The face of madness revealed in Moryo no Hako.
As someone who lives in a country where animation is overwhelmingly aimed at children and general audiences, I'm fascinated by the amount of freedom that animation has over in Japan. In particular, I'm still amazed at how anime is used as a means of telling serious horror stories, something that you'll never find here in the U.S. In this post, I will look at three horror anime series--each of which are based on a novel--that are great examples of how hand-drawn monsters, murders and mysteries can chill the soul of even the most jaded horror fan. Read on ...
Year of Release: 2012
Number of Episodes: 12
Plot Summary: In 1998, teenager Koichi Sakakibara moves into a new town while his father is away teaching a college in India. When his fellow students begin to die under unusual and shocking circumstances, Koichi learns that his class at Yomiyama Middle School has fallen under a bizarre curse that has haunted the school since 1972. With the help of his friend Mei Misaki, he sets out to uncover the secret behind the curse before his entire class dies.
Comments: Another is kind of like a slasher story in the sense that almost all of the potential victims are teenagers. However, unlike most American slasher stories that characterize teenagers as sex-crazed, booze-binging jerks, the teenagers in Another are likable, hard-working and normal (for the most part). Even in cases where the teenagers are abusive towards each other, they are often doing it out of fear of the curse; understanding that the kids are just trying to make the best of a bad situation, trying to survive a curse that's as inexplicable as it is deadly, makes it easier to sympathize with them and thus adds to the shock every time the body count goes up--and boy howdy, does it go way, way up.
Some horror fans might be frustrated with the amorphous, elusive nature of the curse. While there are some inconsistencies in the curse's mechanics (i.e., who dies and how, who goes insane and who doesn't, etc.), I thought that curse's unpredictability made it so much more intimidating and added to Another's vivid, Gothic atmosphere of dread and disorientation.
Title: Moryo no Hako (a.k.a. Box of Goblins)
Year of Release: 2008
Number of Episodes: 13
Plot Summary: In post World War II Japan, a failed attack against teenage girl at a train station serves as a prelude to a series of grisly murders involving severed body parts placed around the countryside in boxes.
Comments: Moryo no Hako is a brilliant mashup of pulp mystery, sci-fi and occult horror. Both stylish and well-written, it travels through a wide variety of subjects--extortion, demonic possession, transhumanism, religion, ancient folklore and so on--as it tells a story about killer's obsession with perfection and immortality. Curiously, Moryo no Hako approaches the familiar plot device of "mad science" from a unique perspective. Usually, the term "mad science" is shorthand for destructive scientific research that has run amuck or has originated from a mind of questionable sanity; in Moryo no Hako, we see a science that is so ghastly and morally bankrupt that it has the capability of pushing people to madness--even people who appear outwardly rational.
Of the anime series listed in this post, Moryo no Hako is most demanding of its viewers. Some segments are shown out of sequential order, so you'll see many things in the early episodes that won't makes sense until you get closer to the end. Furthermore, for as grotesque and depraved as this series can get, many of the episodes are thick in dialog exchanges, something that may bore some horror fans. However, this is neither pointless discussion nor exposition-heavy posturing; the dialog is loaded with crucial detail and each segment contributes something interesting and essential to the mystery. Between the out-of-sequence snippets and well-scripted dialog, watching the numerous threads of Moryo no Hako coalescing into a final revelation is like watching a flower slowly unfolding, petal by petal, into a disturbed, perverse blossom.
Year of Release: 2010
Number of Episodes: 24 (22 in the original broadcast, with an additional 2 as part of a subsequent video release)
Plot Summary: During a hot summer in the '90s, a small town in a remote part of Japan named Sotoba comes under attack by a family of vampires.
Comments: Based on the plot summary, Shiki sounds like anime's answer to Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot. While that's not an entirely inaccurate assumption, there's more to Shiki than that--much, much more.
Between its large cast of distinct characters, a well-paced narrative, and soulful commentary on the nature life and death--as well as what it means to be forsaken and what it means to be free--Shiki is a top-notch terror yarn that most vampire fans will enjoy. Even though some of the story is told from the vampires' perspective, these vampires are monsters, both deliberate and unintentional, with no attempt to romanticize them (Twilight this isn’t). Furthermore, killing the Shiki vampires is not a quick, simple task where the undead suddenly turn to ash; no, the staking, beheading and sun exposure of these vamps involves plenty of effort and buckets upon buckets of blood.