Why Can’t Anime Create Good Horror?
Just in time for Halloween, I decided to take a few moments to talk about the horror in anime, and more so, how it’s barely horror at all. I’m sure we’ve all seen our share of people commenting about this subject, often asking: “Does anyone know a genuinely scary horror anime?”. I like to think the question is actually a pretty valid one. If you were to take a look at some of the horrors out there (ie. Another), despite being part of the genre, it still never succeeds at being something scary to nearly any who watch it, but why? Well, I’ll try to take a stab at some of the factors behind this.
First off, for the most part, I’m easy to scare. If you put me in a dark room and turn on nearly any horror film, I’ll probably freak out at one point or another throughout its hour and a half run. As for anime, there has yet to be a single anime that truly scared me as much as any horror films have, but there are some that have come close to having some genuinely freaky moments. In Higurashi for example, not knowing what to expect in the first arc, did cause me to at least be put ill at ease. Otherwise, Ghost Hunt had some good moments too. Besides those two I can’t think of any others off the top of my head, but there may have been another at one point that gave me the creeps at some point.
As with most of the population, I’m usually very drawn to the horror genre for that constant fill of fear I seem to always crave. Also as art forms go, when you get a good horror film, they can really be one of the most well directed films out there. It’s an underrated genre, but the ability to scare others is something not much are able to do. With all that said, if I were to simply focus on the Asian horror film, even specifically Japanese ones, there is clearly a lot of talent there. I think the problem with anime is ultimately the medium. Cartoons just aren’t that scary.
For starts, the format is a big issue. Stretching a horror out to twelve or more episodes just doesn’t really work. To create a horror story, pacing is key. A good deal of horror films tend to get scarier as they go, but right from the get go the atmosphere is created and the tension only continues to rise from there. It works for the most part, but with anime you’re either stuck with building up that tension throughout all the episodes, or just giving each episode it’s own build-up of “terror”and then big moment of horror. Only to do the same thing next week. And that’s where the problems begin, the fact that there is a next week.
Within twenty minutes you can only deliver so much creepiness, so essentially, once you may actually start to get the audience feel ill at ease, the episode’s done. People then forget about it for another week, and the writers have to start back at square one each week building up that unexpected doom once again. As you can see, it just doesn’t work.
Even in the West, the difficulties in making a horror tv series are pretty clear, considering there are practically none out there. Of course, there’s been the hit series American Horror Story, but even that fails to be all that scary. It also has forty minutes per episodes, and that helps it create better delivery, and even though it may scare some, it is constantly walking along that border of being the most hilarious series on tv too. Point is, when it comes to horror anime series, they’re already put at a disadvantage because of the format.
Another aspect, that may not apply to all but most definitely a few, is the clear culture differences to the West. A good deal of Japanese horror stories deal with their own monsters and ghouls that may not scare us here. I like to think it may go both ways, in that people in Japan may not find something like the Boogeyman scary while we may not be scared by some apparently spooky Youkai. Take for example an anime like Aoi Bungaku. The collection of stories are all based off of stories that tons of people in Japan have already heard of. Some of those stories probably had a deeper impact for people of Japan because they’ve heard the tales, and so it’s usually their own environment that becomes what is feared.
One of the things horror anime seems to always want to attach to its genre (unsuccessfully) is gore. Gore usually doesn’t work to scare people in an animated form. A good deal of people are already desensitized to blood being splattered on screen anyway, and so having that extra lack of realism by making it animated doesn’t help.
There may be a few exceptions, but so many anime seem to assume that if there’s a lot of blood, it should be scary. Series like Higurashi, Another, Blood+, Blood C, Deadman Wonderland, Elfen Lied, Umineko and more all seem to feel that’s the best way to scare their audience. It’s a bit weird for them to resort to that considering blood is just a stroll in the park for an anime fan. Maybe not too that extent for everyone, but I assume it can’t be that big of a deal since there already is a decent amount of blood shown in some children’s programming like One Piece and Hunter x Hunter.
Lastly, there also is simply a big difference in what Japan considers horror and what the West does. Perfect Blue, for example, is a film that is constantly up for debate whether it is horror or not. Japan has a thin line sometimes between what’s horror and what’s fits more their psychological genre. The thing is, some of the series that only fit the psychological genre could easily be considered horror in North America. When Japan wants to discuss disturbing themes, they never hold back!
Just look at a series like Bokurano, Serial Experiments Lain, or even Ghost Hound. The disturbing and creepy atmosphere you find in a series like that could easily outbeat half of the horror-tagged anime series out there. Even the latest Shinsekai Yori, which doesn’t even fit the psychological genre, has a really disturbing atmosphere to it too.
For the most part, when it comes to anime, it’s hard for it to succeed at being a horror. Perhaps the better way to put it would just be to fit the horror genre, because otherwise you don’t have to look too far to find some near horrific imagery in themes outside the horror genre of anime. Japan is a place that has truly witnessed some terrifying things in its history, just watch Barefoot Gen where you see melting bodies caused by radiation, and try to tell me you weren’t in the least disturbed! I’m sure I’m probably just scratching the surface behind all the possible reasons, and there were a few generalization. I’m well aware there are probably a few exceptions to every example I make. After all, what people find scary or spooky really can be different depending on who you talk to!