Don’t turn around.
DER KOMMISSAR’S IN TOWN.
I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it again: I love horror anime. In fact, I love horror as a genre in general, although I’ve gotten to be a bit picky about it… which is to say, I love horror but dislike the current incarnation which has come into vogue in America – torture porn. Quite frankly, I don’t find this iteration of horror to truly be scary; I just find it disgusting. Ok, that person just had to scratch a key out of their friend’s intestine so they could escape some death device… yuck. But not really frightening.
My dislike of this version of horror actually brings me to why I think horror works in anime and why I find myself to be generally pleased by horror anime.
Once upon a time, someone stated to me, in one of those vaguely snobby tones sadly common to ‘serious’ anime fans, that anime couldn’t really do horror. They argued that, because anime as a medium necessarily relies on drawings as opposed to real human actors, there is a remove in anime which makes it much too hard for it to truly be scary. So, to whit – those aren’t real people being chased by real-looking ghosts, this clearly is fiction!
I think this is a terrifically short-sighted viewpoint. It also neatly illuminates the difference between the sort of horror I enjoy and the sort of horror that can be found so frequently in American cinemas these days. And, yes, I’ll be quite clear: I do think that the kind of horror I enjoy is superior to the torture porn ilk that’s become so popular. And it has a lot to do with my feelings about human life and torture in general; essentially, I have a strong distaste for torture porn because I think it’s just gross and also since it works to cheapen human life. Look around and take note of the new American attitude toward the practice of water-boarding. It’s all part and parcel of large issues. However, I digress.
I think the most effective anime horror are those shows which tap into our base fears and worries. When a blameless individual in Vampire Princess Miyu gets killed by a monster, it isn’t disturbing because they’ve been killed by a monster – rather, what is disturbing is the senselessness in the act. The character has been minding their own business; there is nothing truly important about them, they just happened to be the unfortunate person getting slaughtered that week to set up the storyline. Here is an individual who was just living their life, and because they did just that, they ended up dying. This violates our sense of security in industrialized nations – there is a social contract, more or less, wherein we expect to be able to be safe when conducting our daily activities, so long as we are ‘innocent’ individuals (so drug dealers, mobsters, murderers, etc. need not apply). And that is why a viewer feels uneasy while watching.
Horror anime works best as horror when it follows this kind of path, precisely because it can’t draw (most of) us in as convincingly as do live action movies. It is simply harder for someone to wake up and feel leery about, say, the vampires from Shiki being in the shadows of their room than it is to feel leery about the ghosts from The Haunting being there (the re-make… the original is waaaay different and muuuch better). The vampires are animated – they’re not real! And, yeah, the ghosts are CGI, but they interact with human players, so there is less of a remove there. Now, sic those vampires on a human character viewers feel some tenuous connection to? Then you’ll be getting those disturbed feelings. (And, no, I don’t think Shiki’s managed to do that yet.)
On a personal level, I also just find psychological horror much more effective than the in-your-face variety. I enjoy being unsettled and creeped out more than outright scared… although I certainly enjoy that to extent, too. It just seems to have fallen by the wayside, at least as far as I’m concerned; again, things like Saw or Hostel don’t really scare me, they just make me feel nauseous. So: scary? Good. Creepy? Good. Nauseous? Not good. And often characters in these kinds of movies or shows are unpleasant in some fashion, so one doesn’t really feel too terribly for them when they get their just deserts; they aren’t the random individuals from Shikabane Hime nor are they the unfortunate victims of Jigoku Shoujo.
This season was interesting to me because of the variety of horror anime that were slated to air – there were those in the psychological vein (Shiki, Occult Academy), and then those in the in-your-face vein (Highschool of the Dead). I’m oversimplifying here, of course – there is a lot of psychology (and sociology) involved in zombie tales in general, although Highschool of the Dead has done a pretty good job of hiding this part behind boobs and panties, to the point where only the fact that Madhouse is in charge has me still clinging to any notion that ‘here be social criticism’. None of the shows so far have managed to make me feel either scared or unsettled yet, though, so I can’t quite say they succeed on the horror level for me. Shiki is intriguing, although I can’t say why, so I’m holding out hope that it’ll creep me out yet. That the male lead is wholly unsympathetic doesn’t make me hyper-hopeful, though.