I accidentally became a horror fan because of anime. It’s an easy way to get into the genre for the squeamish—you know, instead of sitting through Saw I through VI. The animation adds an extra layer of protection. Since we’re not dealing with live human beings in the physical sense, there’s enough distance for the fragile subconscious to chew on without causing horrible nightmares. Not only that, but I’ve come to love how different art styles only possible in anime can contribute to the horror. Last year, I got hooked on Yamishibai, partially due to the rickety art style that made the eerie tone that much more haunting.
When I’m in the mood for a fast-paced, catching story, nothing quite satisfies the itch like horror. But as with any genre, there’s an equally bad list of horror anime out there. To save you the trouble of having to wade through this potentially scarring material I regret watching, I’ve listed some of the worst anime horror series below and why you should run from them like the plague.
Shiki, or “Living Corpse” in Japanese, starts out of on a high note—literally, the haunting soundtrack of this series is super creepy. In a small town, a series of disappearances unravels a larger mystery surrounding a deadly epidemic. Unfortunately, the execution of the story in Shiki ends in a bloody mess. The root of the problem? Pacing, combined with an underdeveloped cast of characters. OH. You were wondering about the string of mysterious deaths? Vampires, naturally. Vampires with nothing better to do than turn this quaint, countryside town into its coven.
But honestly, the scariest part about this anime is the hair. If you do not believe me, take a gander at some of the styles that put Goku and Yugi to shame.
THE WORST ANIME HAIR
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Anyway, if you’re rolling your eyes, thinking “oh geez, not another sexy vampire story,” put down your wooden stake for just a smidgen. Japanese presentation on the old monsters of Western lore (I’m assuming they’re not based on the infamous Chinese hopping vampire, the Jiangshi), is pretty interesting. If you want a refreshing take on the vampire concept, go watch Blood Plus. You won’t regret it!
With Shiki, the Vampires aren’t the issue—it’s the large pile of overdone, clichéd themes that will make you want to claw your eyes out. Shiki’s vampires are walking corpses that retain their beauty in death. Near its end, the series attempts to handle a theme horror involving vampires—what does it mean to be “human” and “what is evil”? It’s not that subjective morality is an awful theme to explore—it’s just that it’s been done so many times and so much better. Even in anime! Go watch Parasyte, a tragic and extremely human story about a young man living with an alien attached to his body.
2. Elfen Lied
I had such high hopes for Elfen Lied. The first scene doesn’t pull any punches. It was visually shocking and had compelling filmography: the absolute bloodbath and eerie setting place this show right in the sci-fi/horror genre. Lucy, a mysterious horned-girl with extraordinary powers breaks out of a government lab. In the process of wiping her pursuers off the face of the earth, Lucy gets a head injury and lapses into a state of amnesia. Both her killer instinct and personality are wiped clean, leaving behind a shell of a girl who can only say “Nyu”. Naturally, that’s what she goes by the rest of the series. Like the main character in CLAMP’s Chobits, Nyu is effectively a toddler. She wanders around the beach totally naked and happy as a clam.
Enter hapless protagonist, Kouhta, who is a piece of butterless toast in terms of personality. Oh, sure. He is not at all motivated by the fact that Nyu is a highly attractive anime babe in naught but her skivvies. Kouhta is just a good guy. Right. Anyway, despite Nyu clearly belonging in a mental hospital, Kouhta takes the horned girl home to take care of her. Because he wants, like, a pet or something. I should have dropped this series then, but I thought *maybe* the plot would carry us past the awkward storm of love triangles brewing. I was wrong.
For as horrifying as the action was in the opening episode, the parts that made me most uncomfortable had nothing to do with heads exploding. Around episode three, Elfen Lied becomes a borderline harem show. This was made worse by the bland protagonist and his weird romance subplot with his cousin (that went nowhere). Being female in this series means that you are pretty much getting a panty shot in some form. The fan-service killed the horror in this one.
Welcome to Final Destination, the anime! Another follows Misaki Mei, a troubled student whose very existence is in question when the series opens. The other students just act like she doesn’t exist, and with the creepy eyepatch and the constant brooding, our main character wonders if maybe she is a ghost. By the way, the main character is the SUPER POPULAR TRANSFER STUDENT (trope warning)! Anyway, just as he gets friendly with Mei, an odd string of gruesome classroom deaths begins. An evil curse is at work, but could Mei be connected somehow?
Another starts with a creepy curse, but the supernatural elements are downplayed in favor of an absurd level of gore. The curses’ goal seems to be killing as many students in the most nonsensical ways as possible. When your horror story makes the most mundane classroom objects dangerous (look up the umbrella scene if you must), it morphs into another genre—comedy.
While humor is clearly not the intent of the mysteries, as the dark tone remains, I began laughing each time another character was picked off. This completely cheapens the struggles of Mei, which, on paper, is legitimately tragic.
Based on the mysterious premise and eerie art, I was looking forward to a chilling watch. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the scare I was hoping for. Although a good deal of time is devoted to developing a promising atmosphere, the far-fetched plot and accidental humor land Another firmly on this list. If you watch this one, expect it to be awful and you might get some laughs out of it like I did.
4. Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni (When They Cry)
I first heard of Higurashi because of a certain torture scene from the show is very popular across the Interwebs. You’ve probably seen a Gif or stumbled across a video if you spend any time on anime forums. Anyway, on Dashing Nerds’ Facebook page, we asked for the most disturbing anime scene they’ve ever witnessed—what we got was a crazy moment from Higurashi where a character’s fingernails are pried off. Yikes.
Naturally, I had to see for myself what the context was. I mean, the level of insanity in that scene alone promised a boon of interesting characters and terrifying concepts. So I jumped in, not quite knowing what else to expect. Higurashi was a bit more than the horror story I bargained for.
The plot of Higurashi is told in miniature arcs following a set of mysterious disappearances and murders. After a few episodes, someone dies, someone goes missing, and the plucky student protagonist, Keiichi, and his “friends” try to figure it out. Before they can stop the curse, the plot resets and recycles—always with the same pattern but with different characters. Not even our beloved transfer student is safe.
That’s right, the setting is in a cursed small town with a transfer student at its center…Ah, shoot. This sounds familiar. The protagonist is, again, a blank slate. He’s pretty much interchangeable with Kouhta in Elfen Lied or Koichi in Another. I guess when you’re a transfer student with a name beginning with the letter ‘K’, all the female students with the oddly colored hair will flock to you. The downside is, one of them might end up being the killer in this story arc.
Slowly, the plot attempts to reveal a little more about the cause of the murders and the curse plaguing the town. The problem is, we don’t get any solid answers to the true cause of the tragedies this season. Higurashi they threw so many possibilities out there when trying to explain the plot—everything from disease, ghosts, to alternate dimensions—that it’s impossible to make sense of the universe. I wouldn’t watch this unless you enjoy being confused.
But what sets Higurashi apart in its awfulness is the bi-polar tone in the show. One minute we have a (poorly written) high school slice of life anime. Keiichi is laughing along with the girls and cracking jokes. They all flirt, each secretly hoping to win his affection in one way or another. Then, one of the girls thinks to herself, wouldn’t it be nice to plunge a syringe into his neck? The drastic shift in the tone from happy-go-lucky to psycho murder chase was pure insanity. I get the feeling the laid-back, easygoing setting was meant to be unsettling, but it just adds further to the giant mess the series makes.
There is another world out there, but it’s nothing like the fairy tale land you’ve heard about before. Claymore is set in a medieval-era continent plagued with Youma. These parasitic monsters not only survive on human flesh; they relish devouring humans by pretending to be them. The Yoma can even go so far so as to take on the personality traits of the person whose body they inhabit, putting those closest to them in the most danger. Imagine coming home to find your mom—or someone who looks and acts like your mother—shoveling the innards of one of your siblings into her jaws. It’s a primal, paralyzing fear. The only way to detect a Yoma is by fighting fire with fire: half-human, half-Yoma female warriors called Claymore.
To me, this anime is perhaps the largest disappointment of all. Claymore’s anime failed in a large way despite having fantastic source material. Seriously—this anime SHOULD have been as big as Attack on Titan. Unfortunately, the series deviated drastically from the source material in order to finish up in 26 episodes. In its final episode, the anime took a drastic stab at the final battle, which, in the manga, didn’t happen until 27 volumes and 8 YEARS LATER. Don’t waste your time watching the anime’s alternate ending. At most, you’ll get a fine sampling of the action from episode one.
In addition to the tragic turn from the epic plot, the soundtrack kills the dark tone of the series. The opening starts with a dark, intense guitar riff…then, BAGPIPES. I understand what they were going for—”Claymore” comes from the term for a type of Scottish blade—but that is literally the only reference to Scottland in the series. The music is so painfully out of place that it is comically bad. I don’t know how the producers ever gave their stamp of approval on the music.
The manga for Claymore is one of my all-time favorites. You’ve got a cast of highly-developed characters, a gorgeous art style unique for the genre, and an enticing plot full of drama that keeps you guessing. Pass up the anime and take the time to read this series. Or, if you’re in the mood for some good-old scary fantasy, go watch the original Berserk.
Thanks for reading this list—hopefully, it saved you some time and energy before you pick up your next scary anime title. I always want to know if I missed some stinkers, so leave your warning in the comment section below on what not to watch.
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Dashing Nerds hopes you have a Happy Halloween. For those of you attending Youmacon this coming weekend in Detroit, we will see you there!