In order to celebrate Halloween, I thought I’d write up a Halloween-themed post, namely, what is it that makes a good horror anime? The horror genre of anime used to be my favourite genre of all the animus, but over time, after having been frequently let down by it, that has since changed. Though this isn’t something I can really blame producers for- it must be unbelievably difficult to create a good horror anime when, to start with, fear is subjective, but I believe, in spite of this, there are a few trusty guidelines all horror anime should adhere to in order to be truly terrifying.
One of the most important things for creating a good horror anime is striking that ever-so-fine balance between how much suspense is a good amount of suspense. I shouldn’t need to tell you that suspense is a key ingredient in horror, as it is largely responsible for keeping you on the edge of your seat, dreading what will befall characters next. Just enough of the stuff turns you into a nervous wreck, but too much ruins the overall effect, as rather than being scared, you instead become bored waiting for something to happen. I remember Monster, a show fuelled by suspense, frequently took it too far. It spent episode after episode building suspense, and still, nothing of any great magnitude would happen. Rather than appearing, flipping out and killing everyone within a five-mile radius, Johann would just lurk, unspectacularly. Perhaps producers got cocky and thought they could be as leisurely as they liked with 74 episodes to play with…? Anyway, boredom kills horror- if you want something horrific to happen, simply to relieve your boredom, how likely are you to be scared when something does, eventually happen? The scare comes from not wanting anything to happen to the characters you’ve grown attached to, which brings me to my next point.
As much as boredom kills horror, so does not caring about characters. Part of the reason you get scared whilst watching anything horror is that you don’t want anything bad to happen to the characters you’ve grown fond of, or those you’ve placed yourself in the shoes of. Bad characters then, obviously, make any of the above very difficult. This is something I’m currently struggling with with Shin Sekai Yori. Its characters have spent most of their lives in a village that eliminates rogue elements, and after learning this they find themselves caught up in a war of monsters, which sounds scary enough, but… I really don’t care. SSY has given me very little reason to care for any of these characters, so why would I care what happens to them? Why should I feel fearful? Also, how do I begin to identify with any members of a group of kids with psychic powers whose individual characters are so woefully under-developed? Of course, this isn’t something that just Shin Sekai Yori is at fault with, pretty much all horror films/games/anime neglect to develop their characters. Why waste time doing that when you can just hack them up into bits? But it’s something that’s so worthy of investing time in, and you needn’t even invest that much- Hell Girl devoted but one episode to each of its characters, exploring everything that has motivated them to want to send another person to Hell. And as the price of sending someone to Hell was to be doomed to go there yourself after death, a scary thought, getting to know characters and all the hardships they’ve faced (and man, did they all face some hardships!) made you really fear each episode’s conclusion where they’d inevitably feel cornered into sending their tormentor to Hell, dooming themselves in the process. All this was done in just one episode, every episode, so I have no patience whatsoever for those who claim it is not possible to develop characters due to time constraints!
So now let me return to the topic of finding that perfect balance once more. Those responsible for creating horror anime seem to be under the illusion that excessive gore = scary, but this is something I’ve never really stood by. Shots of heads being pulverised, limbs being torn off and blood spattering in all directions- how applicable is that to our daily lives? Not very, I hope. A lot of fear comes from not wanting what we’re seeing to happen to us, but because of our tendency to think ‘it will never happen to me’, we’re most likely to just shrug this kind of macabre technique off as being unrealistic. Who really was scared by Blood-C’s blender bunnies, for example? No-one, because something like that has never happened to anyone, ever! Even if it were humans mushing up the civilians it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference because, even then, that kind of elaborate slaughter is just so far removed from most of our lives. Additionally, because the media frequently depicts violence, the large majority of us have become desensitised to it, it no longer shocks us. This combination of our simply shrugging it off as something that’s likely to never happen to us and not even registering shock by it makes including excessive gore nothing but a waste of time, in my opinion.
What I, personally, find terrifying is when, rather than using supernatural beings as a scapegoat for the horror taking place on screen (another reason why the blender bunnies just didn’t do it for me), anime explores the horrors of humanity. What made Shiki so scary wasn’t the shiki themselves, but the change in the humans. Ultimately the humans far surpassed the shiki’s level of brutality, making them, ironically, the bloodthirsty monsters of the show. And whilst Baccano isn’t a horror anime, Claire Stanfield was super-scary, simply because he, like the humans in Shiki, embraced his inner monster. In fact, I’d say he was even scarier than the humans in Shiki, at least they can kind of justify their actions by saying it’s what they needed to do to survive! Claire was just nuts!! Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, why be scared of the fictional monster under your bed, when the real monster, human being like you and I, lurk just outside of your front door?
Another one of my personal preferences in regards to horror, though I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this, is: no ecchi! I can’t explain for the life of me why, but ecchi and horror seem practically synonymous nowadays, even though, if you ask me, fear and sexual gratification should be kept a far away from each other on the wide spectrum of feelings as possible!! I mean, the zombies in Highschool of the Dead were scary shit, but add a panty-shot of two into the equation, a zombie panty-shot, and I’m no longer scared, but baffled, and slightly amused. It’s hard to be scared of zombies when the show purposefully draws attention to its stripe-emblazoned crotch! So yeah, no ecchi if you wanna be scary! A good rule of thumb, I think.
So, as always, opinions please! What do you think makes a good horror anime? I’m particularly interested to hear whether anyone’s horror experience has been improved by ecchi or excessive gore- perhaps my being female, and Christian, have biased my views somewhat…? Anyway, wherever you find yourself tonight, happy Halloween!