What Does The Best Horror Anime Need? Part 4

Feature Best Horror Anime 4
King's Game Episode 11

Lions and tigers and bears… oh my. We’ve set up our horror anime and populated it with great characters. It’s brimming with atmosphere and all and all it has been one fantastic ride. Now we just need to actually get to the conclusion without the story falling over. Oh no.

There will be spoilers for the ends of some horror anime below. Read only if that does not bother you.

This issue isn’t exclusive to horror anime. There are so many anime that either don’t finish or the conclusion is incredibly weak or trite. Sometimes it is just a confusing mess. However, this becomes really notable in horror stories where the conclusion needs to be pretty solid. And you would think it would be hard to stuff up. They either overcome whatever the horror is or the horror wins. Not so hard. Yet there are a myriad of ways that anime manages to make this go terribly wrong.

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From over-complicating something simple, wiping out anyone left in the cast in rapid succession (and with little to no reason for the audience to care), random introductions, explanations that make no sense, or just unfinished stories, somehow horror anime manage to have developed quite the talent for narrative dysfunction.

I’m Sorry, What?

Did you ever wonder why Future Diary suddenly went off the rails in the final couple of episodes? I mean, it was a perfectly simple set up for a story with a god literally called Deus ex Machina at the centre of a death game involving precognitive mobile phones… Okay, maybe not that simple but the crux was. Don’t let your phone get destroyed and destroy everybody else’s. We got down to the final two and then things just got weird.

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Not the end, but appropriate.

Admittedly, it isn’t completely incomprehensible but as they layer on twist after twist and yet another alternative reality on top of a pre-existing one you just have to wonder if maybe they were trying too hard for a big finish. The end result is somewhat less than satisfying. While that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, ultimately it is the steps leading up to the end that are enjoyable rather than the ending itself.

Equally weird is Parasyte. While the ending of that is easy to follow the anime starts out in a horrific manner and builds up this dark body-snatching (or at least head-snatching) invasion and then somehow becomes an action before delivering an environmental awareness message in its final episodes. It isn’t as though there wasn’t an environmental tone a little earlier in the story, however the blatant messaging and tonal shift seemed to come out of left field leaving us with an ending that felt like it belonged on a very different story to the one we’d watched unfold.

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And then we have the endless plot twists delivered by The Lost Village, though there are some who claim the whole thing was meant to be a satire so maybe the end that spirals out of control before half the characters literally just up and go home is entirely deliberate? It certainly doesn’t leave you feeling like anything really got resolved.



A Guide On How Not To End A Horror Anime

I’d love to say that we have a guide on good endings to horror anime but the tragedy is the best I could think of was Higurashi and it has the added advantage of having multiple retellings of the same time period before the final loop ‘resolves’ the drama. While I love Another and Shiki, both go for a blood bath ending and a quick killing off of lesser characters and some named was before wholesale destruction (in both cases brought about by fire). Certainly they both ‘end’ but it feels more like someone got bored and kicked over all the toys rather than actually took the time to bring things to a close.

And so I’m left with looking at an anime that was more of less broken from the start but excelled at delivering a disaster of an ending: King’s Game.

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When a large chunk of the series was given over to a small group of character’s investigating the source of the King’s Game in order to stop it you kind of expect that they’ll either succeed or that there was never any way to stop it and they will all die anyway. Unfortunately, King’s Game wasn’t satisfied with just delivering a hopeless scenario. They had to go for a hopeless, convoluted, and almost nonsense scenario.

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We learn that the game started initially with letters giving instructions in a village and had been ongoing ever since. How that accounts for any of the supernatural elements, I’ve yet to figure out. Virus or not, I’m stumped as to how that could make someone’s head fall of or a rope tie around their neck. At least in stories like The Happening characters have to actively act to kill themselves rather than simply being killed by an external force. However, it was this reveal in the later episodes that made me howl with laughter.

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So I’m assuming they are trying to convince us that a virus of some sort, that already defied any kind of sense for a virus, transformed into an internet virus and continued on. Next thing you know, I’ll have to worry about my laptop getting a cold.

In addition to wiping out more and more of the cast and leaving us with just the people we kind of expected would make it to the final episodes, with explainers like the above getting dropped King’s Game did the one thing no story, horror or otherwise can be forgiven for: it failed any kind of internal logic.

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No one expects horror stories to make real sense. By their very nature they are supposed to invite in unknown horrors to chill and thrill. Yet, once rules are established, once events occur, we expect that within the constructed story what happens will at least make internal sense and not contradict or just seem stupid within the context of what has already occurred. King’s Game failed at that and assuming the poor writing and dreadful characters hadn’t already killed the enjoyment for you, the only thing you could do was laugh as the story spiralled out of control. Not actually the response I think it was trying to gain.

However, that brings us to the end of this series on making the best horror anime and I’ll hand it over the reader’s one more time and ask which horror anime had the best ending. Much like the post, I assume there will be spoilers in the comments so read on only if that’s fine by you.


Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James


What Does The Best Horror Anime Need? Part 3

Feature Best Horror Anime 3
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We’ve so far got a great setting oozing with atmosphere and a cast of pitiful/compelling/amusing/well-coordinated characters who are going to sucker the audience into watching. We’ve thought about opening with a bang and drawing the audience straight into the plot and the situation. While it is pretty true that horror plots are incredibly formulaic right up to the timing of reveals and jump-scares, what distinguishes a great horror, or at least a good one, from the sea of forgettable murder-fests is whether or not that particular story manages to connect with the audience on the emotional level.

By and large, there are two audiences that really love horror. The first are just there for the blood splatter and that works well enough. If they also get a laugh out of it or the occasional jump they’ve gotten their money’s worth from the story. The second audience that watch horror are watching it for the sensations. The tension and teeth grinding during the build-up and suspense, the relief laughter when something turns out to be harmless or a mistake, the finger clenching moment where things peak and the genuine sadness when a good character is taken down and the satisfaction of watching someone survive the impossible. This second audience is somewhat harder to satisfy because it only happens when a horror story actually uses all the elements of film and story writing to tell a great story that just happens to be a horror. And given the first audience is much easier to please we know where most horror stories are targeted.

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As for me, I’m firmly sitting between the two camps. I love a well told horror story, but I’m just fine with campy, creature features marching down the standard horror beats as well. But this isn’t actually about me or random horror movies; this is about what would make the best horror anime.

Are Horror Anime A Victim of Their Own Structure?

Whichever kind of horror fan you are, there’s one thing that remains the same: movie length works but TV series find it harder to sustain interest in the horror aspect (they can usually build up some good character drama but the actual horror ends up taking a back seat). The reason is simple: you can’t splatter blood continuously for 11 – 13 weeks and still keep people interested so the blood splatter fans are going to find the mid-season between the bloody opening and bloodier finish line a chore.

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Those in for an emotional journey have the other problem. While a move of 90 – 120 minutes can keep them on edge and shift them rapidly through a series of emotional beats, when an anime episode has twenty minutes then has to either perform a mini-climax or cliff-hanger and hope to re-engage you emotionally in the same tone at the start of the next episode, after 5 or 6 episodes this starts to deliver diminishing emotional returns.

Again, the stronger narratives know this and try to build in those character dramas or back-stories to bridge the gaps but ultimately the horror then ends up diluted. Or pushed to silly proportions as audiences wait for a climax that ends up coming about an hour (or three weeks) after when it would have made sense. Worse, filling the void with more bodies and deaths, introduced characters that serve no purpose but to die, or tangential stories that aren’t that interesting.

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The weekly format of seasonal anime just may not be suited to pure horror if we’re looking for that emotional build up. Even binge watching doesn’t really seem to alleviate the problem when you consider the average series ends up being twice as long as the average movie and the story has to either close off or leave you hanging ever twenty minutes just to begin anew in the next episode. From that perspective it isn’t any wonder that horror anime are very hit or miss with viewers.


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Has Anime Found a Solution?

The answer here would be yes and no. Two anime that regularly come up in conversation when discussing horror anime both use a similar narrative device in different ways and both end up somehow overcoming this issue of pacing and diminished emotional returns (for those who are hooked into the story by the other elements). Shiki and Higurashi both play with time in a different ways to allow certain parts to be recapped without recapping and allowing climaxes and deaths to occur at timed intervals that whether you were watching weekly or binge watching work at keeping you relatively engaged.

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Higurashi has a more episodic feel as it breaks its overall narrative into clear arcs using a time loop structure. It means the story can build up to the gory end and then largely reset to build up again over a smaller number of episodes. This seems to largely alleviate the endlessly delayed payoff of horror series as we essentially get to a climax ever 4 or 5 episodes. Each one is equally horrible but focusing in on a different character allowing us to learn more about the overall ongoing situation as well as the characters involved. Its a format that makes the absolute most of a series as it tells us a story that could not be conveyed as a movie in any reasonable way.

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Shiki on the other hand moves us back and forward in times as appropriate to the moment. We start with characters looking for Megumi and finding her before going back a few days to see the lead up to her disappearance. However later we’ll revisit that same period of time from a different perspective. The days and dates appear on the screen rolling forward or back to keep the audience in the know about when things are occurring but it gives the anime the opportunity to have events occur when needed.

Now, some people do find the first half of Shiki way too slow and there’s other aspects that some viewers don’t enjoy, but at least its approach to story telling allowed the horror to be the focus all the way through and we didn’t stop mid-way to go on a random side-quest to fill the episode space.

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Incidentally, Ghost Hunt probably nailed it when it decided to just go with a clear episodic format with the individual stories loosely connected by the agency investigating the incidents. While an ‘episode’ might run between 2 and 5 actually episodes, each story ends up being relatively self-contained and none of them over stay their welcome.

What do you think? Does horror work in a series format or is the structure itself part of the issue with horror anime not really creating the feels the audience is looking for? I’d love to know your thoughts so leave a comment below.


Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James


What Does The Best Horror Anime Need? Part 2

Feature Best Horror Anime 2
Mayoiga Setting

If you missed part one last week of What Does The Best Horror Anime Need? be sure to check out the post as I meander my way through the opening sequence and take a brief look at the importance of characters. This week I’m moving on to setting and atmosphere which are absolutely crucial ingredients in a good horror.

Actually, they are pretty crucial ingredients in bad horror as well.

Anyway, let’s get straight into this topic, because there’s actually more to a good setting then just dropping your characters into an isolated environment and hoping it feels creepy. When you think about it, some of the most ordinary places in the world can be made to feel creepy with the right direction and music.

(Some spoilers below.)

We’re On Our Own

The modern world has actually made it much harder for would be writers of horror. There’s not so many isolated locations these days and with cars, phones, and a plethora of other technology we’ve made the world arguably much smaller and much less mysterious. This means isolating characters in order for them to go through some horrific ordeal has become significantly harder while maintaining some sense of realism.

This is probably why Made in Abyss worked so beautifully. The fantasy aspect of the world and the Abyss allowed the writer to send the characters somewhere that was truly wild and dangerous and the nature of the Abyss actually made return more or less impossible, forcing the characters to move forward, not that they intended to turn around anyway.

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The fantasy aspect really allowed the anime to capture a sense of the unknown and crafted its horror around a sense of wonder and discover and the conflicting emotions made for a truly moving and emotionally tiring viewing experience. It was one that stuck with your well after the final episode.

However, that doesn’t help an anime that wants to ground itself a little more in reality as it writes its horror story.

So let’s throw over to the other end of the spectrum and look at a horror story that takes place in an ordinary home in Japan to an ordinary boy who for once actually has parents (briefly). Parasyte isolates Shinichi in a totally different way. He isn’t geographically isolated as he lives in his house and goes to school interacting with others. Instead he’s emotionally isolate and cut off because of the knowledge he has of the invasion and because of his fear of someone finding out about Migi (largely because he’s worried Migi will kill them).

Parasyte

Through framing Shinichi as more and more aloof and separated from his class mates and spending more and more time away from others we still get a sense of isolation that is utterly necessary for horror to work, and yet our character is for the most part going about his normal life.

The scene where Shinichi’s mother returns home after he’s been told by his father that she’s dead is one that is actually incredibly creepy. The slow build up, watching the door lock turn, the quiet encounter between the two before it all hits the fan… This is a perfect scene set in the entry hall of Shinichi’s perfectly normal house. A house that in the first couple of episodes seemed warm and happy. This isn’t a creepy horror movie house, and yet through the lighting, pacing, tone, and the events that transpire, the narrow hall because claustrophobic and the scene is highly effective at creating the sense of horror.

Parasyte mother


A Sense of Unease In Amongst
The Everyday

As it gets harder to actually cut people off from the world, more stories seem to be finding ways to make the everyday world that little bit terrifying. The standard way to do this seems to be zombies. Thinking it through though it makes sense. The movie zombie bites others who in turn become zombies and so on. They are a monster that thrive in urban and highly populated environments which makes them perfect for the modern horror story given no-one is all that concerned about the swamp monster these days (sorry, we build a shopping centre of the swamp and now the swamp monster is on the verge of extinction).

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And so schools can become battlefield as can almost any everyday setting (shopping malls being a go-to for a number of Hollywood zombie movies though pubs and bars also feature heavily – contrasting this with Japan that seems to focus on schools). High School of the Dead and School-Live both utilise the sense of the everyday places these kids have frequented becoming the sites of death, violence and trauma. Where High School of the Dead takes a more bombastic and action focused approach to the story, School-Live settles in for a far more nuanced, and undeniably more emotional, narrative, but both manage to make everyday settings places of true horror.

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However, what happens when we combine a whole bunch of these elements together? The Promised Neverland gave us a good look at an almost perfect horror setting, even if the story was more mystery than actual horror. Like Made in Abyss, the setting is fantastical so it isn’t bound by the rules of our modern world. The location is isolated and surrounded by a fence, which turns out to be a wall, which turns out to have a massive chasm on the other side of it (they may be taking isolation a bit too far here).

Additionally, through clever use of music, lighting and direction, the inside of the house which can seem warm and comforting in one scene can take on an ominous appearance and feeling in another. Visually, The Promised Neverland was excellent at creating the tone necessary for the story and at building the sense of unease that permeated the early parts of the story where the audience and the kids were largely in the dark.

The Promised Neverland Episode 2 - Norman and Emma

While not necessarily a horror, there’s a lot that horror writers can learn from the way The Promised Neverland crafted and portrayed its setting. A good setting isn’t just one were the story takes place but it is one that actively shapes the story and has a tangible presence in creating the tone and atmosphere of the piece. The Promised Neverland achieved that in the construction of Grace Field House. If we could get a true horror anime that put as much thought into its setting as this one then that would be a great step toward crafting the perfect horror anime.

But what do you think? Which horror anime have crafted great settings and atmosphere or which anime could horror stories borrow from? I’d love to know so leave me your comments below.


Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James


What Does The Best Horror Anime Need? Part 1

Feature Best Horror Anime

Well, we’ve made it back to October and so my attention once again turns to one of my favourite anime genres: horror. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is how few horror anime there actually are. Talk to any anime fan who watches horror anime and they’ll probably mention the same stock list of titles and that’s really because there isn’t much else to choose from. The other point that will come up again and again is that anime horror isn’t all that scary.

As someone who doesn’t watch horror to be particularly scared, I find the majority of anime horror falls into two camps. All atmosphere with minimal payoff or blood and gore and weirdness for the sake of it with minimal story progression. Both have their place and can be entertaining enough. Shiki is one of my favourites with its slow build up before a senseless massacre with no real winners for a story that focuses on its atmosphere. For violence for the sake of it I’d have to go with Elfen Lied. That one actually does pull a story together once it gets through the gratuitous violence and nudity of the early episodes but it never really leaves behind the desire to splatter the screen with blood.

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Shiki – once things get going they really don’t look back.

Though, this year I started to wonder what it would take for their to be a truly brilliant horror anime. Not one that is good compared to other horror anime but one that actually made people realise anime is a fantastic medium for horror narratives. These are my thoughts, or at least the start of them. I was going to write a single post but then it became a bit disjointed so the next part is coming. In the meantime, I’d love to know what you think would make the best horror anime possible.

Open With A Bang
But Keep If Short

A lot of horror anime either start in full on blood-bath mode and then try to fill in the blanks later or jump to seemingly unrelated character and then somehow join the dots. Others open with things being calm and not a lot going on however we slowly get a sense of uneasiness as things progress. These two different approaches give two different problems for hooking an audience.

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Lucy is not in the mood for you.

Blood and gore without context isn’t interesting. Unless you really are just watching for the splatter, blood and gore are a byproduct of horrific events, not the source of the horror. Elfen Lied is a great example of a bloody opening that goes on far too long before any context is provided. I actually dropped this in the first episode the first time I tried to watch it and only went back because a friend of mine insisted I would like it. I actually did in the end and it is a horror anime I go back to again and again, but that opening sequence is way too long with way too much focus on death and dismemberment to the detriment of character and plot. Sure we get an idea for how deadly Lucy is, but surely they could have done that in five minutes.

Likewise, other anime take a long time before anything happens. In something like School Live, where the big reveal (no spoilers here but don’t click the link if you don’t want to know) is at the end of the first episode, this is fine. It actually works beautifully with the overall story and ensures the impact of that reveal is maximised without dragging it on too long.

Another is probably a prime example of an anime that takes far too long to do anything outside of drippy atmosphere. It does however do atmosphere fantastically well and I’ll certainly get back to that, but for those wanting to know why everything feels wrong and creepy it takes far too long before anything of significance is revealed. You might want to argue that the dialogue discussing the curse while we get flashes of significant scenery (after you’ve watched the anime you realise that these are all sites of tragedies in the story) is the hook, but to be honest when you first watch the show it is just babble with disconnected images. It means nothing and has little impact. Then we’re spending time with the main character in the hospital and it takes a long time before we get back to the whole idea of a curse.

So what will work?

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They all look so happy – now.

Well, consider the story being told. As I said, School Live didn’t open with a bang exactly but it made that work within the context of that story. Realistically though, I think Higurashi got it more or less right. The story opens with the silhouette of a character beating another to death with a baseball bat. It is the shock blood and gore tactic of Elfen Lief, but it lasts minutes and then we roll back to find out how we progressed from happy kids to tragic ending. Then we do it again and again as we start time looping. It worked because it assured us that there was something more than just cute kids playing around at school and made us question a lot of seemingly innocent statements by characters that we may have otherwise overlooked.

Short and to the point. Setting a tone and an expectation without derailing setting up plot and characters. A solid opening for a horror story.

Don’t Ignore The Characters

Do you know why King’s Game ended up being laughably bad? And no, it wasn’t the horrendous visuals and animation with horrific censorship as the blacked out over severed necks and the likes. Nor was it actually that the story didn’t really resolve. Or even that the whole ‘game’ made no sense even within the rules they established. All of those things could have been overlooked if one aspect of the story had actually been solid.

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See what I mean?

That aspect would be the characters. Trope characters are a standard in terrible horror movies in the west. The dumb blonde, the macho but dense jock, the nerd, etc, etc. But when horror becomes more than just popcorn viewing and becomes something really quite compelling, it is because the characters have been well realised within their context. They’ve become more than just their trope.



King’s Game didn’t have even one half-decently written character. They had a whole class of characters and the majority of them were either non-entities, or they would see-saw from hysteria, to blind anger, to meek sobbing messes as the occasion called for it but didn’t actually exhibit a real personality. Those character that were active in moving the plot forward were illogical at best and you just couldn’t get behind their efforts to stop the game because honestly, they were just ridiculous.

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I could say that about every one of you.

Shiki also suffers this point a little bit as it has such a large cast of characters. They do a fairly solid job on the main groups of characters and they are quite entertaining and seem to develop reasonably well throughout, but the majority of the villagers are either cannon fodder or there to simply be an obstacle or part of the mob. Still, I love Shiki because of the main cast and while I would have liked some of the other characters to be a little less stupid at times, it isn’t the show ruining situation that King’s Game finds itself in.

This is where School Live has a definite advantage with its small cast of tight-knit characters. Each one is developed very well along the way and they are very well realised characters which makes their situation even more compelling. Likewise Higurashi has a whole village of characters, but the focus is on the group of kids and few necessary supporting characters and they are nicely presented over two seasons as we learn more about them through each cycle. Even something like The Promised Neverland, which is more psychological than horror, does an amazing job with its cast bringing a story that might otherwise have been pretty ordinary to life and making it one of the most talked about anime of its season.

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Characters matter, even if they are just cannon fodder. Even the most generic of generic horror plots can be made to feel fresh and interesting with a well realised cast.

So those are the first two point in what would make the best horror anime: the opening sequence and the characters. Next week I’m going to look at a couple more points but in the meantime I’d love to know your thoughts on what would make a horror anime good.


Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
Join the discussion in the comments.
Karandi James