Category Archives: Horror

Has strong elements to unsettle or frighten the audience.

Kurozuka – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kurozuka

 

Similar: Rin: Daughters of Mnemosyne

Ergo Proxy

Blade of the Immortal

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Fantasy Horror Romance Science Fiction

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good acting
  • Intriguing start

Negatives:

  • Leaps to the future too soon
  • Laughing maniac villain is ineffective
  • Most interesting character isn’t in the story enough
  • Visuals show their age

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It pains me – it pains me to report how disappointed I am with Kurozuka. This is my type of story. Historical fact woven into in a fantasy narrative with vampires, romance, unflinching action, and cyberpunk – what’s not to love? Maybe the fact that we are missing the middle of the story.

Kurozuka opens in feudal Japan with Minamoto no Yoshitsune (a real historical figure, also known as Kurou) and his closest ally as they flee into the mountains after the fall of Kurou’s brother, first ruling shogun of Japan. The real historical account says that he committed suicide here. Kurozuka postulates that idea of him meeting a stunning woman, Kuromitsu (based on a fable), whom he soon discovers is a vampire and rather than fight her, falls in love. He falters while defending her, but she turns him into an immortal to save his life. Thus a romance set to span over a millennium is born.

I love this setup, particularly in the presentation. It doesn’t hold back on the gore and dark fantasy. His conversion to vampire is the perfect illustration of this, where the norm would be to have him die and then wake up as a vampire or show a sanitised transformation at most. Kurozuka has him alive as a dismembered head while Kuromitsu prepares a new body for him. It’s gruesome and just right (narratively relevant in future as well). The tone of the romance is clear from the start. I am in!

Then episode 3 leaps a thousand years into a dystopian cyberpunk future with Kurou having no idea how he got there. A chance encounter has him join the resistance to combat the Red Imperial Army sporting the same emblem as the clan that tried to kill him and Kuromitsu all those generations ago. The resistance promises they can help him find the one person he knows.

And here is where you lose me.

The setup promises a twisted romance through the ages, Kurou and Kuromitsu forever entwined in a love story painted in blood and guts. I wouldn’t be wrong in expecting to see these two appearing in various eras throughout history, perpetuating the unhealthy cycle of their relationship, one of those affairs where the best decision would be to end it now, in a moment of happiness, but they can’t help themselves from trying again, slaves to their love.

Instead, the story plants itself in the future city with extensive use of flashbacks to dole out bits of the past, of the “middle” of the story for us to figure out. This does not succeed. At all.

The structure is disjointed as all hell. When we flashback, we aren’t sure of which period we are in half the time. This is intentional, as revealed later. Worst of all, the idea of having an amnesiac Kurou on a quest to find Kuromitsu removes her, the most interesting character, from much of the story and turns him into a blank slate. I’ve said it many times: be careful of using amnesia as a plot device. The two most important characters have the least agency. The resistance fighters feel more important to the day-to-day of the story and the main villain, a Joker-like laughing maniac, grates one’s nerves within a single scene. (I would be remiss in mentioning that the horror goes down as the sci-fi goes up too.)

So, why structure the story in such a manner? It is all for the twist that reveals why he has amnesia, why he doesn’t wake up in the future beside her and why the Red Army wants him. The writer sacrificed everything to deliver such a mediocre twist. Worse yet, the twist is a fine piece of vampire lore that could have created plenty of great conflict along the way, if we could have seen it throughout time. I can’t wrap my brain around the insistence upon nailing this twist. It just doesn’t make sense.

I don’t want to give it away, in case you do watch Kurozuka, so allow me to craft an example instead. Imagine if you took Code Geass, as is, but you hid the fact that Lelouch had the power of mind control (don’t worry, Kurozuka’s twist isn’t mind control). You therefore removed any scene that shows his power because it would give away the twist. Sure, it’s an interesting reveal that he was mind controlling people all along (only once per person as well, to further the twist), but at what cost? You’ve now removed most of the compelling scenes and conflict, all because you wanted a big surprise.

Kurozuka is this hypothetical version of Code Geass. It has the components for a fantastic story. I can point to several elements I love, yet leaves much to be desired once brought together. Forget the twist. I want their relationship. Give me their turmoil, damn it!

I am more positive than negative over Kurozuka, though this has much to do with it being the type of story and aesthetic that I like. The ideas and possibilities that made me ponder interesting questions captivated me more than the product itself. As such, if you aren’t into vampires or cyberpunk, it is unlikely to work for you in the face of its structural and character issues.

Art – Medium

In its heyday, Kurozuka would have looked great. Age hasn’t been kind, ironically, as certain animation techniques and elements like CG blood do not hold up. The visual tone, however, is still strong in conveying atmosphere and several action scenes have great animation.

Sound – Medium

I like that they kept the kabuki narration in Japanese even for the English dub – not the sort of thing that works in another language. The acting is good, probably the strongest element of the entire production. The soundtrack is an intense electro death metal collection that, though not to my taste, is a perfect fit to the cyberpunk tragedy when you think about it.

Story – Medium

A samurai falls in love with a vampire woman, sparking a romance destined to last over a thousand years. A brilliant start filled with promises of a dark romance through the ages soon falters with a leap to the future, all in favour of an unsatisfying twist.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For dystopian fans only. I was going to suggest trying Kurozuka, but as the opening few episodes are deceptive to the overall experience, I can’t do so. The paranormal dystopian aspect is the draw.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: 

Disappointing

Devilman: Crybaby – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Devilman: Crybaby

 

Related: Devilman (alternative version)

Similar: Kemonozume

Parasyte –the maxim-

Berserk

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Horror

Length: 10 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Doesn’t hold back. At all.
  • Perfect match of art and narrative.
  • Pacing pulls you from one episode to the next.

Negatives:

  • Main characters are on the weak side.
  • No light and shadow on characters.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Akira has been a crybaby throughout his life. His friend Ryou was always the leader and daredevil. Akira’s willingness to follow Ryou on whatever adventure leads him into a world of devils and derangement. A devil even inhabits his body. With the power of a devil and the heart of a man, he becomes Devilman and joins Ryou in killing other devils. However, the devil inside has an insatiable appetite for food and pleasure. Akira has gone in way over his head.

Alongside Christianity (so much Christian imagery throughout), sex is a big theme of Devilman Crybaby. Akira always has sex on his mind, made worse by trying to fight it. All villains, whether human or devil, have a sexual component to them. One rich devil woman is after Akira for having the devil Amon inside him – he was the best she’d ever had. Miki – Akira’s foster sister that he tries not to perv on – is unknowingly a model for a peddler of underage nude imagery.

Now, unlike Kemonozume, where the sex scenes are about passion and character conflict, Devilman Crybaby’s sex is just about violence. Gory, monstrous, violent sex. In the first episode, we see a woman’s breasts grow like worms and mutate mouths from the nipples to bite someone’s head off during an orgy. Another’s vagina tears open in a shark-like mouth for her to consume sex fiends. Nightmare fuel, I believe they call it.

This is probably the most sexually violent series I’ve ever seen. If this were live action, I don’t imagine they could get away with it in most countries. Furthermore, the art and animation styles are perfect at delivering the intended violence, the debauchery, the delirium of these scenes. It’s disgusting in an artistic way even with the cinematography – how the camera flies up crotches to show precisely where a character is looking, or the way Akira is practically eating the camera when gorging himself on food. It wouldn’t have worked with a “standard” anime style. These scenes aren’t mere shock value either. They allow you to feel the mental state of the characters, allow you to feel the horror of others with the purpose of immersing you in just how messed up the situation is. It recalls Berserk’s climactic scene except it appears throughout the series.

So, if after reading all of that, the thought of such sexual violence seems like too much, then don’t put yourself through it. This could give nightmares. It’s well done, but not to everyone’s taste. I’ve had a few friends put off from watching it after I described this. It’s lucky I’m used to all levels of content, as I went in blind with no idea any of this was coming.

There is humour to give a little balance (though it does diminish in later episodes). The funniest moments have to be the first day at school after Akira’s transformation. He’s suddenly tall, muscular (large package included) with bad boy good looks and all the girls tripping over each other to get near him. They even give him all of their lunches since he can now eat a metric ton in one sitting. It’s like thirsty fans giving a Twitch streamer endless donations. And let’s not forget the way he runs on the track (another good example of the art augmenting the otherworldly nature of the characters and story). Priceless.

What stops Devilman Crybaby from reaching my highest tier is the main characters though. They don’t get enough exploration. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first because I thought the story successful. It can be hard to notice weaker characters in a great story. A good story can carry mediocre characters. The simple way to figure it out is to take your characters and put them in another story, then think of whether you would still want to follow them. If I put Akira and Ryou in Death Note, for example, adapting the story to fit their characters, would it make an interesting story? Well, no, because Akira doesn’t have the layers or nuance required and Ryou isn’t smart, only getting away with the things he does in Devilman Crybaby thanks to the author’s pen.

The first episode is a perfect example. After a trio of street rappers stop Miki to bust a rhyme for her (she’s popular and a known model) and Akira is too weak to help, Ryou arrives on the scene and brandishes a semi-automatic rifle, firing at their feet. Do any consequences come of this? Nope. He does whatever he wants and no one questions it. When hunting devils, he has no problems with collateral damage, which does bother Akira but doesn’t translate into consequences. At first, I thought it was just this anime’s weird style, yet this rule doesn’t apply to anyone else.

As for Akira, he doesn’t get to “flex” his character enough for us to know him fully. There isn’t much more than the soft heart in a devil’s body dichotomy. The story still works in the end with how much it ramps up conflict to biblical proportions, but you are scratching your head a few times too many along the way, wondering if they couldn’t have executed the characters better.

Regardless, I was engaged from start to finish and I love that this is only 10 episodes. Devilman Crybaby went for exactly as long as it needed to.

Art – High

The animation and character designs remind a lot of Kemonozume, allowing for fluidity and extreme distortion that leans into the nightmare imagery. It’s heavily stylised, even in the cinematography and use of light and shadow. However, the lack of highlights and shadows on characters bothers me to the point where it pulls me out of scenes too often.

Sound – High

Devilman Crybaby is available in many languages, thanks to Netflix, so take your pick. I preferred the English for handling the foreign language segments better than the Japanese did. Biblically epic soundtrack – the ED paired with the cliffhangers urges you onto the next episode right away.

Story – High

A weak kid inhabited by a devil works with his best friend to fight devils infiltrating humanity as the situations escalates. A good story carries weaker characters to the end.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. I think Devilman Crybaby is a good anime, but its content is so uncensored and nightmarish that I can’t recommend it to everyone. If it sounds like your sort of anime, then go for it.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Fluid AnimationHoly S***

Negative: None

Kemonozume – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kemonozume

 

Similar: Devilman Crybaby

Basilisk

Parasyte –the maxim-

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Action Horror Romance

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Stands out.
  • Great romantic conflict.
  • Fast pace.
  • Satisfying conclusion.

Negatives:

  • Third act focuses too much on action.

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I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t seen this anime. Nor would I blame you. It doesn’t look the most appealing. I only watched it after seeing the following scene (and it’s not even representative of the story):

Kemonozume is a Romeo & Juliet story that pits a monster slayer against the monster he loves. In this world, a species of monsters slinks through society disguised as humans, consuming people to survive in plain sight. The samurai-like Kifuuken clan has one purpose: killing Flesh Eaters. Toshihiko is their leader’s son and an expert slayer who falls in love with beautiful Yuka at first sight. She shows him that there is more to life than the warrior’s code – she even takes him tandem skydiving – and he gives her love she had been taught didn’t exist in return. Their whirlwind romance derails when he discovers her to be a Flesh Eater. Toshihiko must now choose between love and duty.

I do not enjoy Romeo & Juliet. Like every other poor unfortunate soul, I had to study it at school. Hated it then. Hate it now. So to see this anime, with its ragged art and surreal palette that intrigued me, reveal itself as a Romeo & Juliet romance, I braced for stupid. However, Kemonozume did two things that rallied my spirits. First, they are a threat to each other just as much as their respective sides are a threat to them. And secondly, the romance isn’t chaste. This couple doesn’t shy away from sex, from lust, from passion.

I maintain that sex scenes (or risqué fan service, if we’re talking teen anime) are often the biggest waste of screen time in any medium. Even Game of Thrones, which I love, could benefit from removing 90% of the sex scenes. Such scenes rarely add anything to the story.

Kemonozume differs because much of this couple’s personal story occurs during the sex scenes. See, Yuka’s true form is at greatest risk of coming out during moments of heightened sexual ecstasy, a problem made worse by how much these two adore and crave each other. The theme of rebelling against what they were born to be isn’t just seen in them running away from home to go on an adventure. We see it in their most intimate moments. The sex doesn’t overstay its welcome. There’s always a justification for making that scene a sex scene rather than something else. It also helps that the weird art makes these moments something you’ve probably never seen before, visually, and the exaggerated lines amplify the emotions they feel.

Another strength of Kemonozume is its humour. For instance, after encountering Yuka for the first time, falling for her instantly, he starts to see her face on everyone else’s heads in this hilarious scene. Like the rest of this anime, it exaggerates the joke three steps beyond the norm, but it works here. Distracting Flesh Eaters with holograms of dancing nude women is also a good laugh. I will concede that some humorous moments could do with better timing.

Sadly, Kemonozume falls short of excellence with a third act that contains too much action. It’s not that action has no place in this romance. Rather, the action become a bit too shounen, so to speak, albeit surreal shounen action – like the sex, this looks different from other action scenes. Without this third act, it wouldn’t be fitting to give this anime the “Action” label. On the positive side, it’s only a few episodes (being a short, fast-paced anime helps here) and the conclusion is satisfying. If the end weren’t satisfying, I would leave Kemonozume bitterly disappointed. I can thankfully say the opposite.

Now, despite my praises, do keep in mind that this is wildly different from “normal” anime. Should Kemonozume not grab your interest within one episode, you most likely won’t change your mind by the end. Don’t force yourself to watch it on my account – on anyone’s account.

Art – Medium

Visually unusual art – highly stylised on a budget. It’s clear they didn’t have much money to work with, but made the most of it to create something distinct. Allows for plenty of animation, but the art itself is very rough. This style could be a deal breaker for some.

Sound – Medium

The nice jazz soundtrack is stronger than the decent voice acting.

Story – High

The son and heir of a monster hunting clan falls in love with one of the very maneating women he’s born to kill. Fast, savage, and racy, Kemonozume is a unique take on the forbidden love romance.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. I greatly enjoyed Kemonozume, but I know it won’t appeal to many, so give it a try and see if you feel as I did.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

Ghost Hunt – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ghost Hunt

 

Similar: Psychic Detective Yakumo

Ghost Stories

xxxHOLiC

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Horror Mystery

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good fun.
  • Everyone is a fraud.
  • Isn’t predictable.
  • The Australian accent.

Negatives:

  • The Australian accent.
  • Low production values.
  • Not scary at all.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ghost Hunt looks like arse, the performances are half-arsed, and these ghost hunters couldn’t tell the difference between a gust of wind and their arses. And that’s what makes this anime fun.

For reasons that could never see justification, Mai is forced to work as the assistant to 17-year-old Kazuya, sceptical ghost hunter of the Shibuya Psychic Research Company. Their slave-master relationship begins at her school with the case of the abandoned school building, but soon goes on tour to other haunted locations in Japan. They are joined – rather coincidentally – at each site by a rock star Buddhist monk, vain Shinto priestess, TV spirit medium, and (my favourite) an Australian Catholic priest.

The poor visuals and near absence of animation turned me off the series until the full cast of characters assembled at school. Unable to handle the bad PR of having a haunted building on campus, the principal hired someone from every religion he could think of to assist Kazuya. They are great together. I love that they each think everyone else is a fraud. It brings a good level of humour to the story, especially coupled with the inspiration taken from those fake American ghost-hunting series. A chair falls over and everyone freaks out!

However, nothing is funnier than the Catholic priest in the English dub. His accent is so bad that it transcends hilarity, so much so that I recommend watching Ghost Hunt in English. I couldn’t stop laughing every time he spoke.

The other strength of Ghost Hunt is in how they handle the mysteries. Each case takes three to four episodes, building layers to the backstory and throwing twists at the investigators. It isn’t as predictable as I anticipated. I like how Kazuya is a sceptic who doesn’t jump straight to the supernatural answer, instead checking if there is an earthly explanation for the weird occurrences first. Just when you’re sure it’s a phantom, he unveils a logical explanation or vice-versa. Furthermore, these aren’t generic urban myths you see in every horror series. The mysteries are good enough to keep you on the hook, wanting to know what happened, and the group dynamic among these hack frauds maintains decent tension and humour.

In an effort to dispel any notions that Ghost Hunt is a great series after all that praise, let us go through the problems. First, Mai isn’t a useful character. She is your typical audience stand-in – an ordinary person thrust into a paranormal world surrounded by experts (“experts”) that do all the work. Second, there is no need to waste time reintroducing the other exorcists each new case. And third, Ghost Hunt isn’t scary. At all. It could have made more effort with the horror side of being a comedy horror series.

I went in with zero expectations, which dropped further upon seeing the art and hearing the performances, but I came to embrace the goof once the cast gathered and the mysteries developed.

Art – Low

There isn’t much animation (no high detail to compensate either) and the shattering glass is so obviously CG. What else do you need to know?

Sound – Low

You have to watch this in English for the Australian accent. He does have oddities in his Japanese dialect as well, but you won’t notice them if you don’t understand Japanese. The spooky OP is effective, though I wonder if the lack of lyrics was a budget constraint (made the best of what they had, regardless).

Story – Medium

A high school girl becomes assistant to a ghost hunter to pay off a debt. With some possibly unintentional comedy and unpredictable mysteries, Ghost Hunt has enough to be good fun for cheesy horror fans.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Ghost Hunt’s slim budget and cut corners only add to the fun. This is a horror series for those who prefer mystery over gore (see Another for the gore).

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

Castlevania Season 2 – Review

Related: Castlevania Season 1

Castlevania Season 3 (TBR)

Similar: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Hellsing Ultimate

Berserk

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Fantasy Action Horror

Length: 8 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Improves upon the strong first season.
  • Vampire political intrigue.
  • New characters.
  • Oozes atmosphere.

Negatives:

  • No Church.
  • Ends too quickly.

(Request an anime for review here.)

We last left Trevor Belmont and his companions in the search for the means to find Dracula’s castle and slay the master of the keep. I left Castlevania with a positive impression though uncertain of whether it could hold up beyond what was, essentially, the opening to a series. Much to my surprise, yet again, Castlevania is superior to what I had anticipated by way of an interesting narrative focus.

Season 2 opens in the past with the arrest of Lisa (Dracula’s wife) by the Church for the “witchcraft” of medicine. While this is a retread, it gives us more detail and makes for a chilling first scene when you know what happens to everyone for ignoring her warning.

After this, we jump to Dracula’s war room, where his strongest vampires from across the kingdom have gathered to plot humanity’s annihilation. However – and this is where the brilliance started – he selects two humans as his generals to lead the scourge, much to the disgust of some vampires, especially one of the Vikings. Beyond their deep-seated loathing for humanity and their tactical ability, these two have the only clear heads in the army not driven by bloodthirst.

Now, at this point, it’s just a good idea (and I’ve harped on often enough about the importance of execution over ideas in past reviews). The brilliance comes in the backstory of these characters, contrasted against the vampires, and their actions going forward. They are simultaneously committing some of the most heinous atrocities against humanity while conveying sympathy. One of the two, Isaac, is Dracula’s Forgemaster. He doesn’t forge weapons, however. His speciality is bringing the dead to life, often forged into demons of great power, though he has equal inclination to revive a fallen puppy as a companion. Makes for an interesting ability.

The appointment of these two as generals leads to much unease among the vampires, many playing politics to gain power or favour with Dracula. There are whispers among the ranks about Dracula’s soundness of mind after the loss of his wife. How will vampires feed if he wipes out all humans? Carmilla the vampire queen of many legends is particularly sly and sharp of tongue. I relish the political drama she brings to the court. I did not expect politics, of all things, to be such a significant portion of the narrative and so well executed.

I haven’t talked much of Trevor and his two companions so far because they aren’t the focus this season. They have enough to do for the eight episodes as they return to Trevor’s home for blessed weapons and a means to access the castle, but the focus is truly in Dracula’s camp. It’s a bold risk to shift from the protagonist. It works. Sure, we could have more of the trio in addition to all screen time with the opposition, but that would go into overtime.

Castlevania Season 2 isn’t all blood, politics, and goodness, unfortunately. The end feels too quick. For seven episodes, we have methodical build up packed with social and political dynamics, feeding us juicy backstory and character motivations until we reach the final episode where, suddenly, so much of it wraps up with too many questions and possibilities remaining unexplored. It needs more. It gives the impression that they didn’t know episode 8 would be the last until they started work on it, realising they needed to close several threads.

I want more – more vampire society, more politics, and more lore (and bring the Church back! Tap that potential). I am grateful to know a third season is on the way. Even so, they could have gone deeper with Dracula’s arc in particular.

Still, I am far from disappointed with Castlevania Season 2. The action is as gory as before (you see someone decapitated by hanging from a bladed noose), the orchestral soundtrack is a perfect match to the atmosphere, and the acting is still quality, now with more accents from the corners of Dracula’s kingdom.

I love that this outdid the first season.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Castlevania Season 2 improves upon the first season in almost every way and now goes far enough into the story to warrant investment. If season 3 is any better, I’ll have to consider a Very High rating.

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