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Monday, October 31, 2016

Anime Ichiban: Top Ten Horror Anime


Throw something at any given anime season and you’re bound to hit one, two, or five high school slice-of-life comedies. You’ll also run into a few romance stories here and there. Plus, there's going to be a mech or some other action show in the mix. Every now and then, though, you’ll get something different.

It won’t be cute, it won’t be nice, and it won’t be easy. I’m of course referring to the horror anime.

These are the stories of tension and reservation. These are the shows that will get you to cower and cover your eyes. These are the images you see alone on the darkest of nights. These are the anime that get you scared.

I have seen a ton of shows with horror elements and they are effective. The problem is, many of these moments are just that, moments. In terms of a full series, there are a lot, but there aren’t many that are good.

Many shows that classify themselves as horror have a tendency to go a bit overboard. They even sometimes have a habit of going silly. And some are flat-out stupid (I’m looking at you Pupa, you piece of s@#$).

Yet, there are good ones out there. When a show gets it right, my God does it get it right. These next ten…these next ten got it right.

Perhaps the only other genre with this much subjectivity is comedy. What scares one person may not scare someone else. So, these ten are the shows that got to me the most. These are the shows that caused me to step back.

I like to think it takes a lot for a story to scare me. Thus, my only criteria for this list was, which shows proved me wrong?

Original Run: October 10, 2011 – April 16, 2012

Number of Episodes: 26

Full discloser, this tenth spot was hard to pick for. Not because there were a lot of contenders for this list, there weren’t. The problem was, there are only nine shows that I can full on say are great horror anime. The tenth one was always going to be just decent.

The two other shows I was juggling with were Devil Lady and Paranoia Agent. Devil Lady was creepy and was maybe the creepiest for the longest amount of time. Paranoia Agent though had one of the most unnerving moments I’ve ever seen. What ended up hurting both was their overreach.

Mirai Nikki had the same problem, but it was better prepared for it.

So, that’s why this show took the spot, but there are good reasons why it was even considered in the first place.

Up until the climax, which I cannot say I liked, the show was unnerving. That was all thanks to Yuno. Her unpredictability was terrifying. You never knew what she was going to do next. Her motives were always unclear. You were never sure if you should route for her or against her. Odds were, the answer was you're wrong.

Original Run: January 5, 2000 – March 22, 2000

Number of Episodes: 13

This is the product of an era that's just over now.

Boogiepop Phantom, like I said in my review, is not for casual viewing. If you’re not ready to put some thought into a show, then do not start this one. If you do you’re in for one hell of a ride.

The plot is confusing, and that’s putting it nicely. Yet that confusion, though difficult, is what makes this show scary. You're not given much to work with. There’s a complex mystery unfolding and the answers are not going to come freely. What is going on in each scene?

That’s the gist of what you’re going to have to do. Except, you can’t forget something. Many of the scenes you’re going to watch are disturbing. A ton of the imagery you’re going to see is grotesque at points.

You want to know what’s going on, but you’re not going to want to look. That’s a problem, but it’s also what makes this show so good.

You don’t watch horror in the hopes of laughing and having a cheerful time. You’re watching horror for that unsettling feeling. You want to explore outside your comfort zone. And your zone will be tested the moment you hear that ominous whistle coming through your speakers.

Original Run: October 9, 2014 – March 26, 2015

Number of Episodes: 24

I may have just watched the damn thing only a few weeks before this list, but Parasyte was that good.

The best thing going for this series was its ability to stick to its tone. It wanted to be dark, so it stayed dark. It didn’t try to bring in any unnecessary humor. There wasn’t room for laughing. Considering how many people died in horrific ways, jokes were the last thing the story needed. You’d think that’d go without saying, but it is one of the major flaws of anime horror.

There was always a sense that someone, anyone could die. There wasn’t a person who was safe. Death may have been quick and it may have been painless, but that added to the fear. That school scene is still heavy in my mind for how intense it was.

Along with the horror, the show had a compelling story about the lead's handling of the situation. That alone did a lot to make everything more tragic and dire.

I’ll admit Parasyte got a tad preachy near the near the end. It pushed the limits of its long run time. Yet, when it was at its best, it knew how to grab your attention.

Original Run: July 25, 2004 – October 17, 2004

Number of Episodes: 13

I’ve said it on many occasions before. It's getting a little old. Yet, I feel it appropriate to say it one more time on this list. Gore and violence do not make horror. Tension does. Not knowing does. This is not just a problem with anime. This is a problem with storytelling in general. If a story only has blood for the sake of blood and nothing else, and it's going to insist on calling itself a horror series, it's missing the point.

There has to be a purpose to the carnage. Once that's achieved, violence can become the horror enhancer that it's meant to be. Elfen Lied understood this concept.

This show is violent, and that’s an understatement. This is the most graphic entry on this list. Don’t believe me, just watch the first ten minutes. But there is a purpose to the madness.

Lucy is a ticking time bomb. For the longest time, you don’t what’s going to set her off. Making it worse, it's not confirmed if she’s in full control when she does go off. Upon reaching her limit, though, people are going to die.

There’s that, but it’s only one of many things. You get a glimpse into a backstory that's f@#$ed up. There’s cruelty in this show and it often overshadows the violence.

Original Run: July 6, 1998 – September 28, 1998

Number of Episodes: 13

Cut and paste Boogiepop Phantom here. Serial Experiments Lain did many of the same things as before, only better.

90s anime have a charm to them that only comes from age. That’s what this show does. It gets more terrifying the more years that go by. The animation looks rough. It seems dirty. There’s none of that crispness seen in shows of today. Yet, that’s where this series pulls its horror from.

This is a visual mind f@#$. Serial Experiments Lain is a clear example of psychological horror. Unlike Boogiepop Phantom which stayed in the shadow, this one is bright. Before, you couldn’t see what was going on. Here it’s all clear and detailed. Except, you don’t know what you’re seeing.

The story isn’t easy to follow. It relies on a lot of symbolism and philosophy speak. It adds to much of the not knowing, but it’s more a compliment to the visuals. That’s where the fear is going to come. This show plays well with the unnatural.

This is also a good glimpse into the past because the series' premise shows its age. Everything the story was trying build, more or less exists now. The science fiction is becoming truer. But at its core, Serial Experiments Lain is a great horror anime.

Original Run: July 6, 2007 – December 17, 2007

Number of Episodes: 24

Spoilers, this is the only sequel to make the list. And boy, what a follow-up.

The Higurashi series is fantastic, but its power lies in its execution. Everything looks cute and friendly, but it’s all a lie. At the drop of a hat, everything turns. You don’t when the fall is going to happen. When it does, the show goes deranged.

Kai continues the power of its predecessor. It’s creepy, it’s violent, and it will leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.

The problem Kai faced, it was going to always be less mysterious than the first season. This was a conclusion, so this is where we were going to get answers. This is the season that had to come out of the darkness. Because of this, the fear was maybe doomed to go down.

Yet Kai did everything it could to mitigate that. What it did was change the focus of the fear. In the first, there was insanity. Here there was evil. It was Kai which had the most difficult scene to watch. That’s impressive knowing the kind of s@#$ that happened throughout the series.

This was the payoff for all the buildup. And trust me, it's worth.

Original Run: July 14, 2014 – September 29, 2013

Number of Episodes: 13

Yamishibai Season Two wasn’t awful. Season Three was. These two were never in consideration for this list. That's because they couldn’t match what Season One was able to do.

It’s been a while now since I’ve seen this show and to this day it still gets to me. There are a few stories I make the mistake of remembering and I’m screwed up for the rest of the night. These episodes are not long, but they leave an impact.

Just thinking about them gives me the chills. The unnerving imagery of Zanbai. The unnatural movements of Tormentor. The misdirection of Contradiction. And of course, the anxiety attack that is Hair.

The true power of Yamishibai doesn’t take full effect while you’re watching it. Many stories you need to think about later to appreciate how good they were. For example, if you read my review, I said that The Umbrella Goddess was one of my least favorite stories. That may be true, but I also said it was quite bad. That’s surprising to me now because The Umbrella Goddess is quite scary when I recall it.

In the end, Yamishibai Season One embodied one of the golden rules of horror. Don’t show too much.

Original Run: October 22, 2000 – March 25, 2001

Number of Episodes: 20

Don’t get confused if you’re thinking of the English dubbed version. That one is a great comedy, with all the horror elements toned way the hell down. The Japanese version is not that. This show is terrifying.

It might look like your typical school anime series, but it’s much darker.

The danger levels in this show are off the charts. It always felt like these characters were going to get hurt. In some cases, death seemed like a possibility. I didn’t expect Ghost Stories to be this volatile. Scooby Doo this is not.

I don’t recall a single episode that didn’t have some kind of unnerving element to it. Some were stronger than other, but they were all powerful. The peak came with that f@#$ing doll. Burn it, burn it with fire. This show had already made this list, but it was that one episode that secured its number three spot.

If you’re going to watch this series, I recommend watching this version first. It’s the way it was meant to get told and the dubbing may end up ruining a lot of the atmosphere. The reverse is not true. Even with its heavy comedic tone, much of the tension remained. That’s how strong the horror of this series is.

Original Run: April 4, 2006 – September 26, 2006

Number of Episodes: 26

I kind of ruined the surprise when I kept referencing this one in the Kai section. It doesn’t change the fact that Higurashi no Naku Koro ni is one of the scariest anime I’ve ever seen.

Where Kai took its disadvantage in stride, Higurashi took its advantage and ran with it. The mystery of it all is what made this show so horrifying. To see such close friend turn on each other for no real reason was sad at its best and shocking at it's worse.

The series gives no sign of what's going on. Even the structure of the show was a mystery onto itself. Why was it told the way it was? 

There’s a reason for everything.

Like I said in Kai, Higurashi dealt more with insanity. And while I said Kai had the most disturbing moment in the series, what happened here was no cake walk. Yet what this show did and what Kai failed to replicate was one good scare.

It wasn’t someone jumping from behind saying boo, it was an unexpected shift in tone. It happens within the first arc and it comes out of nowhere. It's quick, but from that moment on, the entirety of what the Higurashi series is was set.

Original Run: January 10, 2012 – March 27, 2012

Number of Episodes:  12

Yamishibai has a ton of disturbing imagery. Ghost Stories is downright terrifying at times. And Higurashi no Naku Koro ni is one of the scariest shows in existence. Yet they were all in a race for second.

There was never any doubt. There was never any question which series was going to earn the top spot. Whenever I start a new horror anime, I always ask one thing. Will this one be better than Another? So far, the answer has been no.

This is more than a great horror show. This is one of my absolute favorite anime of all time. This is the gold standard. This series relies on pure atmosphere. There are no jump scares. The fear comes from being powerless to stop something out of your control.

Every step is perfect. Every twist, unexpected. Everyone was vulnerable. Death was sudden and unpredictable. The mystery becomes learning how to survive. The threat wasn’t something you could stop. It was something you had to outlast. For some, that just wasn’t good enough.

This show brings you to the brink of how much the human mind can handle before losing it all. Rationality is key to sanity. But once you lose it, it may never come back.

I love this show and Another is my number one horror anime.

Final Thoughts

Looking for something for your next fright night? Well, these are my top ten recommendations. From disturbing imagery to nail biting moments, this is horror anime at its best.

Now as always, this has been my list. I want to hear your thoughts. What did I get right? What did I get wrong? Is there a show I missed? If there is, please tell me. I’m always on the lookout for another great horror story.

Oh, and more thing. As a special reward for those who read all this, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. If anyone suggests Corpse Party, I’m going to stop you right here. I know about it. I’ve even seen it. And no I didn’t forget about it. I just don’t like it. I’m incapable of understanding why people think it’s scary.

For a fun game, and maybe a horror story onto its own, let’s take bets to see how many people I’ve now pissed off.

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