Horror Anime: Is there really such a thing?

Episode 02 ~Happiness Game~.mkv_snapshot_40.27_[2016.01.23_20.43.53]

Half-rhetorical, half-joking, half-serious.
…Wait, that’s three halves! *cue violin screech*

This is a recurring thought that I’ve had for quite a while now, which had just recently resurfaced again while chatting up a seatmate at Uni. In talking about stuff that we liked, we found ourselves on the subject of anime; in particular, the genres that we preferred. Somewhere along the way we ventured onto the topic of horror anime, and how there aren’t much of ’em around. Of course this could very well be far from the truth and there are in fact more horror titles than I actually know of (which is possible, given my modest anime-viewing history).

But really, off the top of your head, what was the last horror anime that you saw?

According to MAL, it would be Parasyte/Kiseijuu for me – which is fine; I agree that there were in fact some intense horrific moments in there, and the overall feel of the show was progressively dark and grotesque. Do I think Parasyte is a horror anime? To a certain extent, yeah, I guess. It’s a sub-genre at best. Next in line for me was Tokyo Ghoul. TG was a fine horror in my mind. Although Parasyte and Tokyo Ghoul shared slightly similar themes, Tokyo Ghoul did a better job showing the slow downward spiral towards inhumanity (hooking it very early by referencing Kafka’s The Metamorphosis) and was very reminiscent of my favorite horror movie of all time, Rosemary’s Baby (Well, at least in the earlier half of the show. After that, the anime took another turn for the horrific, in a different not-positive-at-all meaning).

Damn that Kirie

So we’re on somewhat of a good roll, here.. up next – DanganRonpa. …What? Followed by: ShinSekai Yori. Just.. No. The list starts to pick up again (kinda) with titles like Dusk Maiden of Amnesia and Another, but while both have their moments (with Dusk Maiden having a better run as a horror), I wouldn’t call either a horror anime. Or, well, I guess Another is, by nature, if you count the Final Destination series as a horror.

I suppose it would be in the best interests of this post before I proceed any further for me to define what it is exactly I’m looking for in horror. A horror feature should make you scared (c’mon Leap, stating the obvious a bit too much?) Hear me out for just a little bit more. Horror should make you fearful of what’s to come – leaving you at the edge of your seat, at you’re most vulnerable; some horrors will try and topple you off that seat by throwing you a jump-scare or two, while other horrors keep you on edge until you fall off on your own. A constant dread, varying in size; from the dark corners of the room, to that sound you think you heard.

There are horror anime out there. They exist. I just think they’re very scarce (again, in my humble opinion). This could be attributable to a number of things. One of which is the medium itself and the limits of what animation can do. For instance, a staple of horror features is the darker tone in scenery – which is a bit tricky in anime, given that scenes with a darker contrast tend to look a bit washed and not terrifying at all.

[FFF] Love Live! - 10 [BD][720p-AAC][AB0C6ACE].mkv_snapshot_18.46_[2016.01.23_20.47.21]

Another reason stems from simple tagging. Maybe some good horrors just aren’t tagged as ‘horror’. I for one still think that Shingeki no Kyojin is a neat anime alternative for the American zombie-survival-horror. But this reasoning is a bit of a slippery slope, and is really the only thing stopping me from calling LoveLive! a psychological anime about the interpellation of school idols (which it totally is). This leads us to-

Preference. Maybe something that’s supposedly horror just isn’t horror for me.

What do you guys think? Am I horribly in the wrong here?
What are your favorite horror anime features?😀

47 thoughts on “Horror Anime: Is there really such a thing?

  1. Yuo. Most anime are wrongly tagged as horror, but they don’t fall anywhere else though. As for me, horror needs to make me feel paranoid. It doesn’t need to outright scare me, but it needs to make me wary of my surrounding.
    A good horror for me are the first three episodes of Another. Lol.
    Also, that anime called Hundred Stories. Creepy as fudge.

    • “Most anime are wrongly tagged as horror, but they don’t fall anywhere else though.”
      Very nice point😀 And it’s true. It’s like a placeholder genre for something in-between supernatural, thriller and psychological. Take away the ‘horror’ tag from, say, Parasyte, and it’ll lose a fairly significant descriptor.
      lol, the first episodes of Another (like most P.A Works shows) was a real treat
      I haven’t seen Hundred Stories. I might look into that.

    • I agree. Many anime are wrongly tagged as horror. They’re more gory. . .sort of like a fan service for gore fans. And yes, horror anime do exist. I think that “Mushishi” is a good example of a true horror anime, in the sense that it’s creepy and makes me afraid. It’s not the type of high-pitch-shriek inducing horror show but more of the goosebumps-inducing-look-behind-you type of horror show. And also excellent story-telling.

      As for Parasyte, I personally will categorize it as urban fantasy more than horror, as well as Tokyo Ghoul. Anyway, great post.

      • Most of ’em are, yeah. But you gotta wonder too — that they’re making these gore features because there’s an audience for ’em. If not, then the anime industry has a very strange perception of what viewers expect from a horror. I love how MushiShi is being brought up in this post, and it’s true (or at the very least I agree) that it’s a fine example of horror. Man, that ‘pillow’ episode still gets me sometimes.

        Not gonna lie, it’s the first time I’ve heard it (or maybe I’ve heard it before but just forgot) but “urban fantasy” sounds like a genre that I could get into xD

        Thanks! And thanks for organizing another awesome carnival Arria.😀

  2. You know what IS a horror though?

    Bad action sequences.

    Not a fan of any work related to horror since I’m a scaredy cat but I do enjoy bunch of animes that somehow fell into the horror category. (Turns out Parasyte is horror, I thought they were alien-shape-shifting-thingy)

    PS : New category, alien-shape-shifting-thingy.

    Isn’t SnK just a seinen + grotesque. If that’s the case, how about old time manga? Berserk should be horror, Trigun should be horror, Homunculus, Monster, Tenkuu Shinpan (A new one) and few others. Does grotesque-ness/blood/dismembered body parts considered horror? Or all it needed was just a scene to make it horror?

    (And honestly, I thought DanganRonpa was just dark comedy)

    • “You know what IS a horror though?

      Bad action sequences.”
      – Ain’t that the truth😀 Although I should say, these have come and less and less frequently for ongoing anime as time goes on. Well, for some of ’em anyway.

      I can’t say I’ma ‘fan’ either, but I do watch horror from time to time. I was just as surprised as you. If anything Parasyte is a solid sci-fi.

      I dunno, I just liked the idea of SnK being a slow-death kinda thing, like World War Z (the novel, not the movie). But yeah, exactly as you said, at it’s core it’s a grotesque seinen – which is why I don’t often label genres to stuff on my own, ’cause there will be times that I see some things in a show that other people won’t and vice versa.

      And yeah, amusing enough, almost all of the shows you mentioned (Trigun being the sole exception) is tagged as horror – well, at least on MAL xD

      • I haven’t watch new animes.
        (I’m watching old ones in an effort to compensate (and to relive) my internet-less, adolescent, life) xD

        Yes. Sci-fi was the word. Thought I did get close with my alien-shape-shifting-thingy.

        I’ve read the novel and watched the movie (not for the sake of the novel but for Brad Pitt). If anything, the novel is a humane documentary/or self narration. (The narrator did mentioned, the only thing that separates us from them is our humanity). And since when SnK is slow death?😄 (chomp, chomp, stomp, slap, slash, chomp)

        It’s more likely that it (the work) is something not for the (younger) public eye. Which lead to anything not sexual turned into horror/thriller. (As sort of a warning?)

        Since detailed categorization would only waste time, and word counts, and increases useless (but informative tags, like a ‘protagonist got dumped’ tag) xD
        I understand why they just put it into horror and be done with it.

        • Still internet-less?😦

          Yeah, pretty much xD

          I liked the novel a bit more to be honest. It makes you kinda understand the struggle through different accounts, as opposed to just showing you how messed up like is when zombies are running around, lol, and with SnK I see more or less the same – humanity’s struggle against a slow (I mean, it’s not like they came overnight xD) yet inevitable doom. Just a thought :p

          That may be the case, yes, and like TPAB said above, they just might not know what else to call shows like that. “Horror” is a convenient umbrella term for anything that shows rated stuff that (as you mentioned) is not sexual.

          They’re just words at the end of the day, but I also understand the importance of genre tags and descriptors (at least from a viewer perspective).

      • Unfortunately, yes.

        I do, however, have a basic line for whatsapp and email. But WordPress has been long abandoned 😢.

        Such as reusing old castle, a shovel, and patience.😄 I love the novel so much that the movie was a disappointment.
        And the book showcased the biggest casualty of them all, our sanity. Some chose to be a zombie by pretending, or become a smuggler, illegal trader, some developed hallucinations.🙂

        Well said.🙂

        • Bummer😦
          Well, at least you still have mail xD

          Patience was the best. That “battle” at Hope, New Mexico was grueling-ly awesome😀 I particularly dislike how they made the zombies fast in the movie, lol

          • Did not noticed your reply.

            See, that’s how bad the situation I am in.😄

            Like that guy in that one chapter said “They’re not rushing, why should we?”
            As they blow zombies’ brains away.

  3. Perfect Blue. If that doesn’t freak you out then I’ve got nothing for you. Basically Disney and Alfred Hitchcock had a baby and it’s Perfect Blue. It scared the hell out of me when I watched it (I was pretty young, 13 or so) and I still find it very creepy to this day.

    • You got me there. I haven’t seen it (yet, I’ve been meaning to for some time now), but I’ve heard enough about it to know that it definitely is immensely horror-worthy😀

  4. The thing about horrors is that some of these titles are very synonymous with just action. Some of the ones you mentioned, like Parasyte, Tokyo Ghoul and Shingeki no Kyojin are definitely dark and grosteque, but at the time same time, you can argue and say all of them are pretty much action anime, lol.

    Imo, I would say Higurashi is the most classic presentation of psychological horror though. It’s just so good at apprehending you.

    • It’s funny when you think about how clear-cut genres are in other media. ANd yeah, I definitely agree – horrors almost always overlap with more thematically dominant genres, like action xD

      Yep. Higurashi is definitely a horror staple Although one could argue that it’s more psychological, I would argue that they’d just be splitting hairs at that point.

  5. The fact that we all don’t seem to agree on what’s a good horror anime and what’s not is understandable, if we take a look at this quote from a the Horror Writers Association:

    Horror, by nature, is a personal touch — an intrusion into our comfort levels. It speaks of the human condition and forcibly reminds us of how little we actually know and understand.

    It is perhaps better if we don’t try to agree on one set of strict standards, as long as the work we consider as horror evokes some horrific emotional/physical/mental/psychological/etc response from readers/viewers. (But then again, we all have different reactions –some may be scared while others might not at all be–because of our different backgrounds. This thing is just hard to pin down.)

    Although, I personally think that a good horror anime, being an audio-visual medium, optimizes its form by presenting a masterful execution–timing and choice of sound effects, cinematographic excellence, vocalization of dialogues, etc. It doesn’t even need to have a complex plot. A good execution is a good story, and a great watching experience.

    • Now that was a fun read😀

      I don’t think any viewer can deny how ‘controversial’ (so to speak) horror is in anime when talking about genres. I’m honestly quite fascinated at how it (horror) has come to function as such, considering its odd subjective nature. Well, I say ‘odd’ really because it needs first to “evoke some horrific emotional/physical/mental/psychological/etc response from readers/viewers”., as opposed to other genres like, say action wherein irregardless of the response of the viewer, it’s still an action.

      Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion

      I love this line. And it’s true, horror is the emotion. Or at least it should be. In more institutionalized media (live-action movies for example), horror is usually pre-packaged; ready-made almost, to elicit an emotion. In turn we as viewers, over time, began to expect to feel frightened or scared when we come to know that a movie or something is a horror. The idea of being afraid superseded the medium – making the experience of watching a horror a bout with our expectations, rather than our emotions.

      In a way, the strictest standard we’re setting is that it has to make us respond – which, when I think about it, is actually quite hard. More so now with our desensitized viewing culture. Anime is in a tough spot in that regard. Although, I definitely agree that with good execution of key elements, it can (and has) been done.

      • Haha I actually thought of quoting that line that you quoted, too.🙂

        The idea of being afraid superseded the medium – making the experience of watching a horror a bout with our expectations, rather than our emotions.

        Oh, that is definitely true, or at least that’s what I certainly observe. At the end of a horror movie, most people will likely say either “It was scary!” or “It didn’t scare me”, than tell something about their personal emotional confrontation with what ideas these horror films presented them.

        As to your last point, I also agree. You reminded me of Aku no Hana. That was the creepy kind of scary. I always felt uncomfortable watching it, which was basically the point of the series–of the anime, anyway.

        • It’s even more interesting (funny even) when we start asking – does a ‘horror’ then become ‘not horror’ when it doesn’t scare us?😀

          Yep. Aku no Hana is another fine example of what anime can do with depicting horror. I’d specifically attribute that uncomfortable feeling to how it was animated. Rotoscoping not only looks hella weird, but almost ‘uncanny valley’-ish, in a way, with how close the visualization of human expression is to real life – which is a contrast to the otherwise superficial norm in horror (which is really just scary faces and gore, lol)

  6. I’m something of a newcomer to anime (I started my journey in 2015 and I’ve got a little over 30 series under my belt), but from my understanding there seems to be a general misconception in semantics between the words horrifying and horror. Horrifying can refer to anything that is grotesque or creepy that can bring a scare, but horror brings with it the connotation that it touches the viewer on a very instinctual, primal part of their psyche. Horror can be creepy, but the creepiness of horror often stems from the internal interpretation of the event by the person experiencing it, not necessarily the object itself being “creepy”.

    But that then begs the question: isn’t horror in and of itself purely subjective?

    It’s an intriguing subject to think about..🙂

    • First and foremost; welcome to, uhh, anime-vewing😀

      There really is that misconception, but in an audio-visual medium such as anime, a viewer can only really quantify “horror” through the “horrifying” moments he/she perceives – much like how a viewer can quantify “action” through “action scenes”, “comedy” through “comedic scenes” etc. That’s not to say that horror can’t be nuanced in anime (as it certainly has been able to), but even that already speaks about the subjectivity of horror as a genre.

      You bring up an excellent point in that horror is connotative. And I would tend to agree with you. What’s horror to one’s eyes may be entirely the result of one’s own predispositions. However, on the other end of the spectrum is the notion that horror is institutionalized by mass media, and what we see as the subjectivity may in fact be our assumptions of horror, meeting or otherwise, the horror we see.

      Glad to have intrigued you then.🙂

  7. Arria’s carniva brought me here, glad I stopped by for the discussion on horror.

    I’d say the best horror hits three or so switches – fear of the unknown, characters you empathize with, and a sense of powerlessness.

    If a creator can triangulate these three elements then they will successfully horrify the audience. My favorite examples are some of Mushi-Shi’s more unnerving episodes, mainly because they almost universally avoid jump scares and gore. They are truly horrifying.

    • Likewise, glad you came across my post.😀

      Ooh. Very interesting. And I’d assume these switches aren’t mutually exclusive to one-another? These elements you point out here, I take as also almost entirely dependent on the level of immersion the viewer has towards what he/she is watching — case in point being the very immersive Mushi-Shi that you used as your example.

  8. After loosely reading over the other comments I have to imagine my thoughts will fall into a simllar vein as other people’s but I’ll say them regardless. I think a key distinction that I know at least Sam brought up and something you elude to in the end of your post is just the general pitfall in tagging certain shows. It’s hard to arrive at a consensus for a lot of shows on what genres they truly represent and I think the mixed terminology between ‘horror’ and ‘horrifying’ or even ‘graphic’ has really muddles things in this regard. Something else to think about is that horror itself has different conventions and styles across cultures and so while there may be anime out there that subscribe to a more western style of horror cinematography and pacing, a good many operate in an entirely different way that could likely still be described as traditional horror. Regardless of these things, I think you’re right in that there aren’t all that many true ‘horror’ shows though I suppose I’m not often actively seeking them out. Thanks for the read.

    • “Something else to think about is that horror itself has different conventions and styles across cultures ”

      This. Japanese-style horror in particular, I’ve come to know, as being more on the atmospheric side of things — as opposed to the traditional Western misdirect-to-jumpscare formula. Would it be more apt then to further qualify the “tagging” of shows depending on the culture where the show was made? Like say, having a genre that’s “Japanese-style horror”. I, personally, would subscribe to that idea at the least.

      Likewise, thanks for dropping by😀

  9. I’m not really into the horror anime genre, but I tag anything with a dark theme that scares me as horror. Nice post! Hmm…I’d probably like to discuss this with some of my friends. Thanks for sharing!

    • In many ways, anything that scares anyone, should be the only definition for horror. lol. Glad you liked it! And yeah, it’s definitely a neat topic to go-over with friends. Thanks for dropping by!
      (Oh, and hey kababayan xD)

  10. For me, horror is gore. But also suspense. It’s an interesting argument that you bring up. Yes, anime is mislabeled. A lot. I add in tags on my reviews using MAL’s tags. And they’re wrong sometimes. But the thing is, it’s hard to simply label something. It gets complicated. Especially with things like horror and slice of life. There are categories within categories. And people get them messed up. There are so many boxes to put anime in, and I don’t think we’re doing ourselves any favors because of that. That’s why it’s hard to say what is horror and what isn’t. And horror is defined by the person. I say it’s one thing, but someone else might call it another. It’s preference, as you said. And that’s truly the meat of it.

    • “There are categories within categories. And people get them messed up. There are so many boxes to put anime in, and I don’t think we’re doing ourselves any favors because of that. ”

      Well said😀 Most common genres (like fantasy or romance) are really just umbrella terms for more specific themes, that in turn have their own sub-genres, and so on. It gets doubly complicated with horror as a genre, as its not a one-way thing like the aforementioned genres. “Horror is defined by the person”. I’d go so far as to say that the concept of “horror” is in itself a construct defined by the viewer’s “expectations” of being horrified. That is to say. if a show wasn’t as fearful/terrifying as what the viewer expected. then it simply wasn’t a horror – for that person. So it definitely does boil down to preference. Or so I’d like to believe.

  11. See, I love horror, but I don’t think that I’ve really seen many purely horror based anime. Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories is definitely a horror, albeit in various short form stories with a low budget. Personally, I think it achieves plenty with what it has at its disposal, but it’s hardly a smooth experience.
    I think the point you make above about horror being defined by a person’s preference is true too. Personally, there are a lot of grindhouse type films out there that do nothing for me, and so don’t really fall into ‘horror’ in my eyes, yet the first Alien film definitely would because I find it scary.

    • It’s interesting finding out that most of what viewers find as good and true horrors are the 4-8 minute shorts — a format I’m not too exposed in really. I’ll give Yamishibai a shot though.
      Rosemary’s Baby would be my go-to example. Still gets me to this day.

      • I’ve not actually seen that one. For me, A Tale of Two Sisters still creeps me out, as did most of the first Paranormal Activity. The original Nightmare in Elm Street too, though part if that is nostalgia: a babysitter once let me watch it, sent me to bed, then intermittently sang the nursery rhyme up the stairs at me … had a long lasting effect, that one.
        On the shirts front, I wonder if it’s easier to maintain the atmosphere for shorter bursts? Maybe the long form stuff sometimes suffers from a degree of repetitiveness or misplaced focus?

        • It’s pretty neat — a bit dated though, but still. Yeaah, the first Paranormal Activity was all kinds of messed-up (in a good way I guess). Over on my end, most of the horrors movies that really freaked me out were Thai ones (Phobia and Phobia 2 specifically).
          Could be, yeah. Additionally, since it’s only 4 or so minutes of airtime, the production staff might just take that as a free pass to just go to town with the overall production. At the very least it’s an excuse to not focus on narrative and just put everything into making the atmosphere as scary as possible.

  12. Very good read! I personally am super scared of horror, so I like that anime horror doesn’t have jumpscares and is more about atmosphere and the psychological side of things :’D I think it’s for those reasons I really enjoyed Higurashi and Corpse Party~
    Funny you say that about Shinsekai Yori because I feel it is a psychological horror, not from being scary but from the uncomfortable questions AND answers the anime provides, but then horror is so subjective xD;;
    If we label horror as something that “scares, disturbs or makes you uncomfortable” I feel is good enough, because those 3 things depend on the person. For example: Umineko made me uncomfortable in some censored scenes, but I’m sure for others it didn’t :’D
    Danganronpa definitely isn’t a horror tho, but it is an extremely good mystery/suspense game&anime~

    • Thank you very much😀 I see. I’d attribute that atmosphere to the style of horror that the Japanese in general implement in a majority of their works. Ohhh, I absoultely love Corpse Party~!! (the game though, not the anime adapt). That binaural audio, with Ayumi whispering in your ear..
      I used to think that way about Shinsekai Yori too — but somewhere along the way I began viewing it as a sort-of anthropological/sociological case study, which almost immediately banished any semblance of horror in the show xD
      It really is good enough (I think) to leave it to the person to decide whether something is a horror or not, but even that just makes horror such an interesting genre to think about, considering how subjective it is.
      I blame MAL’s tagging system/the people who tagged it as a “horror”. :p

      • I love CP game too, haven’t seen the anime yet, but we all know adaptations don’t tend to be the best xD
        Oh man, when they’re whispering and going all creepy it’s awesome!
        Hmm, hadn’t thought about that😛 But yes, it does have those factors, it doesn’t stop it from creepy ;_;
        I find genres and such definitions super interesting. What for one person is a romance, to someone else might be a horror. Such as some mainstream books/movies have been talked a lot about these past few years.
        MAL only gives the tools, the people do with them what they choose hehehe x)
        I’ve actually never tagged anything in MAL because I’m so lazy xD;

        • Yeap. I wanna say Persona4 is the only game-to-anime adapt that was actually pretty good.
          CP audio made it ten times scarier — plus scenes with black screens xD
          True, outside all the neat science-y bits, ShinSekai is still creepy.😀

          Genres (and classification in general) really are interesting. One way of looking at it would be that genres are “suggestions” of what you can expect; and because they’re just suggestions, they may not always be “right”.
          It’s up to the users to use those tools wisely I suppose😀
          I used to do so when I made reviews and stuff on MAL — not so much nowadays, lol

          • P4 animation I haven’t watched yet, sounds like I do need to!
            Oh yeah, the creepiest scenes where when it was describing what was happening in detail, yikes!
            Ooh, that’s a good way of thinking about it. I definitely agree that it’s more of a suggestion than something definite~
            I guess we’re both lazies😛 Tho I’m even lazier, since never bothered to review there hahaa

            • It’s good — for a game adaptation (which may not say all that much xD)
              Something that the Corpse Party anime adaptation failed to capture, sadly.
              A very forgiving, optimistic way of thinking, but hey, it beats complaining about shows not being what they’re labeled as, lol
              My reviews over there weren’t that good anyways, haha! And to quote the ol’ blog’s caption, I am “As laid-back as can be.”😀

              • …I like how the standard was “for a game adaptation” lmao😄
                Yikes, was it that bad? I have plans to wach CP OVA’s ;_;
                Complaining never leads anywhere truthfully /shrugs
                Bwahaha, I feel you, tho in my case it’s combo-ed with lazy and procrastinator xD

                • To be fair — most of ’em are bad xD
                  It’s alright. A bit too fanservice’y for my tastes though.
                  True. Better off just liking what you like really.😀
                  Ahh, I’d love to master that combo some day too.

  13. Pingback: Best Posts Round-Up of the 5th Fujinsei Blog Carnival | Fujinsei

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