October. A month in which millions of people are subjected to the start of factory induced smells and tastes of “fall.” From the fake pumpkin syrup that is pumped into our coffee and the noxious smells of “apple harvest cinnamon”, people get all they can take of these falsified truths. There is, however, a great comeuppance to all of this drudgery, and that is the enjoyment of the great frights of Halloween.
I am a novice of anime and this claim I offer no rebuke to. Rather, I am a savant of all things horror, and certain anime this time of year can make any gore hound lick their lips in delight. From Hellsing to Boogiepop Phantom anime seems to have a taste for all fans of the genre. This is, though, curious as the horror that anime seems to offer is more of a western variety than what is normally seen coming out of the J-horror market.
J-horror has rammed its wicked, wonderfully obscure head through the doors of the horror market in the last ten years, and has provided many fans with a great new influx of scares. They build up tension with great cinematography and sounds, and keep fans in a state of anticipation. Heartbeat by heartbeat goes by as the protagonist unknowingly peaks their head around the corner and the audience is of most times left with a visual of the worst kind…nothing. This cycle repeats itself many times until the audience is caught in a lull and subjected to a true scare when the nothing becomes a something of their nightmares. One cannot help but think of some great titles like Tomie or Infection, where after the elongated delay comes superlative gore. In anime I have seen a different trend though. Horror anime seems to throw its roots into the American seventies and eighties horror and the Italian Giallo films.
Let us first look at shows such as Hellsing and High School of the Dead in which borrow from the American horror scene of the seventies and eighties. When comparing the two one must be careful to take the series as a whole and not come to conclusion based on the fact that one is a two hour long movie and the other an episodic show. In both sources we see a scarce amount of characterization basing their progression on quick action shots and loads of visually appealing scenes of gore and special effects. When one thinks of Vampire Hunter D the first thought through their minds is not the wonderful development of D’s character, but the scenes that scream of blood lust and redemption. In a mirror contrast, when one thinks of Friday the Thirteenth, Black Christmas, or The Toolbox Murders they do not think of a great screenplay full of incidents of great importance to the lives of the characters. They do, however, think of an awesome unique display of grand violence.
On the other hand Anime holds other shows like Boogiepop Phantom and Shiki, in which they borrow heavily from the Italian Giallo genre of films. They are based on the other side of the spectrum in which characterization is at a peak and they grasp a sense of mystery and suspense, a “slow-burn” of sorts. In tradition of Bava and Argento they are able to quickly grasp a viewer’s interest by displaying a graphic display of human, or animal, death, and then being able to turn the tides into a mystery. Holding onto the audience’s reigns they only slowly releasing the pressure little by little and leaving the audience with a shocking conclusion. I simply remember being equally hooked by the opening scenes in both Deep Red and Boogiepop Phantom, as the deplorable opening images have burnt themselves into my subconscious.
This seems absurd to me as J-horror seems patented for television series by being able to build suspense, and leaving the viewer week after week stuck in a cliff hanger. They steer away from their own roots and sticking audiences with bland adaptions of other cultures past work. Now I am not saying that I personally am not a fan of any of these horror anime titles as I am fond of some. I have come to love the nonsensical action of Hellsing, the slow burn of Boogiepop, the hilarious stylings of Haunted Junction, and even the grimness of Shiki. I do show apprehension towards the lack of a true J-horror television show though. By not embracing the true roots of their horror culture the shows that seem to drift around all seem to contain the same buoyancy and float around like oil on the water, no spot different than the next. I am sick of oil and would simply like a nice helium bubble to rise past the surface layer and finally give honor to the roots of the culture.