it: The show is quite seriously screwed up in a subtle way. On the surface it’s a setup for a quirky saccharine school comedy, complete with cutesy animation and character designs. But once you get past that, everything is just quietly *wrong*. Everyone from the teachers on down seem completely blase about the eldritch horrors that invade their planet every week, and scold Yuri for her cowardice in a genuinely terrifying situation. People disappear, or are possessed, and nobody cares. The juxtaposition of horror and brutal violence against school slice-of-life makes the show quite unique.
  • Caveats: It’s a four-part OVA that was intended from the start to act more as an advertisement for the source material than a standalone work. The protagonist is a genuinely terrified, crying child, so don’t expect much int he way of heroics.
  • Themes: The loss of innocence, and the way in which parents and teachers often force children into growing up too quickly without even realising it.
  • Similar works: I’ll say Neon Genesis Evangelion tentatively, since this is nowhere near as in-depth as that, though the protagonists are similar on a surface level. Narutaru is probably the closest.

Hellsing Ultimate

Hellsing Ultimate

hellsing

  • Trailer: The official one flat-out sucks. This one’s a bit better, though it’s a little too long.
  • What it’s about: There’s a secret battle going on in the dark corners of the world, a fight against ghouls, vampires, and who knows what else. The Hellsing Organisation of Great Britain is pledged to defend the realm against all such dangers. At the same time, it is locked in a continual struggle against the encroachment of the rival Catholic Church into its jurisdiction. Both tasks are becoming ever more difficult but, thankfully, they have an ace up their sleeve – an ancient vampire named Alucard who fights for reasons of his own. The question is: how far can he be trusted?
  • Why you should watch it: It’s gory, dark, and action-packed from start to finish. Alucard is overpowered as hell, so if you’re a fan of “badass protagonists”, Hellsing Ultimate is a pretty safe bet. I’m a huge fan of the soundtrack too, which has a very distinctively dissonant jazzy feel to it. The story is relatively simple, but it sticks to its strengths and never gives the audience a dull moment.
  • Caveats: Don’t bother with the original series, Ultimate is the one you want to go for. The gore and fight scenes are deliberately over the top, Tarantinoesque.
  • Themes: Nature of humanity and corruption. What makes one person a human and another a monster?
  • Similar works: Elfen LiedTokyo Ghoul

Higurashi

Higurashi

higurashi

  • Trailer: No good ones, sadly. It’s a difficult show to make one for, I suppose
  • What it’s about: On the surface, Hinamizawa is a peaceful idyllic town. Keiichi Maebara certainly agrees, after settling into a new life at school surrounded by young girls. But nothing is as it seems; dark secrets and a string of murders are just the beginning, and it isn’t long before Keiichi is at the centre of a widening gyre of horror, gore, torture and murderous insanity.
  • Why you should watch it: Horror is a difficult genre for animated shows to pull off. The abstraction makes it difficult for the audience to empathise and get into the right state of tension. Higurashi is one of the rare successes, capitalising on a sense of foreboding in the early sections, and then upon its odd format later. The show is broken into a series of arcs, each covering the same time period but from a different perspective. With each “reset”, you know exactly how bad things are going to get, but you don’t know how it’ll get there.
  • Caveats: Do not let yourself be fooled by the first episode. While even the opening episode does drop some hints about what’s to come, it’s still a pretty cutesy-poo way to start for someone expecting a horror. It’s setting the stage, be patient.
  • Themes: Sin and atonement.
  • Similar works: Shiki

Aoi Bungaku Series

Aoi Bungaku Series

aoibungaku

  • Trailer: No Longer Human trailer
  • What it’s about: A series of self-contained arcs, translations of six famous pieces of classic Japanese literature into anime form. The common theme across all of them is mental anguish, whether in the form of depression (No Longer Human), obsession and phobias (In the Forest…), or outright insanity.
  • Why you should watch it: Every story in this series, regardless of the director, leaves you slightly on edge. Psychological anime tend to use mental illness as a plot device to serve a larger story; Aoi Bungaku puts it front and centre – the protagonists’ sicknesses *are* the story. The most successful of the batch, No Longer Human, (which follows a life slowly falling apart under the inability to cope with depression) was later adapted into a stand-alone film.
  • Caveats: The first story is about depression and so is naturally going to be a little slow and, you guessed it, depressing. If you don’t like a particular story, skip ahead to the next one – each is by a different director and they all have different approaches to the subject matter.
  • Themes: Mental instability, in all its flavours.
  • Similar works: For similarly introspective anime, try the works of Shinkai Makoto such as Garden of Words or 5cm per second.

Strait Jacket

Strait Jacket

straitjacket

Trailer: English subtitled version

What it’s about: In 1899, scientists successfully harnessed magic for the first time. The sheer power and utility of tame sorcery led to its rapid integration into every technological field, from medicine to power generation to construction. But magic is not without risks; unprotected humans transform into mindless, deadly monstrosities known as “demons”, and the armour meant to keep users safe is less than perfect. Throw in a left-wing terrorist group willing to use demons as a military tactic, and the government-employed sorcerers have never been busier. The story follows a rogue sorcerer named Leiot Steinberg who is called in to fill the stretched roster of these “Strait Jackets”.

Why you should watch it: If you like gory action shows, Strait Jacket offers that in spades. It packs more horror and violence into three episodes than many such shows manage in a full season. The monsters are suitably alien and the show hints at a much larger world lying just off-screen. The plot itself is so-so, but it does at least resolve itself and tie the whole thing into a nice neat package.

Caveats: Strait Jacket is best viewed as a movie broken into three parts than a series cut short. That said, it’s obviously intended as something of a teaser for the source material. Characters are introduced and then built upon only slightly, whole sections of the worldbuilding are left open-ended. You want to find out what happens next, which is more or less the point.

Themes: “What does a sinner want”, and what is the appropriate response by others? Justice, vengeance, or forgiveness?

Similar works: Claymore