In the current anime season, we’ve seen a lot of incredible content coming through the pipelines. Whether it’s the cold-hearted comedy of WataMote or the epic adventures in Attack on Titan, we’ve seen shows for every preference hit the airwaves. However, one of the most pleasant surprises to hit the airwaves came in the form of Yamishibai.
Yamishibai is a series of three-minute shorts, presented in the style of an old Kamishibai show. Each episode revolves around a popular Japanese ghost story or urban legend. Tales of department store spooks, workplace apparitions, and demonic forces are told at a breathless pace. There’s no time to set up characters or give detailed back-stories. Instead, it’s just the characters of the week, and the situations they’re thrust into. While the characters’ ends are never explicitly stated, it’s clear that they are certainly far from pleasant.
Episode four, “Hair”, is a particularly strong example of the show’s style and pacing. The episode is set in an unnamed school, where a teacher is working late on the campus newspaper. When she begins to make copies, the school’s bells begin to ring, and the test pages begin to feed out hair-like lines. When the teacher opens the lid, a girl’s ghostly face stares back at her from beneath the glass. The teacher slams the lid shut and, on a second check, sees nothing. As she continues, the phenomena continue to escalate, as the hair-lines continue to feed out on pages, and the copier spits out pages uncontrollably, with each getting more and more obscured by the hair. While the teacher is able to unplug the copier, she’s far from safe, as the owner of the hair is certainly not far.
Like a Kamishibai show, the landscapes are either hand-painted scenes, or collages of photographs. The characters are made up of paper cut-outs and, as one would expect, animation is limited at best. However, the show uses the style to its advantage. Backgrounds warp and distort with each passing scene, and characters can turn from average Joes to deranged monsters at a moment’s notice. The limited animation gives a surrealist feel to the experience, which adds to the show’s creepy atmosphere.
While there are a few episodes remaining in the season, Yamishibai has already won me over. The creepy atmosphere and visual style work well together, and the stories themselves are genuinely creepy. There is no fat to weigh the experience down, and the show crams every precious minute with chills, and the characters are strong enough to sell each three-minute feature. Those looking for something offbeat, quirky, and just a bit scary should give Yamishibai a go. It’s a rare short-form gem that doesn’t get bogged down in one-track gags and single-minded progression.