Most horror anime isn’t really horror, even when it scares us

Each Halloween, anime fans are talented list after list of scary anime to look for the vacation. And every year, the lists get filled with reveals that, in my viewpoint, aren’t actually scary. Sure, there are programs that include lots of violence and gore, or widespread demons/vampires/monster activity, and many of the go-to titles have to do with the darker parts of the human mind and consist of tense plots. So, what makes up “horror”? In the most basic terms, the category’s entries are implied to provoke worry. Whether you as an audience are personally alarmed or not is subjective, however real scary anime shares a direct family tree with the history of suspenseful methods. Given that real scares are limited, the anime series that really do fit the costs ended up being more deserving of event.

The soul of scary has actually belonged of animation given that the dawn of the medium, a minimum of in the West. From Walt Disney’s Ridiculous Symphonies, especially “The Skeleton Dance,” and the works of the Fleischer bros like Swing You Sinners and Snow-White, animation opened the world of movie to fantasmagorical images, even if it remained in service of an enjoyable musical number with dancing evil spirits. In Japan, nevertheless, developers developed a recognizable scary tone in the 1960s with reveals like Experience Kid Shadar and GeGeGe no Kitarō, though the concentration was on battling beasts and ghosts to conserve the world instead of terrifying the audience. Throughout the 1980s, a more powerful understanding of scary anime took kind, with the increase of OVAs (basically direct-to-video anime) paving the way to a years where severe violence, gore, sex, and the monstrous were prevalent in programs like Wicked City, Vampire Hunter D and, obviously, Akira.

These anime utilized violence and gore to shock audiences, however they were more thinking about delights than in scares. Sure, Tetsuo becoming a huge blob in Akira is pure Cronenberg-like body scary, however the movie isn’t implied to generate worry as much as it appears interesting. Where Cronenberg concentrated on the awful and terrible methods our bodies might change in order to dig deep into our cumulative worries of our delicate bodies simply breaking down, Katsuhiro Otomo’s influential anime go for a tamer yet still fascinating tale of the age of puberty and male violence.

Akira: tetsuo transforms into a blob

Image: Funimation

Certainly, the majority of the anime films and reveals lumped into the scary category more carefully look like thrillers, where the focus is on surprises that keep the audience fascinated and thrilled for what’s following. Another is a fantastic anime with the plot of a Last Location motion picture, fantastic eliminates, and an interesting plot loaded with stunning twists, however it plays more like a gory secret than a scary program, intending to supply an enjoyable puzzle to be fixed in concerns to who will pass away next. What it’s not about is making disrupting the audience in such a method regarding fear the next death scene, something which the popular Higurashi When They Cry prospers at. Then there are a well-known trio: Boogiepop Phantom, Serial Experiments Lain, and Fear Representative, which focus on environment, weird images, and the sensation that truth is not what it appears. The series deal in paranoia and existentialism, resulting in the closest anime shows to horror, even if their plots don’t follow any explicit horror tropes.

Animation can be horror, but time has suggested there are hurdles; it seems significantly harder to make the audience feel a pang of fear when looking at 2D drawings than it is with real humans, but it can, and has, been done. Take for instance the animated film Monster House, a 3D animated movie aimed at kids that still provides plenty of scares, an eerie environment, and characters you fear — all without the need for violence and gore. Then there are R-rated animated horror movies like the Train to Busan spinoff Seoul Station and Resident Evil: Degeneration, which use the zombie horror tropes to make you care for what happens to the characters, and fear as scared as they do when they meet their inevitable deaths.

Seoul Station: A woman hangs on a bar over a horde of zombies

Seoul Station
Image: FilmRise

Surprisingly, anime has come closer to the authentic horror tone in the shōnen genre. Ever since the 1980s, action-horror anime have embraced horror tropes and used them to make the violence hit harder, like Devil Man and the aforementioned Vampire Hunter D. In the ‘90s, shōnen anime like YuYu Hakusho and the uber-popular Bleach took inspiration from horror movies and shows like GeGeGe no Kitarō to create action-centric series that still weave in supernatural elements. Death Note and Monster, meanwhile, took a psychological thriller approach, giving us dark stories of murder and serial killers and introducing them to mainstream, broad audiences.

The past five years has seen a trend of shōnen anime taking that idea further by embracing the tropes of horror to put the characters in terrifying situations that ultimately accentuate the subgenre’s sense of optimism. Attack on Titan not only became one of the most popular anime shows ever, but it broke into the mainstream by competing with The Walking Dead for one of the bleakest, most gruesome shows in recent years. It’s a show set in a cruel world with violence, gore and constant fear for the characters, who can die at any second — all while still presenting a classic story of a young boy learning to embrace his powers. Even more recently we have Demon Slayer and Jujutsu Kaisen, arguably the two biggest shōnen anime right now, both adapted from manga published in the prestigious and long-running Shōnen Jump magazine that also published such mainstream hits as One Piece, My Hero Academia, Naruto and Hunter x Hunter.

Jujutsu Kaisen episode 3: Yuji kills his first curse by putting a sword in its head

Image: MAPPA

Demon Slayer and Jujutsu Kaisen have all the ingredients of a winning shōnen anime: likable protagonists with incredible power, a story of perseverance and determination, as well as a group of side characters that support the hero and help them learn of the value of friendship in order to face adversity. What makes them unique, however, is how they basically take that winning formula and place it in a seemingly impossible horror setting where hope always has to fight harder to even exist, where power levels aren’t just toys, but they come at a cost, where characters can face horrible fates, injuries aren’t instantly healed but leave gory marks, and the villains are genuinely spooky and menacing. Take the third episode of Jujutsu Kaisen, which essentially plays out as a haunted house story, employing tropes of weird noises and things moving by themselves before unleashing a menacing spirit on our main characters, before letting them kick its ass with their cool and growing powers.

Before it lost its way, The Promised Neverland perfectly married a shōnen story of kids coming together to save the day from monsters and turned it into a horrifying, anxiety-inducing tale of horror. The first season employs framing to keep the characters at a distance, and the contrast between CG environments and 2D characters to give the story an uncanny feeling that something is wrong, and accentuating the monstrous forms of the show’s villains, as well as the orphans’ caretaker.

As for more traditional “horror anime,” not all is lost. An adaptation of the horror-comedy Mieruko-chan is currently airing, and it cleverly uses horror tropes to create a funny anime with terrifying images about a ghost whisperer. Next year, the highly anticipated adaptation of Junji Ito’s classic Uzumaki horror manga should play like a cross between body and cosmic horror as it chronicles a town plagued by a curse involving spirals. In the meantime, horror has become an integral part of what makes anime both exciting and popular, even if these reveals are not exactly embalmed in the substance of scary.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.