horror

Elfen Lied

Elfen Lied

elfenlied

  • Trailer: Official trailer
  • What it’s about: A subspecies of humans have begun to appear in isolated pockets around the globe. Distinguished by a pair of cranial nodes granting them immense telekinetic powers, they display an apparently universal tendency towards sociopathy and violence. For the safety of the public, their very existence is a closely-guarded secret and any specimens discovered “in the wild” are brought in to be studied in heavily fortified laboratories.  One day, something goes wrong with the base security, and one of these “Diclonii” escapes back into society
  • Why you should watch it: Elfen Lied is infamous for its incredibly high level of violence, and it lives up to its reputation in every regard. The story is both dark and compelling, and you truly get a sense that no character is safe. The mystery surrounding the main character is teased out masterfully, balanced with a decent dose of action scenes and funny character moments, and overlaid with a haunting soundtrack.
  • Caveats: The series has a weird approach to narrative tension. It’s essentially “all or nothing”, transitioning straight from brutal action scenes to domestic humour and then back again. It’s also slightly forgetful, spending a lot of time introducing characters that have little actual impact on the story or presenting plot twists that are then never built or expanded upon. Finally, a moderate tolerance for moeblobs is recommended.
  • Themes: Nature vs Nurture. The various ways that people deal (or fail to deal) with emotional trauma.
  • Similar works: If you’re looking for something of a similar violence level, Hellsing Ultimate or perhaps Deadman Wonderland are your best bets. Story-wise, Brynhildr in the Darkness and Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom offer the closest parallels.
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Paprika

Paprika

paprika

  • Trailer: DVD trailer
  • What it’s about: What it’s about: A computer system has been developed to aid in psychotherapy, allowing trained therapists to accompany patients into their dreams and explore their subconscious issues. But there’s a problem. It seems one of the units has gone missing – an unsecured system that allows anyone to hack into the dreams of anyone else. The story follows a scientist and her dream-avatar Paprika as they try to track down and contain whoever has the rogue system.
  • Why you should watch it: The visuals on Paprika are stunning – there’s no other word for it. Satoshi Kon is one of the true masters of video editing and blending one scene into the next for a dreamlike experience – Western directors like Christopher Nolan have been cribbing from his work for years. The plot of Paprika is relatively simple but maintains its momentum throughout. All in all, it’s a psychedelic experience, a good trip in every sense of the phrase.
  • Caveats: As mentioned, it’s a fairly simple story, but certain elements can be confusing.
  • Themes: Dreams and the nature of reality.
  • Similar works: Anything by Philip K Dick. The movie adaptation of A Scanner Darkly is particularly apropos.  Within anime, any of the other works by Satoshi Kon such as  Paranoia Agent or Perfect Blue. The guy has a very distinctive style of editing and storytelling.

Tokyo Ghoul

Tokyo Ghoul

tokyo ghoul

  • Trailer: PV Trailer
  • What it’s about: There is a dark underworld hidden from the civilians of Tokyo – a subspecies of “ghouls” who, while human in appearance, are possessed of decidedly inhuman strength and cannibalistic urges. After a run-in with one such ghoul, Kaneki Ken wakes up to discover that the operation that saved his life has partially transformed him into a ghoul himself. Stuck half-way between the two worlds, Kaneki must face up to his new reality, without losing his grasp on his former mundane life.
  • Why you should watch it: It’s gory, dark, and absolutely riveting. Horror is a very hit-and-miss genre for anime, as the abstraction of animating a scene often lowers the visceral impact of the visuals. Tokyo Ghoul somehow manages to walk the line, using gore and suspense without falling into self-parody. The voice actors are excellent and the world itself is very well-painted. the soundtrack is decent, though not mindblowing. In all, it’s definitely worth a watch if you’re a fan of horror and haven’t found much in anime to suit your tastes.
  • Caveats: The big one here is the level of censorship. I’d say roughly half the time, they get away with it relatively well, using the show’s already dark palette and some stylish angles to obscure the big black blobs that are only going to get revealed in the BD release, or using the simple expedient of inverting the colours to get around the restriction on showing blood. However, there are quite a few shots where it just doesn’t work, and you’re left with characters reacting to things that are hidden from the audience. Secondly, while the anime version works very well as a standalone, there is a substantial amount of background stuff that’s been cut out of the original manga material in the interests of time.
  • Themes: Guilt and self-hatred – finding the monster within oneself and making peace with it. Persecution of the “other”, and the cycle of violence that ensues.
  • Similar works: ParasyteDarker Than Black, Hellsing Ultimate.

Attack on Titan

Attack on Titan:

attack on titan

  •  Trailer: English subtitled version
  •  What it’s about: Humanity is no longer the dominant species. Several hundred years ago, a horde of gigantic, carnivorous, but thankfully unintelligent giants appeared with no explanation, killing everyone in their path. The only survivors huddle fearfully inside gigantic walled cities with a tech level somewhere between the Renaissance and Steampunk. Fighting back simply isn’t an option. Until, one day, the Titans break through the walls, and they are left with no other choice.
  • Why you should watch it: Attack on Titan is probably the most hyped show of the past couple of years and, honestly, it deserves most of it. The soundtrack is utterly fantastic, the action sequences (featuring the steampunk equivalent of soldiers equipped as Spiderman) are breathtaking, and the animation in general is gorgeous. On top of that, it’s actually a good story, and has one of the strongest set of opening episodes that I’ve ever seen in an anime, managing to get the audience pumped up right from Episode 1.
  • Caveats: The weakest point of the show is in its lurching pacing. After the adrenaline rush of the opening episodes it falls into a lull, followed by a brief explosion back into action and then it drags again. And so on. I would have absolutely hated to have tried watching this week-by-week, but most of the weaknesses are mitigated simply by binging through – something that’s all too easy to do.
  • Themes: Living under terror, the horror of war. Also the standard shounen themes of believing in one’s friends and trusting in one’s self.
  • Similar works:  The Spirits Within and Knights of Sidonia both have similar premises and themes.

Shinsekai Yori

Shinsekai Yori (From the New World):

shinsekai yori

  • Trailer: Extended fan-made trailer
  • What it’s about: In a far-flung post-apocalyptic future survives an isolated society of small Japanese villages. The community is rigidly controlled and stratified, with a great focus placed upon developing and restraining the natural psychic powers that all humans begin to demonstrate upon hitting puberty. The story follows a group of children as they begin to question the indoctrination imposed upon them and are steadily presented with the reasons and justifications behind it.
  • Why you should watch it: Shinsekai Yori has, hands down, the best world-building I’ve ever seen in an anime. It takes its central premise – ubiquitous psychic powers – and follows through on the societal consequences that the existence of such a thing would have. As the show goes on, it’s made clear that there really are no “heroes” or “villains”, that everyone has their own entirely self-consistent justifications for their actions, which nonetheless conflict with everyone else’s. It’s a wonderfully morally grey narrative. As an added bonus, Shinsekai Yori is a rare work in that it treats its audience as intelligent: it doesn’t directly narrate connections as the characters make them, it shows you flashes and assumes you’ll keep up.
  • Caveats: The start of the show is slow, with much more effort being put into setting up a solid foundation for the latter half and in establishing the unique setting than in showing things actually happening. This pays off, but the “mystery” of the early episodes is not enough to sustain interest by itself at times. “Plot holes”, particularly with regards to character actions or motivations, only make sense with information gained later on. The sudden time-skip into adolescence around the half-way point makes for a *very* jarring transition episode with every character (including background ones) apparently having paired off romantically. Again, justified later, but still a bit of a sudden change-up from what had been happening up to that point.
  • Themes: Liberty vs Security – the benefits and drawbacks of censorship. Identity, conformity and indoctrination. Legitimacy of violence. Discrimination.
  • Similar works: Psycho-Pass shows a dystopia struggling with the same problem of security versus liberty, but takes a more action-intensive approach. Outside of anime, the most obvious parallel is with Shyalaman’s The Village, though Shinsekai Yori is a much deeper, much more thoughtful work. Also, The Giver.