Tag Archives: Horror

Has strong elements to unsettle or frighten the audience.

Shiki – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Shiki

 

Similar: Another

When They Cry

From the New World

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Vampire Mystery Horror

Length: 22 episodes & 2 side episodes (20.5, 21.5 – make sure to watch them.)

 

Positives:

  • A great sense of tension as people keep mysteriously dying in an isolated town.
  • Explores the dark side of humanity when given ultimate freedom or pushed to the edge.
  • Interesting, vibrant visuals mask the morbid scenario.
  • Broad range in the voice work.
  • The tinny, music box soundtrack grips the nerves.

Negatives:

  • The village priest, one of several main characters, is bland despite a significant amount of screen time.
  • Was the ending theme sung by a strangled parrot?

I’ll be honest. I had little faith in Shiki after reading the premise. I didn’t think that a vibrant anime with colourful hair could resist throwing in clichés like ‘onii-chan’ rubbish and breast grabs, ruining any chance of serious horror. I am glad to be proven wrong.

In a rural Japanese village, teenager Megumi dreams of the big city. She hates the country life full of old people gossiping all day and the lack of clothing stores. Only the European castle on the hill and the hot transfer student from the city, Natsuno, has any appeal in this dump. Megumi goes missing one day and is found collapsed in the forest, suffering from anaemia. She was last seen visiting the eccentric family that just moved into the castle in the hope of gaining their favour and luxurious lifestyle. She dies days later.

Free of Megumi’s stalker tendencies, Natsuno feels safe in leaving his window open at nights again. Yet why does he sense he’s still being watched? Why does he have nightmares of her outside his window?

Shiki takes it’s time building up the tension, tantalising, teasing the horror to come. The narrative is presented like a murder mystery case. Each character is named in text with what they do and who there are in the village, introducing the players in the story and giving a lay of the land so that you may piece everything together. The plot doesn’t rush, the writers never giving in to temptation to simply hand over the secrets, reveal the enemy. No one is safe, not even children.

It isn’t long before more people fall ill and eventually die. As the epidemic spreads, families suddenly move out of town in the dead of the night, yet they leave much of their belongings behind. Even the police are leaving, replaced by morning with people who just moved in… Despite all this, the old people, the traditionalists of the village are in denial. Only Doctor Ozaki and his team at the local clinic take the situation seriously.

Ozaki’s character arc is the strongest in Shiki. Watching him go from a simple doctor with overbearing parents into the only person who can find a cure for the epidemic is a gripping experience. With the stress mounting, he resorts to extremes. Nothing annoys me more than having a survival horror story without someone competent. Even worse is when some sanctimonious twit chastises the one guy on the team who keeps everyone alive through extreme measures – and then the terrible writers show the twit to be in the right. Not the case in Shiki; logic beats down the idiots.

The only other characters with their wits about them are a couple of kids and Natsuno, who figure out the situation and fight back. You feel for the kids trying to protect the town while people keep dying around them, and still few people believe in the danger.

At its core, Shiki is about the characters and their reactions in the face of horror and death. We have the old people in denial, the naïve underestimating the threat, the sentimental thinking it will all be fine, and the smart who keep their doors closed and weapons ready. Even among the enemy, it was a great choice to have some who are conflicted about what they are and what they must do to survive. I find it much more powerful when monsters aren’t just creatures of instinct, but have emotion and thoughts at odds with their nature.

Shiki defied all my expectations. I thought I would get a Twilight tween version of survival horror with a coat of anime paint, that groan-inducing experience that makes me feel embarrassed to even know its name. Instead, Shiki is a tense, well-paced, and character driven horror mystery that everyone should know and remember.

Art – High

Beautiful art with an ethereal glow gives a feeling of supernatural unease. The unusual eye design reminds me of interior Kaiser-Fleischer rings or bionic eyes from Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Sound – High

You can’t go wrong with either language. The voice directors pushed their actors to the edges of the emotional spectrum. Much of music is similar to music box melody and wind chime, enhancing the mystery of the narrative, plucked notes marking the time left for characters. Knows when to rely on environmental sounds like cicadas, tractors, rains, etc. instead of music for atmosphere. The opening theme with accompanying morbid visuals sets up Shiki well. The ending theme, however…just put that parrot out of its misery already!

Story – Very High

A horror mystery done right without a reliance on jump scares. No one is safe in this rural town.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch unless you hate horror. Shiki manages to take real, human characters and break them in a tense, supernatural epidemic that exposes their true nature. The subtle, yet brutal changes in the characters make Shiki an engaging anime.

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

Positive: 

Extensive Character DevelopmentGreat OP or ED SequenceHoly S***Stellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None.

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Paprika – Review

Japanese Title: Paprika

 

Similar: Mind Game

Serial Experiments Lain

Paranoia Agent

Perfect Blue

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Horror Mystery Science Fiction

Length: 90-minute movie

 

Positives:

  • Mind-bendingly crazy dream sequences rendered in gorgeous, detailed art.
  • Keeps you guessing on what is reality and what is a dream until the end.
  • Zany music to match the wacky visuals.

Negatives:

  • A few questions left with vague answers.

Have you ever seen the 1971 version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder? You remember that scene where Wonka takes everyone on a boat ride through a psychedelic tunnel? Paprika is a feature length version of that. The dreams are surreal, music weird, characters loopy, and it’s all great. Paprika is the last in director Satoshi Kon’s anime films – Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers. If you have seen his other works, you know what kind of mind-bending and psychology to expect.

Researchers have created a device that allows therapists to enter a patient’s dreams to find the source of anxiety or neurosis. One such therapist uses her red-haired alter ego known as Paprika to explore the dream world. However, when a device is stolen and patients’ dreams start grafting onto the minds of therapists, dreams become indistinguishable from reality. Paprika must navigate the dream world to figure out how it started and who is responsible.

Though this may sound similar to Christopher Nolan’s Inception, they are far from alike outside of the common narrative device – dreams. Where Inception is grounded in the reality of oneirology (study of dreams) to craft a thrilling heist film, Paprika uses the imagination side of dreams where anything and everything can happen free of oneirology. Inception had strange things happen, certainly, but nothing truly weird. Paprika on the other hand, is nothing but weird. There is a parade of fridges, frogs, lucky cats, anatomy mannequins, the Statue of Liberty, Buddha, and whatever else they thought of, all in honour of a loony old man whose body fat absorbs baby dolls. Need I say more? In Paprika, the dreams have no rules, no boundaries, no logic. They are insane and tons of fun.

Paprika requires that you pay attention, particularly to the scene transitions, or you may miss crucial information that establishes what is dream versus what isn’t and risk losing the plot. Unfortunately, even with focus, some of the important questions remain unanswered. However, that doesn’t interfere with the overall enjoyment of the film.

The art does a brilliant job of bringing the craziness to the screen, accompanied by equally weird, yet good, music in a cacophony of electronic sounds and ever-fluctuating vocals. The artists didn’t skimp on animation. Several scenes have so much animation at once that you need to watch them several times through in order to catch everything.

If you enjoyed Inception, but thought it was too realistic and needed a few more talking guitars and nightmare fuel, then I recommend Paprika. Just don’t expect the same sort of narrative as Inception. That would only lead to disappointment.

Art – Very High

A crazy world of dreams filled with imagination brought out by surreal art.

Sound – High

Both Japanese and English voice tracks are great, though the Japanese has the edge. Paprika’s voice in English may grate on you from its ‘squirreliness.’ Love the psychedelic music.

Story – High

A fun story of insanity that breaks the mind with a smattering of horror thrown in.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Paprika is a must watch, even with a few narrative faults. Prepare to dive into some bloody weird dreams.

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

Positive:

Holy S***Stunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Elfen Lied – Review

Japanese Title: Elfen Lied

 

Similar: When They Cry

Mirai Nikki

Deadman Wonderland

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Horror Action Romance

Length: 13 episodes & 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • An unsettling atmosphere crafted by contrasting the innocence of children with hyper-violent gore.
  • Haunting opening theme and soundtrack inspired by Gregorian chant.
  • The telekinetic protagonist’s volatile nature creates plenty of tension.

Negatives:

  • The clichéd humour doesn’t ever lighten the mood, which can make the constant tension exhausting.
  • The male love interest is a weak character that serves little purpose to the core.
  • In trying to imitate the Japanese voice track too closely, the English voices sound awful despite the skilled actors. The Japanese isn’t ideal either.
  • Outside of action scenes, most animation ceases.

A severed arm twitching in a pool of blood. Decapitated heads sail across the room, blood sprays the walls. Screams fill the air. At the centre of the carnage, a young girl, naked. Don’t be fooled by the innocent looking girl; Elfen Lied is violent and bathed in gore, not an anime for the faint of heart.

In the world of Elfen Lied (German for ‘Elven Song’) exists a race known as Diclonius. Human in appearance other than small horns protruding from the skull, Diclonii control telekinetic arms called vectors capable of tearing people in two with a flick. Their purpose is to eliminate humanity and spawn a population of their own. Lucy, the protagonist, is one such Diclonius, who escapes from the laboratory, massacring guards and researchers on the way out. She ends up on a beach in front of Kouta, the male love interest, and his friend Yuka. Her mind traumatised by a gunshot, Lucy now lies dormant, replaced by Nyuu, an innocent alter-personality with the mental development of a child. The laboratory dispatches other Diclonii and a mercenary to hunt Lucy down.

Elfen Lied is an anime of tension. It juxtaposes the young innocence of the characters with the violent nature of their telekinetic powers. How can something so small be so psychotic? Every scene with Nyuu is tense, for she could snap at any moment. A mere second of lost control and a character loses a limb or their head. A Diclonius doesn’t discriminate. Man, woman, child – all die in Elfen Lied. Elfen Lied is brutal and gory, contains child and animal abuse on physical and emotional levels. Do not watch this if you are prone to nightmares.

Nyuu/Lucy duality brings an interesting dynamic to the story. While her innocence is what keeps the power at bay, it is also her greatest weakness, as she is too naïve to control her power. It reminds of the 1931 Frankenstein film (which I highly recommend, by the way) where the monster doesn’t comprehend that actions have consequences, especially when those actions can be so destructive. Elfen Lied explores the nature of humanity, and what can come from it when a child is isolated, abused, and pushed to the limit. It accomplishes this goal rather well.

Music enhances these moments where a character’s psyche breaks and violence paints the screen. The opening is a tragic Latin opera called ‘Lilium,’ set to bizarre symbolist art inspired by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. The hymn unsettles, a warning for what is to come. Several versions of ‘Lilium’ play throughout the series and are an important role in the narrative.

Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end. Outside of the Diclonii, the rest of the characters are either underdeveloped or dull. Kouta in particular is weak. While his backstory is good and ties with Lucy’s plot line, as a character he has no purpose other than to serve as a romantic device. He is just so dull. A street lamp with a blown bulb would be more interesting. Yuka is even more useless. She is nothing more than the third point for a love triangle. The writers could have cut her from the series with no effect on the plot. The romance between her and Kouta is lame, filled with generic misunderstandings and anime romance tropes. What little humour Elfen Lied has is trite, seen in every anime teen romance – trip over each other, grabbing the breast, up-skirts, etc.

The average voice acting doesn’t help either. Even though Japan records all actors at once, here they sound stilted with no interactions off each other. The dub is even worse. Kouta’s voice actor is as deadpan as the character, and the female actors tried too hard to imitate their Japanese counterparts, resulting in these awful squeaky voices. No child sounds like that! What’s strange is that the English cast has done great work elsewhere (same team as Full Metal Panic and RahXephon, both great English tracks), but here they sound like amateurs.

Despite all Elfen Lied does wrong, I enjoyed the story. It’s a great example of using gore to enhance the narrative surrounding innocent characters.

Art – Medium

Mouth movements comprise all the animation in most non-action scenes; sometimes, even the mouth doesn’t bother, too exhausted it seems. Other than the action scenes, visual details are low. The manga creator intentionally chose a ‘moe’ artist for the anime to enhance the contrast between innocence and violence. However, this style doesn’t look the greatest, especially on Kouta. Gore and action is great.

Sound – Medium

A great Gregorian chant-inspired soundtrack and tension music brought down by an average Japanese voice track, and an even worse English one.

Story – Medium

Protagonist Lucy carries the violent narrative with her dual personas and volatile nature. Shame then that the other pieces of her love triangle are worthless.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Elfen Lied is a worthwhile anime for fans of uncensored violence. Watch in doses of three episodes at a time to avoid exhaustion from the constant tension.

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

Positive:

Great MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceHoly S***

Negative:

Useless Side Cast

Blade – Review

Japanese Title: Blade

 

Similar: Hellsing Ultimate

Blood: The Last Vampire

X-Men

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Vampire Action

Length: 12 Episodes

 

Positives:

  • Visual style is nice with decent atmospheric colouring; good screenshots, essentially.

Negatives:

  • So many action clichés: Locked swords that wouldn’t lock, simultaneous jump slash followed by silence before the damage appears on both, etc.
  • When the vampires burn in death, the fire looks photoshopped over the top, which is strange since the environmental fire looks good.
  • High action moments experience a drop in frame rate, even going so far as to have static characters merely drift across the screen.
  • The vampires are weak. A sneeze means death.
  • Despite the narrative focus on the death of Blade’s mother, we get no emotional exploration.
  • Squandered use of Blade.

An exasperated hiss, that is my reaction at the end of Blade. Madhouse did a poor job here in translating the Blade comics into anime. Blade is the fourth on Marvel’s anime slate, and after four attempts, they don’t seem to have learnt much, if anything at all. Here we have shallow narrative, noticeable animation shortcuts, and every action cliché imaginable.

Blade is on a mission to kill Deacon Frost, a regular villain from the comics, and his Japanese based ‘Existence’ organisation of vampires as vengeance for the death of his mother. From then on, the plot is as linear as can be, with no twists all the way. Blade teams up with another vampire hunter, Makoto, out for revenge for the death of her father. Together, they carve their way through hordes of vampires…with ease. Immediately, we have a problem. The vampires are weak! They die to a sneeze. Blade gets more resistance from the wind than from the vampires as he slices through. He could slash at the air for more of a challenge than these vampires. Deacon Frost and a couple of others are the only real vampiric challenge; however, they never explain why they are more powerful than the others. The story never explores anything beneath the surface. Blade finally confronts his mother’s killer? Meh, just another bad guy. What are the villains’ motivations? Eh, who cares; it’s not like depth matters. Instead, they waste time on calling out ability names.

This laziness is prevalent in every facet of Blade. The animation for instance, loses much of its frame rate during action sequences, even to the point where the animation stops altogether and the characters just slide across the screen. When Blade executes a flurry of attacks, half the time, rather than show off this fluid animation of him dancing between enemies, carving them to shreds, they chose to have still shots flash in sequence minimal detail. Only in the finale does anything interesting happen on the visual spectrum.

Blade is a dull anime and a squandered opportunity with the comic lore. Even after all said above, it still feels worse than that, worse than the sum of its parts from the disappointment at this anime.

Art – Medium

Nice style ruined by low frame rate action and so many static shots.

Sound – Low

Mere passable voice work lacking in nuance of better anime. Generic action music.

Story – Low

A bog standard action plot of a vampire hunter hunting a vampire that looks no deeper than the surface.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Read the comics instead. Wasted chance to create an alternative take on Blade mythos.

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

Positive: Nothing

Negative:

 DissapointingHollow World BuildingNo DevelopmentShallow

Berserk – Review

Japanese Title: Kenpuu Denki Berserk

 

Related: Berserk: The Golden Age (remake)

Similar: Claymore

Gungrave

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Horror Fantasy

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good animation, especially considering the show’s age.
  • Guts is a great lead character that portrays a more believable muscle-bound character than most other anime.
  • English voice track is well done for the most part.
  • Properly used horror in an interesting plot.
  • ‘Forces’ music track fills one with epicness.

Negatives:

  • Incomplete, cliffhanger ending.
  • First episode is deceptive due to the incomplete ending, and the next few episodes are slow to start.
  • Opening and closing sequences will leave you horror-struck with lacklustre quality.
  • Poor use of what little music there is.

Berserk came out during a time when anime in the West was marketed towards a broader audience, even going so far as to censor elements or tone down language to reach the young demographic. Outside of films like Akira and Ghost in the Shell, you had to search high and low for mature anime that wasn’t terrible. Then Berserk came along with its dark themes, unadulterated horror and violence to show us just how adult anime could be.

Berserk centres on Guts, the orphan swordsman, and Griffith, leader of a mercenary band, as they fight for their country of Midland. However, Griffith has ambitions beyond just fighting for a king; he wants to be king. Griffith’s plans test the loyalties of Guts and his mercenaries to the limit. Berserk focuses on themes of loyalty, isolation, and the fundamentals of humanity, the nature of good and evil innate with us. Be forewarned, this anime gets dark, very dark, contains nudity, plenty of violence, and gore everywhere. These aspects are not thrown in at random. No violence for the sake of violence. Gore for the sake of gore. Each use is relevant, an uncensored view of the scene.

Guts is a fantastic protagonist, a badass anti-hero, who wields a giant sword that can cut horses in half. Normally, wielding a giant sword is indicative of a terrible character, one that the creators put no thought into, especially when it comes to physics. With Guts however, he has the look and ferocity of a man who can wield such a weapon. The animators made the effort to show the heft of swinging such a heavy weapon; Guts doesn’t twirl it around like a baton as seen in other anime and games. As a character, Guts goes through a range of emotional and physical trials, exemplifying his depth. When designing a brawny character, look to Guts for the archetype done right.

Griffith too is a suitably complex character with his own strengths and weaknesses, exploring the price of ambition, but to elaborate further would constitute spoilers, so I shall stop there. The supporting cast of mercenaries is a mixed bag of quality, but they are good when it counts, Casca in particular who struggles with her identity as a women in a band of men. Villains, ranging from generals to nobles, are despicably evil, sick and twisted, some with magic elements thrown in.

There are two major narrative faults. The first episode can confuse viewers, being a flash-forward that we never return to because of the second fault, the finale. Berserk is incomplete; after an awesome adventure that keeps getting better and a horrifying finale, the series ends on a cliffhanger. It is clear they intended to have a sequel series, but never got around to it. (They did go back to the beginning again with the recent release of Berserk: The Golden Age; however, that’s a new take on the manga, so you won’t get closure on this version.)

Berserk comes highly recommended. Just don’t watch it if you can’t handle the thought of an incomplete anime. You could read the manga afterwards, however. Also, not for children – can’t stress this enough.

Art – High

You will find higher quality anime these days, of course, but Berserk’s gritty medieval style doesn’t feel dated beyond the use of action lines and slow motion to hide the occasional low frame rate.

Sound – Medium

Has one of the best tracks in anime: ‘Forces.’ Even so, the soundtrack is limited and hardly used. Many battles have no music for some reason, not for added effect. The opening and ending themes are awful, sung in terrible English and don’t fit the series – just…awful. The acting is good in either language, though I found the English suited the characters better, except for Griffith; his English actor can’t command the scene as Griffith should.

Story – High

An excellent fantasy tale of corruption and loyalty with a good cast of characters brought to a halt by a cliffhanger ending and no continuation.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for fans of dark fantasy that doesn’t shy away from the realities of battle and horror. No incomplete anime deserved a conclusion more than Berserk.

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

Positive:

Extensive Character DevelopmentHoly S***Riveting ActionStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None