Anime is great! I love it! It has so many genres. Even when I compare them to western genres like action, sci-fi , romance and …… well…… there is one genre that I don’t think anime ever does “right”. With a few exceptions of course..but horror anime usually add additional genres like action or mystery and they tend to be heavy on that other genre and low on the horror. Which was weird to me! As anime has some amazing ghost stories! Luckily I found an anime for my Haloween month that I actually classify as Horror.. I even found it scary… I am just not sure it’s “anime”……….
The Devil is in the Details
Yami Shibai, whose official title is Yami Shibai: Japanese ghost stories is a fairly long running anime that actually still seems to be more or less ongoing. Currently having 7 seasons with 91 episodes in total. Each season being 13 episodes. It is produced by studio Ilca who almost exclusively produce horror content…. and the Love Live School Idol movie! However this year the same studio brought us Ninja Collection..which is a summer anime but I am not sure if anyone is watching that. They also made a show about a fart solving problems like only a fart can do… but I am pretty sure I included that when I said they did horror. Each episode features a stand alone story but they are tied together by a masked Story teller voiced by Kanji Tsuda.. whom you might know from… Yami Shibai Season 1 through 7.. or as Kamen Rider Ryuki. He did more things but none of it sounded familiar to me.. so he already is kind of like a ghost!
The concept of Yami Shibai is to mimic the Kamishibai theater storytelling. This is a traditional form of Japanese storytelling with picture boards being presented in a wooden cabinet. There is an old man telling ghost stories using a Kami-Shibai and his call for attention functions as the show’s intro with the stories being the actual episode. Each episode lasts for about 4 minutes. The show including the intro.. and a very creepy Hatsune Miku outro lasts 5 minutes which means you can watch an entire season in about an hour if you skip out on the outro! The animation is very static, almost still as if an actual Kamishibai with only very minimal animation, think high budget Visual novels.. or the execution scenes in the Danganronpa games. But more on that later! Here we just factually describe the style!
Every episode is a classical ghost story, usually with a twist/bad or open ending. For all intents and purposes I will exclusively be reviewing the first season giving episode summaries but not full on spoilers. Reviewing each unique episode in terms of how spooky they are.Micro-reviews! Yay! I just might review other seasons throughout halloween month as well. So sorry for the spoiler.. but I did really enjoy this first season! The director changed and remained the same into the second season so I assume that is going to be even better.
Now join me as we enjoy some classical Japanese storytelling. Attention kids and adults alike come join us for story time this is Yami Shibai!
So before I talk about the entire show let’s talk about the episodes a bit first! And measure how spooky they are! The basic premises of an episode will be discussed here so if you think that is a spoiler …. which it is not… I would advise you to skip to the next section.
Episode 1: The Talisman Woman
A man moves into a new apartment and finds a mysterious seal on his ceiling! When he removes it a mysterious woman stares at him from afar. When he gets home the next day, there is yet another talisman on that same spot! Could it be there is something living in his house?
A great benchmark episode! It has some eerie vibes to it, some nice subversion and even a possible jump scare! Mind you that I do watch these after midnight with all the lights off to set a proper atmosphere when reviewing these.. but this one is a great standard. It is mid-tier for me which is a nice way to start this series off. It doesn’t peak nor does it disappoint. It makes you anxious enough to slowly raise your heartbeat!
Episode 2: Zanbai
A traveler/tourist gets himself hospitalised with a broken foot when mountain climbing. He has to stay overnight in a hospital. But some other patients in the hospital are whispering together..of making sure he does not escape?! Did he mishear, are they even talking about him? What is with that strange greeting they gave him?!
This one builds up tension but let’s it fizzle a bit..which weirdly kind of makes it work still. This one did make my blood a degree colder or so… but the ending is slightly too odd and very implied. Look up what Banzai’s true meaning is before looking at this one or things might go over your head a bit. Got uneasy but I never startled
Episode 3: The Family Rule
A man that married into an old family gets told that he has to perform a ritual with his new family to keep an ancient demon at bay! However when his son wakes up to investigate the ritual is put at risk!
Top 5 for certain! The build up was great, the visuals really worked wonders and the resolution was both equally horrific as satisfying. This one cleverly uses fear to instill fear and to create an exciting incident that within four minutes worked very very well for me! You know exactly what happens, what people are thinking and what unfolds.. by minimal dialogue and simple but twisted expressions! Quite creepy!
Episode 4: Hair
A woman is working late trying to make copies for something that looks like a school newspaper or something. However when the machine is used black.. almost hair like streaks appear all over the paper.. and as the woman investigates the machine an incident of freaky events occurs.
Great scares, great effects.. dumb woman! I mean I know work ethic is a bit stricter in Japan but if I saw something living inside the copy machine.. I sure as heck would not begin opening some drawers to reveal the creepy entity! I would dash out the room and come back the next day. While I liked the story it is also the story that follows that western trope of stupidity the most which makes it less spooky..because well… serves them right for being this dense?!
Episode 5: The Next Floor
A man ditches his kid for his birthday! Because he has work to do! When his wife gets angry at him for leaving his son on his birthday.. the man gets in an elevator, wanting to be left alone. Then suddenly goes below it’s lowest level.. and each floor the man encounters begins to be creepier and stranger.
This one is among my favourites as well potential top 3. It has a great sense of mystery, there is an ominous feeling from the get-go and there is a lot of cool stuff done with lighting and atmosphere in this one. What is happening?! We are kept in the dark until the very end.
This one had a scare that actually startled me! So it is pretty spooky!
Episode 6: The Overhead Rack
On a subway ride home an overworked man hallucinates a fleshie mass staring at him from the overhead rack! He brushes this off as a figment of his imagination and long hours.. but when suddenly the subway hits a person and all electricity is cut off for the rescue workers to do their job..it is revealed he might not be hallucinating stuff after all.
A mediocre episode that uses the Kamishibai art brilliantly. But cutting a whole in a drawing they manage to project real human teeth on a drawn creature and it is unnerving as heck! The static paper movement versus the more natural behaviour of the real teeth really convey a sense of confusion! Of being something from between two worlds. While not the most scary story due to the weird logic in some elements of the story it is definitely a noteworthy one.
Episode 7: Contradiction
A woman receives a disturbing phone call from her friend.. telling her boyfriend got possessed by something scary during a visit to a haunted hospital. She said her boyfriend changed and asked if she could sleep at her friend’s place that night. Yet she sounds strange. Then the boyfriend shows up at the woman’s house telling how his girlfriend got possessed by something scary during their visit to a haunted hospital. .both accounts are fully animated. Who can the woman trust.. only one of them is speaking the truth here clearly?! Right?!
A strong episode that had quite a bit of kick! Seeing both the male account as the female account offers a duality in choices that conveys an anxious decision at the likes of cutting the red or blue wire for defusing a bomb. We as the viewer are not cued in on the truth so we have to discover it along with the main character and it works very well. There are some uber creepy visuals here as well.. and because they only MIGHT be true.. it is even creepier for me! Where is the real monster? Definitely one of the highlights in this season!
Episode 8: The Umbrella Goddess
While visiting his friend during a sunny day a young boy sees a woman with an Umbrella in her mouth! This causes the friend’s boy’s father to seal the boy in a shed..giving him the key to unlock the door.. telling whatever he does he should not open the door.. and that what he has to do now has to do with the Umbrella lady! If the boy can hold out untill daylight he should be safe.
Another top 3 episode for me! While a classic story the four minutes short tosses everything in it’s arsenal at you to confuse you! It had some amazing visuals, incredible sound design and the Umbrella Goddess is even in the siple drawstyle something that does genuinely seem creepy! The voice acting is great.. and the cinematography is really amazing! That final line the narrator tells at the end before saying “the end” might be my favourite line in the series.. no it’s stronger than that..it IS my favourite line in the series.
Episode 9: Cursed
A young girl is afflicted with terrible skin conditions. Someone else his hand is burned on her skin and she is filled with dark necrotic spots! So far no one has been able to help her but then her mother discovers a female priest that might be able to help! From there on out things do not go as one might have expected.
A very strong ending visual redeems this story from being “boring” but this one felt.. a bit cheap. It reminded me a bit of the movie Drag me to Hell but we never get the payoff. It almost feels as if we have seen the wrong part of the story. I think this is because the workings of the curse are not clear enough, having a skin condition does not seem that harsh compared to what we’ve seen before. Visually strong but little spooks to be had from this episode.
Episode 10: The Moon
While at a baseball training camp some of the players reminisce about how they went to this camp when they were kids as well. Explaining how one of them fell in a pit toilet. (A hole in the ground but with a sort of bowl to pee and poop on) all those years ago. The boy can not remember this and goes to the pit toilet to wash up and see if he can jog his memory… then he memorises.. he wasn’t the only presence in that hole all those years ago.
A strong story with some amazing scary visuals and some great atmosphere! It would be among my favourites if this basically was not a “poop-ghost” There is literally something evil living in a hole filled with crap! It kills suspense for me.. a lot. I am not exactly sure how pit toilets work and had I known I might have had a different visual in my head but for now.. this one is mid tier.
Episode 11: Video
While doing homework before the start of school after vacations three boys get bored and decide to watch a haunted tape completely covered in tape to seal it! It is said that a real ghost lives in that tape. The boys watch and see a fault in the movie..that might be a ghost..when one of the boys notices a statue seems to have moved. It might not be a statue at all upon closer inspection..his friends do not notice ..but no matter if he rewinds pauses or fast forwards through the video.. the boy begins to notice the ghostly presence is going closer.. and closer to the screen.
I expected the story of Ringu ..but instead I got something that had a much more immediate pay off. Seven days, my sitting-meat! This is a potent video. Creepy visuals and vcr levels of details on the screen make you lean towards your screen to watch it more closely.. Something the episode uses to it’s advantage to make your heart skip a beat…or all of them! A bit generic of a plot so a higher mid tier episode for my taste! Pretty sweet spooks.
Episode 12: Tomonari Kun
A girl exits school and sees a bunch of younger boys stare at a black shadow like mass, that is then named Tomanari Kun. They ask if the girl wants to play with them and she promises she will, but she has no time today! As time progresses the boys ..and according to them Tomonari Kun begin to grow more impatient and then one day they decide to play at her house instead.
Another highlight! I had quite a few. but this episode might actually be in that top 3.. in fact it might be close to my favourite . The ending employs a technique I really love in horror , letting a part of the scary stuff happen far in the background.. it makes everything feel so much more inevitable .. you as the viewer feel more powerless to stop it or will it away and then there is plenty of good stuff to fantasies about here in terms of what actually is happening there! We never get an answer but we do get a new mystery! How do we interpret the story ? It is left up to us to decide. The kids are pretty creepy and the voice acting is pretty nice here as well. Having some children of the corn vibes or Wicker man sensation through the story! (Not the Nick Cage one) Great episode!
Episode 13: Tormentor
Based on the ghost story about a dancing spirit whose moves you are doomed to repeat until you die from fatigue this episode starts of with a Disturbia like scene of two boys playing with a pair of binoculars when they see a few blindfolded monks being up to something. A mysterious woman seems to be dancing behind them the boys try to take a peek when one of them starts dancing. The boy is retrieved by his parents but the binoculars are left with the other kid.. who goes to return them the next day… noticing everything is getting stranger by the moment.
This to me was the weakest story of the bunch! The dance used is very weird and almost just flailing your arms around. That is an effective way to kill someone.. but if you do not know the original story here.. like I did not .. you have no real idea what is going on it feels more unintendedly hilarious It tries to go for one final jumpscare in the end..but this one is blatantly obvious..It made me learn about some folklore though! Still not scary at all!
The Light in the Darkness
if you like this show will depend on three factors. Firstly you have to like implied endings. Not a single one will tell you what really happened with maybe Overhead Rack being the only exception and even then we aren’t exactly sure. You never find out the faith of a person and it is up to you to assume if they got a good or a bad ending. Japanese ghost stories also have a bit of a different flow than western ones. Culturally they are a bit different and we will not know all of these things are based on actual ghost stories. We will not know the subtlety in some shows as a western audience. The four minute format works mostly because these are urban legends people know.Not everything will resonate with us and you have to be ready for that. This show is vague and doesn’t hold your hand when it comes to narratives. I honestly hope you have enough depth to take a peek into another culture ..but if you just want a spooky Naruto clone.. this is not your show.
The second thing is the animation! It isn’t fluid! It isn’t fast and at times it looks cheap. On CrunchyRoll I saw a lot of people rip on the art style. Yes some drawings are “ugly” but that is the whole point. That water painted look is something that is reminiscent of an ancient art.. and they do great things with it. Making holes in the film to bring in certain creepy light effects or monster effects is all very unique and fitting. It disorients you as well. Because everything is basically slightly animated still shot jump scares hot so much harder. You can not see things approach.. not it is there when the creators want it it to be there! I adore this style! I love this style for this short show format. It has these extreme close ups that remind me of Ren and Stimpy suddenly showing something zoomed in to make it look extra horrible. The music and the animation serve it’s exact purpose.. to unnerve you! Some of the creature design is really good as well but this is a show best watched in the dark after midnight!