Japanese anime has proven to be a very flexible medium — especially when it comes to animated violence and gore. That may explain why the horror genre has found a nice little niche within the anime domain, as opposed to western animation. I previously covered ten bloody and disturbing horror anime [here’s that list, if you missed it], but there’s plenty more to be seen… and it cannot be unseen!
Death is only the beginning… at least for the poor bastards who wake up in a strange room with a giant mechanical sphere in GANTZ. Young Kei Kurono and Masaru Kato get splattered by a train while saving a homeless man, and now they and all the other post-living contestants have been given sci-fi level tech and a mission: play a game. Said game, it turns out, revolves around hunting incredibly dangerous and body-horror-centric aliens. Without an explanation for the circumstances of their afterlife, or what they’re meant to do beyond fighting these horrendous extraterrestrials, the players must follow instructions — or die all over again. (Though there’s a good chance they’ll die in the process.)
ATTACK ON TITAN
When you go with horror anime, sometimes it’s best to go big. We’re talking really big. In a vaguely 19th century kingdom, the remnants of humanity have been pushed to the brink of extinction by “Titans” — giant humanoids of the Uncanny Valley with an insatiable hunger for human flesh and destruction of civilization. With even larger Titans appearing to crush any form of defense, the only way to fight back is the use of the “3D System” — an acrobatic contraption that allows any soldier to fight like Spider-Man, scaling skylines and attacking Titans at their weak points. But as more and more Titans appear, and more fodder is put on the line, is there any hope at saving civilization?
There are bad days… and there are really bad days; days when you see all your friends and classmates brutally murdered, then find yourself framed for it and sent up to a maximum-security prison. This is the situation young Ganta Igarashi finds himself in after his peers are slaughtered by the telekinetic Man In Red. He’s sent to the titular prison/theme park of DEADMAN WONDERLAND (run by a whimsically insane warden) and forced to compete in the prison’s deadly games — or face certain death — only to get in even worse danger when he discovers a deeper level to the prison: human experimentation and “Deadmen” capable of using their own blood as weaponry.
PERFECT BLUE is an anime movie presenting giallo of a different color. The story follows J-Pop idol Mima Kirigoe as she attempts to jump-start her acting career. But the pressures of the crime drama she’s in, combined with a rabid fanbase, an obsessive stalker, and her own insecurities, push her to the mental brink. When members of the production get killed one after another, Mima becomes the prime suspect — and her deteriorating sense of reality makes her question herself as well. The first feature from auteur Satoshi Kon, PERFECT BLUE stands on its own as a brilliant and disturbing murder mystery and psychological drama tinged with influence from Hitchcock and Argento — not the least of which being artistic hallucinations combined with gory deaths.
Imagine SALEM’S LOT in rural, ’90s Japan: In the midst of a seemingly ordinary Summer, the quiet village of Sotoba finds itself hit by an unusual epidemic around the same time that a strange new family moves into a historic estate. But when villagers, once thought dead, are spotted seemingly alive, it turns out to be something far worse than any plague: a contagion that turns people into undead “Shiki,” — vampires! The series takes a turn when it’s revealed that the Shiki are sentient, and many of them do not want to harm the living to survive… but the villagers form an unruly mob that seeks to wipe out all vampires, no matter the cost; they’re even willing to kill loved ones who’ve been turned against their will. It raises the question of who are the true monsters — the blood-drinking Shiki, or the murderous humans.
SERIAL EXPERIMENTS LAIN
From that glorious cyberpunk examination of the late ’90s comes SERIAL EXPERIMENTS LAIN. The series follows Lain Iwakura, a young, introverted girl shaken up by a classmate’s recent suicide. Things take a turn for the weird when she and others receive e-mails from the dead girl, claiming she has transcended the material world into “The Wired.” Not exactly the internet as we know it today — and tying into a lot of social and philosophical theory at the time — the Wired is a network that seems to be powered by all major technology, and possibly even the collective unconscious of humanity! Lain gets entangled in a number of bizarre and terrifying conspiracies between rogue hackers, tech corporations, and even the Men In Black. As she’s drawn further into the Wired, she risks losing her mind, as many believe she is a key to attaining virtual godhood. Despite being a more cerebral series, LAIN is not afraid to show the sheer horror this cyber-madness can cause — from multiple suicides, literal mind-melting, and a recurring creepy Grey Alien that likes to wear a Freddy Krueger sweater…
FIST OF THE NORTH STAR
The world has become a wasteland in the wake of nuclear Armageddon (as is wont to happen during an apocalypse). With most of human civilization wiped out, it’s now kill or be killed, with gangs of thugs and barbarians roaming the countryside. Only one man can save the surviving innocents — a man with the sickest martial art ever! Kenshiro is the giant hero of the story, and uses the fictional modern art of “Hokuto Shinken” in order to kill his enemies by striking their acupressure points in just the right ways to quite literally blow them up in over-the-top displays of gore! This is why Kenshiro tells his opponents “You are already dead” before dispatching them; in fact, he says it so much, it becomes his catchphrase.
In the wake of a disastrous comet strike, volcano eruption, and other natural disasters (sensing a trend here?), a large chunk of the Kanto region of Japan is sunk and lawlessness rules the land. Unearthed from the depths is the only monster that can fight those preying on the innocent: VIOLENCE JACK — a giant ogre of a man with an even bigger jackknife. The series was created by Go-Nagai, who also made DEVILMAN, and it shows. The story is long running, with multiple OVA adaptations and manga, but all feature disturbing levels of violence and sex — including a tyrannical skinless samurai named Slum Lord, biker gangs who stab children to death for fun, and amputation-based torture and enslavement. VIOLENCE JACK definitely lives up to its title!
Another classic from the ultra-gritty ’80s, featuring cyborgs, powered suits, and more mindless bloodshed than one thought possible. The OVA is set on Planet Jerra — a colony that’s been locked in a destructive civil war. Pushed to the brink, the government develops a program called “Most Dangerous Soldiers” or MDs — ultra powerful super soldiers capable of fighting entire armies on their own. Of those made, MD-02 Geist was the most deadly, killing so many people that his superiors ordered him locked up… but you can’t keep a good living weapon of mass destruction down! Geist escapes and gets involved in a plot to stop a doomsday weapon called the “Death Force” from being unleashed and killing all known life. Many skulls and faces are crushed in colorful detail in the process.
END OF EVANGELION
NEON GENESIS EVANGELION will forever be known as one of the most pivotal franchises in the “mecha” sub-genre and the flagship of the famed Studio Gainax, while the alternate conclusion to the series will probably go down as one of the biggest sources of nightmare fuel. Created due to fan and critic response (and some would say backlash) to the original TV series’ budget-depleted ending, EOE is a finale of apocalyptic and brutal proportions. Bringing the series’ plotlines to a head, Eva pilot Shinji Ikari has become consumed by despair and depression, his fellow pilot, Asuka, has become mentally broken, and conspiracies to either cause or stop doomsday run rampant on every side. NERV, the base of operations for the Evangelion program, is under siege by a heavily-armed Special Ops unit that does not hesitate to massacre everyone and anyone in their path. What starts as an all-too-human slaughter evolves into an existential Armageddon as psyches are destroyed, mass-produced angel monstrosities are unleashed, and what I can only describe as a “liquefying rapture” occurs. This one has held a personal place for me after I viewed it for the first time at a Midnight screening that was all but literally mind-melting.