Dear Mortals last week’s spooky anime was a collection of short stories called Yamishibai and I was seriously impressed with this series. With the second season getting a new director that would stay for the ongoing season I was sure this one would be even more potent… yet me and the Crunchyroll Comment section had to reach a tragic conclusion. The second season is nowhere near as good as the first.
In the previous post I explained why the visuals of Yamishibai have meaning and how the format lended itself quite well for the short episode format. It kept things spooky. In part due to the amazing direction of Tomoya Takashima with the writing of Hiromu Kumamoto. For this second season the series was helmed by Takashi Shimizu and Noboru Iguchi as directors and Shōichirō Masumoto is responsible for the script this time. Like season 1 it is still an ILCA studio production that is available for free on Crunchyroll .This is a season that clearly got a lot less love in the comments though and that has mostly to do with the direction of this season. There almost seems to be a stylistic change. Even noticeable between the two directors. One clearly more capable than the other but both are bogged down by their choice in stories this time. Leaning heavily into the biggest gripe I had with last season.
This season has a lot of implied messages. Where season 1 put a twist on folklore stories and retells them, season 2 implies their presence. What I mean by that is that Season 1 feels more like a Show and Tell format “Today I will tell you a scary story about a fabled curse” while Season 2.. sets up for people to recognise a folklore story.. If Season 1 would be a Pokedex entry about folklore Season 2 is the Whose that Pokémon of Folklore. Which probably makes it a lot more interesting for Japanese viewers and those VERY well familiarised with japanese ghost stories.. and I mean VERY well. As a Gaijin though I oftenly missed what was going on this season. It still is fascinating in ways but it is strange and makes no sense rather than it being scary. The jump scares have been replaced a bit .. by a big clue to reveal the story in the end. As a fan of both western and asian horror this really missed a bit of the balance for me.
That being said this season still has a few gems in between. The ratio if just off. The tales are still fascinating in a way as well, they just feed that horror itch less and are more an interesting thing to research. There is a bit less of variety in stories as well, with the majority being possession type stories. Season 1 offered a mix between survival scenarios , curses , monsters and possessions. Like last time let’s discuss all the episodes with a short summary (not spoilers but I do tell the story premise) after which I give a bunch of microreviews.
No episode can match the top 5 episodes of season one but there where still a few stories that were quite good! Plus due to the easy format you can gloss over this season and pick the episodes you think might be interesting. After all even if there was just one worthwhile episode in this format it is still worth watching as these people clearly did still put a lot of effort into these stories.
Episode 1: Taro Chan
This is the story about a cop, trying to teach the kids about bike safety using a ventriloquist dummy named Taro-Chan. The act seems to go smoothly until Taro’s head suddenly jams, after working around it a bit , the cop discovers and removes a wooden seal from Taro’s neck and suddenly things get very strange.
This episode for me is the perfect summary of season 2. It shows everything that is wrong with the direction at its worst. The dialogue written for Taro-chan doesn’t produce any feelings of anxiety. The fear the cop experiences isn’t done as well as fear was depicted in the last season and the ending really doesn’t deliver. If you are a horror fan you have probably seen a better haunted ventriloquist dummy story than this one. It tells a story but it needed more than 4 minutes to be something special.. now it’s basically.. there once was a haunted ventriloquist dummy…it could talk by itself ..the end. It doesn’t help that the dummy still uses the cop voice, the events happening feel weird and uneventful. Probably the worst episode of season 2 straight away.
Episode 2: Kitchen
A girl is visiting a friend who had just moved into a new place. As a housewarming of sorts the homeowner girl cooks for the protagonist girl. When the latter notices a voice coming out of the AC unit in the kitchen and some shadows appearing out of nowhere she isn’t sure if she is crazy or if it’s real. She needs to decide if she wants to warn her friend and look stupid.. or hope that she beliefs her.
Directed by the “other one” you can see it is paced a lot better then the first episode. There even is a nice dramatic build up that could lead into some scares. The visuals are creepy and produce the right atmosphere. Unfortunately this episode is plagued a bit by its writing.
This might be me not understanding Japanese culture very well.. but if you see a shadowy figure threatening your friend and you are going besides yourself with fear..would you really try to be polite and compliment her cooking?! Would said friend really go so angry that she kicks you out of the house when you don’t compliment her noodles straight away.? If I saw something scary I would tell my friend..I rather think they are crazy than risk her being eaten by a potential delusion! The art cues, visual design and pacing are great though. The last minute is a bit of a trainwreck in writing.. but just the build up makes this episode worth the watch. Kinda!
Episode 3: Inside
A boy finds a Russian Nesting Doll and brings it home. His mother is properly creeped out by the “toy” and tells the boy she will get rid of it. Reluctantly the boy hands it over to his mother, but the next day he sees she still has it.. his mother’s behaviour slowly begins to grow more erratic as the boy decides to investigate.
One of the strongest episodes this season in terms of visuals and writing but that lacked the directional punchline to make it a perfect score on Pinkie’s Spook-o-meter. The episode has intrigue, cool visuals, a progressive sense of dread and it doesn’t require you to know a story by heart. By the way characters act, how visuals are presented it is perfectly clear what is happening here. It just misses that step beyond. You get the horror tale you expect when it’s about a nesting doll but it could have used a bit more subterfuge or a fake-out somewhere. A bit too straight forward but definitely a great story to tell around a campfire.
Episode 4: Wall Woman
A man has a crush on the woman living in the building next to him. He always stares at her during his studies wondering if she is single or not. Then one day he sees a creature enter her room. As he sees the woman walk onto the balcony again shortly after the two have eye contact for the first time when things get scary.
This episode reminded me a lot off the first episode of season 1. I deemed that episode mid-tier and for this episode I mostly feel the same. It has a bit more dramatic build up, but there is no real twist again. You know how the episode will end. This is more one of those slow burn episodes which can work great but you need a bit more time than four minutes to make it special. This director aims to end with the jump-scare on the final second.. every time where in season 1 the big event also usually ended in the final bit.. scenes sometimes lingered allowing scares to take earlier than anticipated.. here you are more prepared. It has the dramatic build up from a coaster (often stronger than season 1) but after that you only get that one expected drop. Not bad but nothing special either.
Episode 5: Locker
A girl is in love with a sporty guy and tries to ask him out. While going home upset she did not talk to him she overheard a rumor about a magic locker in the underground passage of the school. If you leave a photo there in the locker that holds a weird statue you are able to have a happy future with that other person. The girl goes to try it out.. but hey that wishing doll looks kind of creepy.
Great episode! Yet again it is way too obvious but at least his one had some surprise elements still. Even though you know where the plot will be headed you never know how or why until it is too late and it can still leave you in suspense. In that way this episode may provide you with the most Western like sense of horror where the tension lies in not if something ifs finite but how it will meet its end. With some gore and nice voicework as well as some proper character building this episode does everything I want. It is not perfect but this one is up there with the better Season 1 episodes! Definitely top three! In fact this is the clear number 2. If you want to skip through the season this one is episode would be one of my recommended stops.
Episode 6: Nao-Chan
A family who sleeps with their son in their bed do not read him stories at bedtime but instead to sentai like shadow play. Late at night however the boy starts to begin talking to a spirit he calls Nao-Chan. As the parents try to figure out who that is.. every night Naeo-Chan comes closer to the family.
Great visuals , bad episode.This is one of the few episodes that doesn’t reach its climax at the end of the episode, instead this ending is supposed to show something subtle.. but it doesn’t connect. Once more it feels like they needed an extra twist or a visual.. this time in the end. There are some cool things being implied here but the way the set-up scene cuts away too early and the ending scene implies anything through dialogue only it really feels like we are missing a piece of the puzzle here. Like with episode 2 a strange lack of communication makes the scene more awkward than it needs to be and for the twist line being said in the end there is a perfectly feasible explanation that takes the wind out of the sails of this episode entirely. It’s not unwatchable and for the visual you could watch it, but if horror is a punch to the face than this episode is a slap with a limp sardine.
Episode 7: Gachapon
On his way back from work a frustrated salaryman sees an old man playing desperately with a Gachapon machine. The old guy is completely fascinated by it and the man wonders why the old man would want all these toys. The next day he walks buy and sees the Gachapon is not in use. The sign mentions a cost of 20 Y,. The box is blackened so he can not see what is inside. Curious the man pays 20 yen and gets a gachapon that holds the favourite eraser he lost as a child. How strange..but the scratch on makes him realise it is definitely his! As he wants to play more we are cued in that the price might be more than just 20 yen.
Amazing episode, number three spot for sure! This one is fascinating rather than scary but it is still kind of creepy to see unfold what actually happens. This episode uses irony to make the story so much stronger as well. Once more not ending on the “climax” but instead letting the moment linger a bit.. making this pay off feel SO much more satisfying than almost anything else. Probably the best episode in overall quality but it lacks that spook factor that number one and two have. Still this episode is great to watch, the desire that fuels the protagonist is feasible and whatever supernatural forces are at work here can keep him from noticing certain things without it feeling forced. In this episode I did notice how this episode seems to try certain values to people. Don’t assume all rumors are true, don’t meddle into affairs, don’t get stuck in the past. It is a neat enough theme but once again a bit obvious.
Episode 8: Farewell Confession
A man is attending a strange type of funeral with long lost relatives. it is called a farewell confession. People sit with the dead and tell them a secret they want to ascent to heaven with them and liberate them. Some of these are very innocent others go very far.. as in your daughter is actually MY daughter. When our protagonist offers his confession though the ritual goes Awry.
Horrible writing plagues this episode….unless of course the translation was off. If that first secret was not.. I was the one who made your wife pregnant not you…but instead half mumblings sounding like that.. I might be okay with this.. but as I had perceived it now.. and the line sounded pretty clear to me as well once more we delve into a very unlikely scenario and values. Strangely we only hear half the main character’s confession..but unless he did some REALLY depraved stuff with the confession target it doesn’t seem worse as .. your daughter is not your biological child…A second issue makes this episode a bit ridiculous .. which is the existence of a certain meme. I had a lot of fun with this episode reading the comments and everyone seemed to agree with how silly this was. This one is a bit so bad it’s a good variety..Alas for spook score that doesn’t count.
Episode 9: Ominie-san
A teacher from the big city transfers over to the school in a small rural town. When a strange lunch of purplish meat is served, it is named Omnie-san. Everyone digs into the meat like crazy devouring it as if they are mad-men. The teacher is off put by this and dumps her meat only to find people eating it in a restaurant as well. Losing her appetite she calls in sick. She and her worker now have to make sure she stays healthy..in this strange town.
This is another one of those strange episodes that clearly seems to be referencing something. Since the meat has an honorific.. was it a person they are eating? Do the kanji in the word Omnini-San mean anything? What is going on. It feels strange and macabre sure.. but there never is a real pay off. We see an effect happen near the end but what does that reveal? Maybe it is just that tasty that people pig out on it so much? Clearly there is something ominous implied about what we see in the end but I have NO clue what happened there. Once again due to the strange direction that doesn’t linger enough on some points and just adds cuts that help convey an emotion.. but not what is going on. I know I should feel uneasy.. the episode cues me in on that.. but it fails to cue me on on why. In the end I am working my brain to hard to be scared.
Episode 10: Bugged
A bitter man lives in a house and the only thing he does is work and then write about what issues he has about other people’s happiness. He tells he is bugged with women who let him in his eyes, he is bugged by a couple sharing an umbrella in the summer rain because it is too warm, he is bugged by everything. Then moths start appearing in his room, which he gasses and then burns. Because it bugs him there are bugs, when he writes about what bugs him.
A strong albeit pedantic episode. This one tells us about a bunch of metaphors becoming real all surrounding what plagues this man and how he responds to it. It leads into some of the coolest and most gruesome visuals in the series so far and I was really pleased and startled by that. However this one again is so obvious that it just fizzles out by the end. One of those “count-down” episodes. I really support the message this episode is trying to send though but as Chandler Bing would say… could this episode BE anymore obvious?! It’s such a shame that this show both manages to dumb things down and still keep some things so obscure. It’s two tones which clash and “Bugged” seems almost like a Polar opposite of Ominie-San. While I don’t think the episode is very flawed it does showcase an inconsistency in the show in general.. .all in all, the amazing visuals and relevant message keep this episode in the positive score range.
Episode 11: Picking Up
On his commute home a man finds a novel that was left behind in the train. He begins reading it and it is so good that he ends up in a station in the middle of nowhere just to read it in peace and quiet. While trying to search what station he is in, the man finds out about a writing competition which he enters with the novel he found. The organisation seems pleased and ask him if the novel is his and of course he says yes.
A solid enough episode that is a bit too morally preachy. I also saw another story than the comment section on Crunchyroll saw. I saw a story about mistaken identity, while others saw a story of getting punished for a sin. The morale is the same though! Do not lie! In a way this episode reminded me a lot of the movie Drag Me to Hell and I really like that movie. It also reminded me of another horror story of mistaken identity.. It was a short story in a dutch book I once read. And YET again that is this season shows that they lack the ability to let these episodes shine. It’s a solid story but not a single special thing is done about it. It isn’t that hard to add a little twist to make it a bit more special. In this case I can come up with four or five twiss just from the top of my head. It’s neat as it is .. but too neat.
Episode 12: Netsuke
A college student is helping her grandma cleaning up the store when she finds some heirlooms left by her grandpa. Grandma tells her that she can keep any stuff she wants but warns her that Grandpa never allowed her to even touch those Netsuke. These are tiny japanese ornaments in this case shaped like two faces. The woman makes earrings out of them. Late at night when she heads home she notices two strange figures following her.
This is it! The number 1 episode! It feels so spooky, it has several scary moments, it has a twisted reveal and the morale of “don’t take what doesn’t belong to you” is less hammered in here because she was in fact gifted with these.. sort off. It isn’t pedantic this time around but more appealing to common sense.. slightly hidden away. Sometimes WE do need to look a gifted horse in the mouth. This episode has such cool visuals, clearly ghostly figures, fear, music.. it has it all. In fact this episode might even come close to my top 3 of the season now that I have had some time to let it sink. This episode has some action and a strange but satisfying ending. If you watch just one episode of season 2.. make sure that this one is it.
Episode 13: Bringer Drums
A couple moves into a rural town that seems rather welcoming. On their way there they see the path is decorated with bringer drums. The village elder says that is a thing they do to bring good spirits and positive energy to new residents and that it will help them feel and act like they were born and raised here. Then late at night the drums begin to beat by themselves and the girl of the couple realised that whatever these drums might bring isn’t necessarily good!
This is one of those, you have to know the lore to get it kind of episodes as there is a myth of bringer drums out there that makes this story a lot more understandable and while you can go out and search for that it doesn’t make the episode that much more enjoyable because of the lame choice of a jump scare in the end. It just doesn’t work. I am pretty sure there are more myths about the bringer drums than the one I read as this also had another element that some others seem to recognise in the comments. I knew neither.. So in the end all I saw was a vague myth that isn’t that much more scary then windchimes going off in a horror movie. That is the entire scare and it makes it very one dimensional. Had the drums been given a scary look.. or they wondered about the odd look at the very least .. but they just think it is cute.. untill these drums go off..very flat and the scare at the end made me laugh instead. I was drinking a coke so I regret that. Unfortunately I also regret watching this episode.
I rated quite a few episodes favourably still I would like to think but overall the quality did take a big dip down. The lows were lower than those in season 1 and only one high rivalled the highs of last season. I did kind of enjoy my time with this season but I can see why so many people really hated it and dropped the show from here on out. I’ll give the new directors one more season.. and if that is this quality instead of the first .. my last anime halloween review (if I have time) will be something completely else., If it isn’t as good as this season I might even not do the review! The show really has potential but here the tone wasn’t right for horror, either to preachy and handholding or to obscure for the most of it. Mostly due to the direction and scene choice. Still it’s an interesting series of tales but you can’t help but compare it to the first season.
Imagine being in one of those haunted theme parks for Halloween. The first one is a better than average and unique looking zombie that has a lot of gore and startling effects on it.. but it is also a very unique character in it’s narrative.. maybe a civil war guy.. that also pirated on the side. Or a slasher character that looks unique but as if he could have a tea party with Jason, Michael and Ghostface. It has some proper weapons to chase you down with you running frightfully. This season.. is that guy that runs around with a blanket with two holes for eyes that has no cool stuff but just can yell Boo really loudly! He has some timing skills so he can catch you off guard and make you yelp once or twice.. but in the end it is still the soldier pirate zombie that haunts your dreams.. even if you saw him way before.
Now that we’ve seen enough Kami-Shibai theater for one week it is time to go pack some more stuff! If you want to help me with my move please consider donating to my Ko-Fi page! The funds will be used to decorate a small little writing space for myself! Or just comment something and be social! So I can relax read all the love with a smile after a day of packing and cleaning! Thank you and I hope you have a spooktastic October!