If there is a problem with Japanese animation – popularly known as “anime” – it’s that there’s too danged much of it. Over the last 20 years in particular, the medium has exploded in popularity in here the west, and it’s been nearly impossible to keep track of it all… particularly if you have anything else taking up your time, like school or a job or a family.
I myself fell out of the anime loop for the better part of the last decade, but that all changed thanks to instant streaming sites like Hulu, which offers a genuinely impressive selection of shows. Some of the best programs on the service are only halfway relevant to horror fans (trust me, watch ONE PUNCH MAN anyway, you will hug me afterwards), but some are genuinely exceptional glimpses into the weird and disturbing. And others are just kind of silly shows that use familiar horror tropes as their inspiration.
Either way, you will have fun watching these fantastic horror and horror-themed anime shows on Hulu. I know I sure did…
ATTACK ON TITAN
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who haven’t seen ATTACK ON TITAN, and those who have a hard time believing those other people even exist. It’s a runaway success amongst anime enthusiasts but if you haven’t fully dipped your toes in the colorful waters of Japanese animation you may not know much about it yet. Let this be your wakeup call.
Because ATTACK ON TITAN is amazing.
Set in the distant future, where all of society lives in a walled off city for fear of giants who live outside the walls, this anime series starts off like a medieval version of M. Night Shyamalan’s THE VILLAGE, except the monsters are real. And when the monsters strike in ATTACK ON TITAN, it’s some of the most horrifying devastation you will ever experience. Violence upon violence, trauma upon trauma, and even when our heroes don special gear to take the fight back to the behemoths that conflict, too, turns into a total slaughter.
Exciting, terrifying, brutal, fantastic. ATTACK ON TITAN is an attack on the senses. Do not miss this.
Like an evil DOWNTON ABBEY, the anime series BLACK BUTLER examines the insidious relationship between a nobleman and his servant. It is an altogether perverse and also delicately delicious animated series. This show’s obsession with style and propriety and glamour shots of perfectly prepared food – even in an animated form – call to mind a satanic version of Bryan Fuller’s HANNIBAL, but with more action and with grim reapers who wield anachronistic chainsaws.
The story follows Ciel Phantomhive, a 13-year-old aristocrat who inherited the family estate – and their job as the Queen’s guard dog – when his parents were murdered. At the start of the series, Ciel has long since sold his soul to a demon named Sebastian, who must obey the boy’s every command until the killers are found and Ciel has his revenge. Only then can Sebastian eat Ciel’s soul, but in the meantime he can still poke and prod at his master, adding a dash or two of despair so his meal will someday taste sweeter.
The love/hate relationship between Ciel and Sebastian playful and sick, and the many mysteries they investigate – including Jack the Ripper and a strange retelling of The Hound of the Baskervilles – will test the limits of their bond.
BLACK BUTLER ends quite astoundingly in Season One, only to return rather confusingly for a second season that is twisted but very off-kilter. The most recent anime series, BLACK BUTLER: BOOK OF CIRCUS, mostly ignores the previous seasons but does take it for granted that you know something about the characters beforehand. Your best bet is to watch it in order, and to savor every moment.
THE DEVIL IS A PART-TIMER
Not so much a “horror” series as a “horror-themed” series, THE DEVIL IS A PART-TIMER is a very unlikely but intensely likable anime in which Satan works at McDonalds. Or rather “MgRonalds,” because there’s no way that the real McDonalds would ever sign off on that.
The idea is, Satan was conquering another dimension but was defeated by a mighty hero, so now Satan has been banished to Earth, where his powers no longer work. He is determined to regain his former glory and decides to work his way up from the bottom, with a part-time job in the fast food business, in the hopes of one day conquering the world.
It sounds like an INVADER ZIM episode (because it kind of was an INVADER ZIM episode), but THE DEVIL IS A PART-TIMER finds a lot more sympathy for the devil, who gradually goes native and actually starts to value hard work and friendship. Unfortunately, his workaday life is constantly interrupted by heroes from his own dimension who always think he has an infernal plan and are (almost) always wrong about that.
It’s a joke that doesn’t get old as quickly as you might think. THE DEVIL is also quite a charmer, with an infectiously positive attitude and a message that is actually pretty relevant. One could easily interpret this series as a metaphor for entering the workplace after high school, a time when previously held ideas about your identity start falling away, and you are forced to forge a new life for yourself based on your actual contributions to society. We have all been The Devil, haven’t we?
HIGH SCHOOL OF THE DEAD (COVER PHOTO)
Right there, in the title. HIGH SCHOOL OF THE DEAD is THE WALKING DEAD but in high school, a series that pits jocks, nerds, teachers and every other cliché against a horde of zombies. And since this is anime, that means schoolgirl uniforms. Lots and lots of schoolgirl uniforms.
I’m not kidding. There are TONS of schoolgirl uniforms in HIGH SCHOOL OF THE DEAD. Watch one episode of this impressively frantic series and you’ll notice that every possible opportunity is being taken to ogle the more sexually attractive members of the cast. It’s called “fan service” but however you choose to label it (“sexist” would also be pretty accurate), it becomes an indelible part of this show’s identity. It is intensely prurient, in terms of both sensuality and violence.
And that violence is spectacular, no two ways about it. While it’s certainly never been “necessary” to tell a zombie story using animation, the medium allows the makers of HIGH SCHOOL OF THE DEAD to pull off the kind of virtuosic camerawork and impressive set pieces that a typical, live-action zombie movie never could. It’s visceral, it’s tawdry, and if you’re into that kind of thing you will have a great time watching it.
TOKYO GHOUL is an interesting experiment in context. The show builds upon the familiar framework of vampire stories but, by making this a story about ghouls instead, all of those old clichés actually seem fresh and exciting again.
It is the tale of a young college student who, after discovering that his date is really a flesh-eating ghoul, accidentally winds up half-ghoul himself. Now he has all the hunger for human flesh – so-called “normal” food tastes disgusting – but he also has a sense of morality that shouldn’t go along with it. So he finds himself straddling both worlds, running afoul of humans and ghouls alike, and learning how to make a mean cup of coffee on his off hours (because coffee is the only comestible that humans and ghouls both like).
Stylish but also intimate, TOKYO GHOUL gets you inside the hero’s head as he wanders down some extremely dark paths. His nearly uncontrollable desire to eat his best friend is the kind of horrifying idea that shows like ANGEL would talk about but rarely dramatize to their full, despicable extent. It’s a show that genre fans of all kinds, whether or not they would consider themselves fans of anime, will probably be able to admire, and maybe even love.