This is review number two hundred and fifty three AND a half. This anime is part of the Summer 2013 lineup. If you noticed the .5 then you should know that this is one of those “less than five minute” anime that appears on every season. The anime I’ll be reviewing is a show called Yami Shibai. It’s a thirteen episode anime about ghosts and ghouls. It’s a fun show. Let’s read on.
Also, I want everyone to know that I am doing a “Review Poll” where I ask viewers which Fall 2013 anime I should review first. If you enjoyed a Fall 2013 anime, why not pop over the page above and cast a vote? Let’s all have fun with this one.
This show is about a series of urban legends and myths told in the kamishibai style. Each episode is about four minutes long as it tells about a story that is pretty damn creepy.
Taking the Pants Off
I watched the fourth episode of Yami Shibai alone in my room with the lights out because that’s how I watch my anime. The next day, my boss at the office I’m working in asked me to photocopy a bunch of documents for her. I outright refused after the f*cking scare I had watching Yami Shibai. She called me a sissy and yelled at me for good measure. She’s a really nice lady and she just loves busting people’s balls. I knew she’d understand when I told her that I watched an anime where a ghost with really long hair that lived inside a photocopier scared the sh*t out of me. She laughed at me some more and then literally gave me a look of “you watch anime” followed by “a cartoon scared you?”. I still knew she’d believe me so we stayed late after work, made sure we were the only ones left then I downloaded the episode in her laptop. I left the room for good measure. There was distinct silence in the room until I heard that familiar girlish scream I had the night before. She immediately went home without saying a word to me and I was never asked to photocopy anything for the rest of the month. This little tale is a reminder that Yami Shibai, a four minute poorly animated anime, is scary. I’ve wanted to write this review for a long time now because some people just don’t get the value of this anime. It’s scary but it’s possible that a number of people would not be scared by it. That doesn’t mean this anime isn’t scary. Oh no, those big boys that thump their chest as they claim how manly they are for not being scared by a flash animated adobe after effect rendered four minute anime can call this anime not scary all they want. Isn’t that why I’m here? TPAB is here to convince you to watch a horror anime truly worthy of the genre. In respect to all the big boys that didn’t get their pants wet, this anime does thrive on shock factor and it loses its effect after a second watching but let me tell you first how Yami Shibai can scare a 23 year old guy and a 33 year old woman to the point that they can’t use a photocopy machine. She was lucky, she didn’t watch that f*cking umbrella goddess story.
To understand the appeal of Yami Shibai, let’s journey back to 2002 to talk about a movie about a woman that crawled out of a TV.
Yes, Sadako and the Ring.
I’ll admit that the American version is actually much scarier because it focused on the story of a little girl trapped in a well haunting people. If you watch the 2002 original version, you won’t likely be scared. No way. The scariest and most iconic moment of Sadako crawling out of the TV and pointing her fingers at that dude was only a minute long and it didn’t mean anything in today’s standard. I know you won’t believe it but the 2002 version actually caused mass paranoia. A lot of people weren’t able to sleep with the lights out for a long time. People were scared sh*tless of a movie that wasn’t even scary. Why were they freaked out? The American version focused on the creepy idea of a girl getting her revenge on people that watched a videotape. The 2002 version was scary because of the video tape itself. The Ring’s ultimate chill factor was based on the foundation of a superstition that if you saw the tape, did not make a copy and let some else watch it within a week then a girl from inside a well will kill you. The Ring’s psychological paranoia was founded on the fact that most of its audience believed in superstitions and the consequences of not following them. It feed of a culture that thrived on the occult and the mythological that a simple urban legend about a video tape can scare the living hell out of people. When faced with the possibility that they might see the video, people flipped their sh*t and it caused mass paranoia. Oh god, it was a beautiful year. Youtube was barely a thing and VHS tapes were still prominent back then. Any culture that whole heartedly believed in superstitions would be scared of The Ring. For cynical westerners, this won’t scare them. The appeal of The Ring wasn’t for them and the cultural barrier is just too big. The American version was scary. The 2002 version was downright creepy. This was the case for Yami Shibai. A show deep rooted on superstitions, cautionary tales and urban legends simply have a target audience. It’s the same people that lost their minds watching The Ring.
With that being said, there are three elements to Yami Shibai that makes it a wonderful show. The first element is about the urban legends and the myths of each episode. Yami Shibai is a collection of Japanese ghost stories. Each episode is a short tale that is designed to be creepy. Some of the stories are about common everyday stuff given a dark spin. Something as common as a videotape or, yes, a goddamn photocopy machine is usually the theme of each story. It’s the typical story of someone just doing his own stuff until something creepy happens to them. The point is usually to scare the sh*t out of you when you are doing the same stuff. I mean, something as innocent as going to the bathroom will be exploited by the show. I guess the fact that it hits close to home gives the stories its well-deserved creepy factor. I already told you why these things are scary but I also love the vintage approach of each show. It tells of the process of how urban legends build their reputation and you can just tell how rich the Japanese urban legend scene is by watching the show. From a malignant spirit inside a photocopy machine to a video tape that contains an evil spirit, the way typical myths are incorporated into the show really makes it that much more interesting. A goblin-like being inside the toilet, a ghost in a hospital and a creepy lady that holds an umbrella with her mouth has its roots from typical Japanese mythology and it gives the stories a really unique personality. Even after the shock factor is gone, I still love how well constructed and smartly paced these stories are.
The second element of the show is the superstition. Some of the stories in the show have a superstition root to them and I guess it’ll only make sense if you’ve experience being told of these outrageous superstitions yourself. There are stories about not answering a phone call in the middle of the night or being cursed after seeing the umbrella goddess and you must sleep in the shed to make sure she doesn’t eat you. I personally grew up with the same kind of outrageous superstitions. You can’t play in that mound of hard dirt because an earth spirit lives there, you can’t comb your hair at night because it attracts ghosts or you can’t sleep resembling a dead body in a coffin because you might never wake up. These things won’t really happen but, at the back of your head, you’re convinced that you don’t want to take the risk. The stories of Yami Shibai are often about the worst case scenario of when you ignore these superstitions. It makes for a great story as well. I mean, the seemingly simple precautions not taken heed then resulting in something catastrophic and creepy is really the best kind of ghost stories you can tell. Yami Shibai will make sure people who grew up on superstitions will most likely be freaked out when they watch an episode of the show. It’s a great example of how Japanese ghost stories are created and it makes a great case for how people are scared back then.
Lastly, my favorite element of the show, is the cautionary tale angle. A lot of the stories in the show often have a lesson at the end of it. They’re often subtle but they’re pretty easy to pick up. An example would be on episode 5. The man didn’t want to spend time with his family and wished to be alone. The elevator lady heard his b*tching and then sent him in a place where he can be alone…forever. It obviously tells of a lesson to cherish your family and I really love how the anime can slip such things in. Each episode of the anime tells about a lesson that you can learn. It can either be a superstition you should always take to heart or it can simply be a lesson about being a better person that you should always remember. From not over working to keeping your promises, you’ll enjoy how the stories often tell a valuable lesson deep within its creepy folds. It’s another wonderful thing about Japanese ghost stories. They aren’t just making you wet your pants but they also give you a lesson you can carry with you for the rest of your life. It’s just the two punch kind of thing you don’t see a lot these days. I honestly enjoying deciphering each lesson an episode features and you often have to take in mind the style of storytelling as you learn of the lesson. Some of the stories are missing key points and the audience is often asked to fill in the blanks and this’ll help you understand the story some more.
As I said before though, this show thrived on the shock factor. As much as more than half of these episodes scare the living fudge out of me, I also notice that the scare factor vanishes after you watch the show a second time. The stories often thrive on making you jump out of your seat and if you can expect when the show will scare you then you will not be scared. I admire the dead silence and the complicated shock moments but they lost their appeal after a second time. This is where you might just find the show funny. I think I just did this for my own sanity but I often make fun of the flash animated sequences of the show. After you realize the show no longer creep you out, you’ll notice the limited animation and the unintentionally funny drawings. I think most cynical viewers would point these things out first but I just want to tell you that you’re watching it wrong. Still, their opinion of the anime is true as well. It’s not recommended to re-watch this show because the appeal only lasts on the first viewing.
There aren’t a lot of anime that can truly scare you. I think some shows have the best intentions but they often fall flat. The idea of a cartoon scaring the hell out of you is a rare thing. I think out of all the supposedly scary anime that I have watched, I can only recommend three of them based on their shock factor. I can assure you though that Yami Shibai is one of them. I think the show just did a magnificent job of setting the mood and pacing the stories to a point where the shocking moment will indeed shock you. It’s rare for a show to truly be creepy and that’s why I think this anime is a nice rarity. They should do more collections of Japanese ghost stories because some of them are truly down right insane. It’s not just a story that just scares you. The stories are smartly conceived and fundamentally sound. It’s a really wonderful anime experience I urge everyone to try.
Sight and Sound
The show was designed to be a Kamishibai. I’m not familiar with it but it’s basically a story book type thing and the characters are cut out paper dolls. The drawn illustration boards are inserted into the stage as the story is being told. The guy with the golden mask urging the children to gather around is basically doing a kamishibai performance. The show went to great lengths to make sure the authenticity of the kamishibai storytelling is kept intact. The limitations of the flash animation actually work great for this show. The movements are minimal and no form of animation is distinctly present. No mouth moves, no eyes blink and almost everything is told in an illustration board style stage with the characters attached to a stick that someone moves. With that being said though, I think the dullness of a flash animation was evident to the show so they wanted to make sure it doesn’t intrude in the kamishibai style presentation the show was going for. The trick was to give the show some needed detail work. I think this was passed through an after effect program because there are some 3D movement and there are certain scenes in the show that flash animation cannot properly portray. The use of a more dark palette on the story was one important stand out since flash animation usually stick to bright default colors. This complicated yet minimalist process of animation actually works wonderfully for the show.
The shock moments are something to admire. The anime usually employ dead silence on certain scenes and then do a big “boo!” to the audience that will make them jump from their seat. I honestly see some of the shock moments coming but I still loose myself when I hear the music that accompanies it. It’s not the scary faces of the drawings that will scare you. It’s the music. I love how complex this show was on scaring the audience. It can set a dark and damp mood fairly easily then build up on that with ease. I think the fact that most of the audience can relate to such settings help but it’s also the simplistic yet complicated animation the show utilized.
Character design is decent. There’s nothing fancy about it. The characters often look like typical a Japanese person which is kind of the point. It tries not to stray from the origin of the ghost story it is trying to tell. Main characters are given more details though like having a prominent hair style and even a more pretty face than most side characters. Some character design is funny in an unintentional way. It’s one of the downsides of employing flash. The simpler an object, the easier it is to animate so why put more work on yourself when you can just be creative with some of them. Most of the scary faces in the show are also a bit roughly drawn. The design was trying to make the ghosts scary but I think the overly cliché design just look a bit ridiculous. The animation was able to cover this downside of the show but most of the monsters just don’t feel scary. I love how detailed they are though. They look gruesome and some look creepy which was a nice touch even if they don’t have the scary factor the animators were aiming for.
The anime has no OP. The ED is “Kaifuu Emaki” by AVtechNO! and Teniwoha (performed using Hatsune Miku). I love this song. The lyrics are creepy as Miku Hatsune sings about an ambiguous tale of a jealous baby killing someone or something. I’m too creeped out to check the song. The pacing is really chilling and the way Miku sings it gives you the impression that someone is looking through your window. It’s the certain kind of paranoia that certainly captures the spirit of the anime. The ED sequence is simple illustrations of various settings in the anime. There are no people in the scenes. It’s just an empty place with a chilling vibe. It ends with the golden mask character entering the sequence. It’s really awesome with the way the show white out with a bunch of Japanese letters pairing the song’s final lyrics.
8/10 “The umbrella goddess will make sure you don’t sleep well tonight.”
This is a really wonderful show. The limitation of a flash animated show doesn’t stop it from delivering chills and shocks in the most wonderful ways. As I said before, this is the kind of show that is culturally biased but people who understand the appeal can easily get into it. It’s scary and convinces people to stay clear of their photocopy machine. If you enjoy some Asian horror then you’ll enjoy Yami Shibai. I recommend it.