Hello again mortals who dwell on my island! For the spooky month I have been watching this strange.. little anime made out of short stories. Season 1 was a banger, season 2 was so… and now I watched the third season. Is it better than season 2?! According to most it is. I think it is! It does something in its final episode that makes everything better… but that also kind of messes me up in the format I do these reviews… what is going on!?
The Twisted Season
The third season of Yamishibai delivers WAAAAAY more on the horror than season 2. While it keeps on the same directors as the second season and I expected it to be kind of bad it almost feels as if the stories chosen have since been adapted to the direction style. There is a sense of more randomness in this season. Where season 1 focussed on retelling the classic ghost stories, season 2 seemed to “set up” for classic stories this third season seems to go bigger and bolder. It seems more focussed on original creatures slightly inspired by folklore rather than borrowing from it heavily. In a way I’d argue these stories feel more like “Creepy Pastas” and that works out really well for me. I get everything much more! There is still the “what the heck did I just watch” vibe but never did I wonder “does this references anything.. am I missing something”. So one of my biggest issues with the second season and even the first season has been fixed. However this comes with a new problem.. but I am not sure if it is an actual problem..because.. later we see that stylistic choice connects to a certain story.
The Narrator of season 1 and 2 has been replaced by a young boy who hears voices from the other side which makes him draw. These drawings form the inspiration for the new stories. Stories have no more explanation on who the main character is and we are drawn in from the sketch. It is a stylistic choice I like a lot that can add some extra tension. We do not always know who the main character is and it offers that extra bit of insecurity in some cases. In others it requires the story to set up the characters just a tiny bit more which already makes them slightly more endeared to us. At the same time though this does take a bit away from the Kamishibai show illusion. In this season we also see a slight artstyle change. The Kamishibai like images that the show is famous for feel more colourful and cheerful! They lack the grim eeriness of the first two seasons. Almost as if these target a younger audience.. which makes sense because this storyteller is a lot younger. And just like his mind seems to be a bit distrubed so do these stories change in a similar vein.
The stories seem more focussed on body horror and blatant monsters rather than ghosts that follow a certain set of rules. No instead we focus more on creepiness of twisting necks, changing shapes and gruesome implications. We lose a tad of subtlety and cleverness but in return we get a much more intense dramatic build up.. where the crux of the show isn’t always at the end. Sometimes it even happens near the middle of the episode. A few stories had me pretty scared and there certainly is a lot less “missed” opportunities. However since the narrator is a young boy..the scares seem to reflect that mindset. What would an eight year old come up with as a scary story. This results in this being the season that has some of the scariest creatures you have seen so far, who are further away from any logic.. or stories that would really resonate with children a lot…but the end scares are often a tad childish.. so in a way this is the season of untapped potential. The idea is there but the punchline often misses.
The other side!
Yamishibai season 3 ditches the classical ghost-stories more in favour of monster stories.. while there are ghosts and spiritual forces, they are a lot less subtle about their ways. Where season 2 had people startled, cursed or possessed by the end.. in this season the forces do not inconvenience you here the forces are downright trying to get you killed or mamed. This makes season 3 a very different show as season 2. Where moral lessons seemed to form the core to induce the haunts of the second season here it seems more to be induced by over conconfidence seasons don’t feel as preachy and instead more like a classic horror movie! Like the past two blogs about this show I will discuss the plot synopisis after which I give each episode a micro review! Be warned if you think a synopsis is a spoiler.
Episode 1: Lend it to Me
A young man visits a bathhouse after work, he seems to be the only male guest when a woman asks him to lend him stuff she did not seem to get at the checkout counter. The two have a talk and she sounds cute! Then the requests the woman begins to make start to get stranger and stranger and she begins to ask more and more aggressively.
What a great way to begin this season! It is a very good episode that properly introduces the scares. At first you do not know why! Why does the girl ask for a pair of scissors or a razor! Why is she so upset he hasn’t got one! The way old gritty movie filter that shows gives the bathhouse a bit of a grimey derelict look and the disembodied echoed voice from over the wall makes you wonder what will happen. When it is time for the big creature reveal we get a very brief and surreal shot, that can easily leave you jump-scared. It does not come where you expect it either. The creature design is wacky and makes you wonder what you have seen and ends in some very weird end credits.. that leave you pondering.. we do not get an “end..” we get a sketch.. that looks like a horrifying cap off. A very strong start and one of the better episodes of the series even.
Episode 2: Tunnel
Two friends are driving through the mountains when a wrong turn makes them realise they are short on gas. Encountering a tunnel that seems the quickest way back to the interstate they drive in and of course run out of gas. Tired from pushing the car they take a break when they see two children just outside the car window…but is it really just two children?!
While the first episode crossed us over from the Old Yamishibai into this new one .. this completely embraces it’s new style. The way that it seems to reach it’s climax in the middle of the episode is quite strange.. but we see why when it is clear this show pays as much attention to scaring you with the aftermath as the actual event. Sometimes an ambiguous fate is not enough. This season is more like “Oh My God they are eating her, and then they are going to eat me Oh my goooooooddd!” .. but not in the Troll 2 sort of way.. you are told what these monsters are capable of and what you should fear… only to reveal the truth is even more hopeless. This season caters into the fear of certain death and in this episode it is down very powerful. The last show in the tunnel is amazing and the linke we can make to it is nothing short but dreadful! One of the seasons highlights for me.
Episode 3: Rat
A young couple just started to live together in a new apartment , to save some money they went for a very cheap apartment which has a rat infestation. The girl being afraid of the rats gets bitten by one. Her partner then has to leave on a business trip and leaves her alone with nothing to defend herself but a rattrap. He tells her she has to get used to the rats..and we see her being slowly pushed to the brink of insanity as she tries to follow her husband’s will.
This is one of the lesser episodes for me! The reveal in the end was quite predictable and feeling odd. This is the first story that really seems to lean into the younger and more inexperienced story teller scenario. Or I could just be justifying this while in the end the episode isn’t all that scary. The visuals are noticeably brighter here in that the two episodes that went before and while the visual style does fit some of the episodes I think for this episode it all feels too bright and too clean. Let us feel they live in a rat infested hellhole instead of a clean house with some adorable little critters. The ending visual is super silly and it doesn’t seem to end as powerful as most of the other episodes. No matter how I look at it this one is an odd one out! I do have to give it some credits though for the tense scene before the conclusions so it is not totally without merit.
Episode 4: The Noisy Hospital Room
A fairly young man wakes up in the hospital after a nightmare, seeming himself being operated on in a room he was told by a nurse not to visit. When his vivid nightmares have given him cold-sweats however he has to explore the hospital to find him some change of clothes or he might catch a cold. During his search for a new nightgown he learns some horrible truths of this hospital.
A mid tier episode that is a bit bogged down because of the odd sound design that is present throughout this entire season. There is a lot of laughter, whispers and other effects that are meant to sound creepy that in fact sound rather cheesy. Like A Wilhelm Scream doesn’t really invoke fear anymore even if someone meets a gruesome end. The twist is deliciously evil in this episode but once again the entities seem slightly over designed giving it a slightly comical appearance. It feels more like something you show you kids in a picture book as a monster than something you need to be scared off. The strong dialogue that clearly captures the fear by the good voice acting can’t save the episode from mediocrity either as it is slightly drowned out by stock effects.This is the first episode that uses a number of fake outs to set us up for a proper scare but unfortunately fails to deliver a proper scare afterwards. Too childish for adults but a great story for a scaredy cat and wouldn’t you know it I have the perfect score for that!
Episode 5: Museum of Taxidermy
Taxidermy is that art of stuffing a dead animal and turning it into a “stuffed” statue preserved through the ages. Now that that has been explained for those who do not know .. or did not know the english word… this episode is set in a museum filled with stuffed animals. A couple staying in town runs in there to take shelter from the rain. Luckily the museum is free and they take a peek. The woman gets fascinated by how lifelike the animals look, particularly interested in a dog that almost seems to follow her with her eyes. Her boyfriend decides to prank her and shet gets mad and leaves.. trying to enter his hotel room later he finds her unresponsive and his own key missing.. So now he has to go back to the museum and search for it.
Where the sound design last episode was pretty shitty here it shines in telling a message. The fact that the hotel is called Hotel Otherside.. and the young boy narrator keeps screaming for things to happen on the other side.. hints at a connection between the stories and the real world which this episode really makes clear. Something is odd.. as if we are in a twilight zone of sorts. It banks heavy on that feeling and ends up with a satisfying punchline and amazing end visual. It is sick, it is twisted and it looks just silly enough to not be full of gross-out horror. It walks the fine line very well and we have a clear idea what happened on the other side..even though we never get to fully see it! Very nice with enough classic horror vibes form both the Twilight Zone and House of Wax to be deemed one of my top 3 episodes! Yet this time it has some competition and the third place spot!
Episode 6: “That Side” Festival
A festival is in town. Asako and Miki attend all sorts of fun activities together. They are having a great time until Asako gets mesmerised by a booth filled with mysterious masks. She loses sight of Miki and asks herself loudly where Miki went. One of the masks seems to respond with “That Side” suddenly the fair isn’t the same place it used to be anymore and everything goes extremely twisted and dark.
A mid tier episode that has some amazing visuals but at the same time it feels so over designed that it stands out a bit. The cotton candy vendor on the Other Side of things for example spins cotton candy by vomiting his own intestines on a cotton candy stick. While it looks gruesome it also looks like.. too much. It gets a cartoony quality. There are a lot of creatures here that look extremely silly and rudimentary. It is a great ride and I bet it would be awesome for a horror artist to check out these designs. This episode has some heavy Spirited Away vibes through it.. but then a darker take. It however misses the finality of the rest of the season and while I don’t need finality in all episodes I really wish here we would at least see the girl become bound to this new world or lose herself in it or something. It needed a nail to the coffin sort of speak. Without it.. it is nice but is exactly down the middle for me when it comes to spookiness. I can’t mark it as that so I will label it Scares without Nightmares…but if you can get past the odd designs you can scale this up one tier!
Episode 7: Behind
During Summer camp one guy insists on bothering the girls dorm even if his friends are too pooped to pop! When he keeps insisting his friends ask him how he has so much energy! He tells them he doesn’t but he has been having nightmares, people laughing and a creature then coming into the classroom and turning his head around on his neck but he knows that if he sees whatever is doing that .something horrible will happen.Later that night one of his friends wakes needing to go to the bathroom when he hears cracking sounds from his friends neck.
A very scary episode that is really hindered by a single really weird visual! It feels so silly it ruins the entire episode. Luckily I came to play Yomawari and I could accept the weirdness which gave me some appreciation of it. If you want to know how silly the visuals go…look up the game Hylics or Hylics two, a surreal RPG “series” and you have an idea on how odd it will look. I would have loved to see this episode go a bit more subtle myself but the combination of “have you heard’ and then seeing another effect occur is pretty cool. Is it linked together, are there dark forces at work here what will happen outside the dream.. what happens inside the dream. There is a light and a dark theme going on as well. That once again seems to be describing the existence of two sides. Had the ending not looked unintentionally comical this would have been my third favourite episode or maybe even my second favourite but now it has to do with fourth place.
Episode 8: The Empress Doll
Daphne, Fred, Shaggy and Velma travel to a haunted house and go to investigate it. Well it’s not really those four .. but still four meddlesome kids visiting a haunted house and encountering a presence. This one seems to be of an Empress Doll.. one of those stacks of porcelain dolls on a stair things you might have seen them before! While the house seems clear and safe at first a glance trough a mirror allows them to peer into a world yet unseen.
While the episode does start really suspenseful the end screen is yet again another very derpy looking monster. Which ruins the tension. What makes it worse is that the big “kill” makes no sense. We see someone suffer in a certain way. Making us believe either their soul was taken or they got so scared that their mind just shut down. Yet suddenly things completely shift and it makes no sense in the timeline of this episode. When did that happen?! Did they leave the person behind? If so that is rather poorly established. Once more the tension build up is great, reminding me a bit of the Amityville Horror series which I really like. It also is somewhat reminiscent of the Warner siblings horror series like Annabelle. It succeeds in once again establishing “another side” but fails to deliver another scare.
Episode 9: The Fourth Man
A girl in highschool overheard a rumor about an urban legend about “the handshake men” . These are people who will ask you for a handshake. If you refuse to give them a hand they will crush you into a meatball but if you happen to encounter a fourth one you have to refuse or they will bite off your hand. Later at night the girl is asked by her sister to go to her school as she left her notebook there and cant finish her homework afterwards. On their way back the girl encounters a strange looking man asking for a handshake.
This easily is the best episode of the season. It follows that Urban Legend feeling of the first two seasons but doesn’t require any prior knowledge due to explaining the myth entirely. It feels like a genuine Japanese ghost story, similar to Red Cloak, Blue Cloak, just a bit more tame. It has several jump scares, fake outs and misdirections and the conclusion it reaches in the end is satisfying! While we do not see anything gruesome happen there are some pretty heavy implications being made here that reminds me of some Goosebumps like novels I used to read. It has atmosphere, good visuals and nothing too silly to ruin the experience! This is definitely a story you can tell by the campfire or during a horror D&D campaign. If you watch anything be sure to check out this one!
Episode 10: Merry-Go Round
A young couple is visiting a mini theme park sitting on the roof of a Mall. They have only just arrived when they encounter a creepy clown, giving the girl a red balloon. Soon after it is announced the mall is already closing. Super disappointed the girl pouts when the clown offers her one last ride on the Merry-Go-Round for free. The girl gets on and seems to have a lot of fun but she might have misinterpreted the words “one last ride”
This one really benefits from the brighter visual style. Of course the clown giving away blood red balloons immediately evokes memories of It. Yet when the Merry-Go-Round goes round and round this episode seems to start to take more and more cues from the bad Nightmare on Elm Street movies. It delves into the absurd once again and so many elements seem to not play a role in this. There are a lot of creepy people around the Merry-Go Round but non of them really seem to have any correlation to what is going on. Maybe they do but the connection is not made clear at all. As a result this episode feels really disjointed. It does have some creepy visuals and I don’t even mind what happens in the end all that much but the dialogue, the set up and the result do not seem to match up. As if I am watching three different writers create a four minute story. While I do enjoy extreme random horror at times, in a four minute interval it is too much to make this enjoyable.
Episode 11: Cuckoo Clock
A young girl staying over at her grandma’s house with her mother for a few days discovers her Grandma’s clock and is immediately obsessed, wanting to see the Cuckoo pop up every hour she has some good and innocent fun. On her first night there the girl wakes up a few moments to midnight, very thirsty! She goes downstairs to drink when she notices the clock will nearly reveal the Cuckoo again.. when at twelve the Cuckoo doesn’t show up.. the girl goes to investigate a bit closer… she shouldn’t have!
This episode was okay! I really do like the episodes where people get obsessed with Mundane objects holding less than Mundane powers. This is another one that can feel insanely silly but this one still feels like it could be an actual ghost story of the orient. This is how you do silly episodes! It once again uses body morphing for a shock effect but this one is done kinda cool, even if it also looks very odd. The story beats the story hits feel logical next to each other and while it is not all that scary it is just a fun four minute watch. Reminding me a bit of those Goosebumps Junior novels! Safe for your kid! Fun for the family!
Episode 12: In the Water
It’s the competitive swimming season. One particular schools ace is put under a lot of pressure from his coach so now he has to train and train and train. Luckily he can train at night since he has been given a key to the school’s pool! Just after dark at 8 in the evening, the boy decides to go for a final training session. During this session he notices something odd in the pool! He thinks he is seeing things because he is put under so much pressure and decides to train anyway! He gets into trouble for this choice…. in record time!
This is one of those episodes that is a bit bogged down by cultural differences and plot convenience. Working to hard so you hallucinate seems to occur in many Japanese man according to this series though! Still it seems like a bad idea to jump into the water when something seems off.. it damages this horror experience for me. I doubt a semi-pro swimmer would risk jumping into the water if something dangerous might be in it. It doesn’t help that later in the episode the swimmer tries to flee the pool by swimming to the stairs.. while he could easily push him up onto the dry land way before that. How could he not push himself to saftey as soon as he could?! Fear?! In the end I doubt it would matter as the deed had more or less already been done.. but jeesz this man seems to tried really hard to win himself a Darwin Award. Also the creature/visual has no set up, no reason to be there and it is super ugly as well. As in.. it’s ugly..but it is also not very well drawn with very weird proportions that also lead to other visuals shown before not making sense. Bad episode!
Episode 13: —Drawings—-
Yes I actually did type what this episode is about! Well done in discovering it! This episodes ties all stories together as from the intro of the boy drawing we don’t cut.. we see the boy drawing! A teacher finds him and asks what he is doing .. he says nothing and walks off. She later finds out he is in her new class and tries to befriend him by asking him to draw her. He refuses telling her she is boring. As she discovers more he finds out the boy has been sketching all sorts of people who have gone missing… the boy shows up and finally agrees to draw her, and it is revealed that this boy would grow up to become the storyteller of the previous season and his stories turn kids into monsters for more stories in the future!
This episode is great for the scale! It really brings all the other ghost stories together but for that reason I have hidden the plot of this episode from you! It connects everything, intro, outro and episodes. Visuals shown in the intro of season two suddenly make sense, and the odd choices this movie makes in terms of narratives all make sense now. Some of these flaws in the stories described earlier were clearly put in with intention! While I commend them for this bold choice it also comes with a problem.. Did people make it this far? Since it is so episodic and stand-alone one could easily watch these episodes out of order yet this one SHOULD be watched last. It doesn’t follow the rules of the show but it is amazing. The ending feels disjointed but delicious. Appealing to fans of the series and making me excited for a fourth season. The story that is interwoven in this episode feels a bit short.. as a lot of time is spent on the epilogue but it still is deeply satisfying.. though I can not rank it among the other episodes.. This is it’s own thing and it is quite good! Yet not perfect.
Into the Darkness
This season to me is much better then the second one! Albeit a tad to obvious and odd at times, I think this is for me might even rival the first season. Yes there are more lows and the highs aren’t AS high but it was enough! Where season 1 over-achieved at times this one just does the job it needs to do and it does it well. I never felt that lost and the final episode was a little cherry on top of an already pretty good season. Even as a Gaijin you can understand all these episodes and never do you have to google something to appreciate the story. Watch these after midnight just when you begin to feel.. Oh I am really tired.. that is the perfect moment where the weirdness can get to you less.. but the scares can get to you hard! I will at least give the fourth season a chance now as well! So be sure to come back for more soon!