Monday, April 23, 2012

Horror Anime!

 I am, as my regular readers will attest, a geek of epic proportions.

If I'm not driving the wife crazy railing against the inhumanity of George Lucas and the indignity he's done to all that is Star Wars, I'm plumbing the depths of Amazon and Half.com for rare copies of classic Dario Argento horror films. If I'm not doing that - I'm planning for the zombie/robot/lepus/Planet of the Apes armageddon, or always looking for additions to my sci-fi and horror t-shirt collection.

I can spend hours arguing the merits of who'd win in a death match - a T-800 or Neo from The Matrix. I live for comics, role playing games, Star Trek, Firefly, and Doctor Who. My taste for horror movies and Halloween in all its form is legendary.

I am - without a doubt - a geek of the first order.

Which means I'm susceptible to all forms of nerdery. Sadly, I've recently gone down the rabbit hole of a new nerd-tastic obsession... and I'm certain the wife is ready to kill me.

You see, in addition to already being an all around sci-fi, fantasy, horror geek ... I've also become an otaku.

What's an otaku, you might be asking?

Otaku is a Japanese word for a person with an obsession with some form of geekery; usually manga, anime, or video games. In Japan, it's a word with charged negative connotation. An otaku in Japan is someone who is so obsessed they never leave the house. It's unhealthy and the sign of mental illness. In the US, however, it just denotes yet another geekish obsession.

For me... I'm now an anime otaku.

You see, I'd had experiences with anime when I was in high school. I had a friend, Armour, who was obsessed with anime. Especially Fist of the North Star. Before that, I grew up like any other kid loving Speed Racer and Battle of the Planets... but my experience with anime was limited to those Saturday afternoon cartoons.

Armour, however, kind of turned me off to them. I can't tell you how many times he'd call me and my friends up - excited about having acquired a new video tape of some obscure fighting or mecha anime - and asking us to come over and watch how fucking kick ass Japanime (what he called it) was. So we'd trudge over because we knew that anime was supposed to be cool, Armour loved it, and he was our buddy. Then we'd inevitably spend an hour and a half watching some poorly copied VHS tape in Japanese with no subtitles.

We had no idea what was going on and it was confusing as hell. Every now and then, someone would scream, kick someone in the head, and there'd be an animated fount of blood, and it would make no sense because we had no context.

Armour'd grin at the carnage, punch whoever was nearest to him, and gush, "Isn't this AWESOME?!?"

It got so that the only way it would make any sort of sense was to get drunk while watching it. It made the screaming Japanese somehow tolerable. I can't think back to those times without remembering the hazy "Aye-Aye-aye-aye-aye!!!" of Kenshiro as his leg blurred and he kicked somebody's ass, and the heavy thick intoxication that came with drinking the better part of a 6 pack of McEwen's Scottish Ale.



So to say my first experience of anime was disappointing is an understatement.

Years later, I saw Akira - and loved it. Of course that was because it was dubbed in English, and made sense. But I never really got into it. Which is funny considering how much of a geek I am otherwise. As an aside, I am something of a Japanophile. I studied aikido, learned some Japanese in college, and even seriously considered going to Japan when I got out of school to teach conversational English to Japanese businessmen. Oh, I also I really love sushi; but the finer points of Japanese culture, though? I had no big interest.

I knew that the Japanese are weirder than the Germans when it comes to their porn. But, in the grand scheme of things; alien tentacle porn is really not much different than schiesse films and lesbian squirt porn. But, outside of Godzilla movies, Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune films, and the occasional Takashi Miike J-Horror film... I managed to avoid the anime obsession.

And then I got Netflix.

You see, Netflix has a deal with Funimation - who has the US rights to just about every major anime series out there. And they dropped some of those fuckers on my 'Recommended for Doctor Z.' list.

Dammit if I didn't realize there was Anime horror out there.

And thus began my current obsession.

I've been watching tons and tons of anime for months. I mostly stick with the horror stuff, but have been occasional drawn into some of the other things. I still really don't like mecha anime, or non-supernatural fighting anime... and I can usually tell within the first episode or two whether I'm going to like it. But - the thing is - I've found some great stuff that any horror fan can enjoy and sink their teeth into.

So, sit back, dear undead minions, and let Dr. Zombie recommend some great horror themed anime for your viewing pleasure.

Some terms you might need to know (and for your own erudition!):
Fan Service - Things done to "provide service to fans". It's a pretty complex thing. You might want to click the link and read a little bit. I don't mind fan service, but find it can be distracting - especially the kind which is sexual in nature. I hate the "Gainax Bounce", which is a long, lingering, jiggling shot of a big boobed girl's attributes. There's lesser versions, like scenes of characters in hot springs, or upskirts and panty shots, or 'accidental exposure' of a characters breasts. It's mostly a Japanese thing, and US versions of anime will tone it down some - for good reason. In many cases, the characters are high school aged and that shit's just not cool in the US. Japanese men are werid, dude.
Harem - Harem anime is a genre of anime where a main male character is surrounded by 3 or 4 women who all love him - and the hijinks that ensue. Since there's no actual romantic resolution in anime (again, something we as Americans desperately need, yet the Japanese don't care about), this can be frustrating. Something else to consider; there is a persistent and undisguised sexism to mainstream anime. One can probably get past this if they are open minded about cultural differences, but it is still there. Bear that in mind...
Click here for other terms that might be interesting to know

So, on to the list.

Number 6 - This Ugly Yet Beautiful World















In This Ugly Yet Beautiful World, the two main characters, Ryou and Takeru follow a light into a forest and discover a beautiful and mysterious girl, who they name Hikari and take into their care. Soon after discovering her, Takeru and Hikari are attacked by a monster and Takeru transforms into a creature to protect Hikari. Later, Ryou finds another girl, Akari - Hikari's little sister - and the pair, along with several other friends make the girls part of their lives -- only to discover that Hikari is keeping a dark secret that puts the world at risk.

Horror Level (Scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being AWESOME!) I give it a solid middle of the road 3. It's much more interested in story development, but the monsters are really cool and the suspense and horror are pretty decent. This is a great anime for story alone. The characters are well developed, although there is quite a bit of fan service. Also, I might find the portrayal of the American scientist Jennifer Portman insuilting if I cared about those sort of things.



Number 5 - Shikabane Hime (Corpse Princess) 


In the world of Corpse Princess, people who die violently become shikibane, or living corpses. The shikibane are either contracted to a Buddhist sect called the Kougan sect which lets them stay human, or they become crazed, twisted, mutant zombies that kill everything they can. To get to heaven and be released from their living deadness, the Shikibane must kill 108 fellow, uncontracted shikibane.

The main character - Makina, is contracted to Keisei Tagame and she's badass. She hunts and kills shikibane with a bad attitude and a pair of twin Uzis. Unfortunately, her Kougan monk - Keisei  - dies and he passes her contract to his unsuspecting younger brother. Ouri. Ouri must win over the cold killer, Makina, and convince her he can help her reach heaven.

Horror Level (Scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being AWESOME!) Very high 4. The monsters and tentacles alone make it worth the price of admission. This is really a well put together anime that is deeply rooted in the horror genre. The shikibane are monstrous and terrifying, the character of Makina is dark, and it is really almost a non-stop horror show. Very recommended!



Number 4 - Rosario + Vampire


Normal teenager, Tsukune Aono, gets accepted to a mysterious high school when he fails to get into several others. Unknown to him, he has been accepted to Yokai Academy, a school for monsters and supernatural beings. He also learns that, if anybody finds out he's human, he'll undoubtedly be eaten and/or killed.

On his first day, he meets a beautiful girl, Moka, who is a true vampire - one of the most powerful creatures at the academy. Her true form is hidden by a magical rosary around her neck that makes her look and act like a normal - but beautiful girl. Over the course of the series, Tskukune gets into trouble, accidentally removes Moka's rosary, and she has to kick somebody's ass to protect him. He also meets and befriends Kurumu, a succubus; Ginei, a perverted werewolf who likes to spy on girls; Yukuri, a pre-pubescent witch; Mizore, a snow creature; and Ruby, an adult witch.

Horror Level (Scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being AWESOME!)  Without a doubt, 5. Although there's a lot of the anime tropes of fighting, the main character is attending a school of monsters! Moka, by the way, is hot as her full grown vampire true self, and it has decidedly horror elements that can't be denied. Granted, this is very, very much a harem genre anime... it isn't that bad. In fact, the romantic elements are resolved nicely and it doesn't offend our American desire to see the hero get the girl in the end. Definitely check it out.


Number 3 - Soul Eater


Soul Eater is for a younger audience then the others I've talked about so far. So, in that respect, there's very little - if any sexual fan service (with the exception of the first episode - which is light to begin with). Soul Eater occurs at the Death Meister Weapon Academy and follows the exploits of a team of demon hunters that consist of a human Weapon Meister and a Weapon. WeaponMeisters wield Weapons, and Weapons are humans with the magical ability to turn into weapons wielded by the Death Meister.

Death Meister teams must kill 99 demons and 1 witch in order to become Death Meisters and Death Scythes who serve Lord Death. the main characters, Maka and her scythe, Soul Eater are befriended by fellow academy students Black Star and Tsubaki, and Death the Kid (Death's son) and his two pistol weapons - Patty and Liz. Together they must defeat several supernatural enemies on their path to becoming the best in their class.

Horror Level (Scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being AWESOME!) 5. Although it's not as dark as some of the others on the list, the artwork and animation in Soul Eater is absolutely stunning! And the scenery is filled with jack-o-lanterns, witches, dungeons, Frankenstein (as a professor!)and all manner of creepy Halloween-y imagery. In other words, just the sort of stuff that Dr. Z. absolutely loves!!!  And, although it light on the fan service, it has some really deep, dark story points that would make any horror fan smile with a bloodstained grin.   


Number 2 - High School of the Dead


High School of the Dead gets some crap because it's pretty one dimensional storywise. It also has a crazy amount of fan service in the way of Gainex Bounce and gratuitous panty upskirts. But, those detractors who decrfy it are missing one essential point. It's an anime about the zombie apocalypse! The artwork is gorgeous, the zombies are the classic, shambling Romero-esque type we all know and love. There's blood, gore, and danger. In other words -- it's a perfect way to scratch your zombie itch (just not too hard... that's how rotted bits fall OFF!)

Horror Level (Scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being AWESOME!) Undeniably a 5. The highest 5 possible. The main characters try to survive the zombie apocalypse and come to terms with how much their lives have changed. There's incredibly rich emotional depth to the characters and their plight and ... did I mention... there's tons of frakking zombies and beautiful anime blood!?! In a word, Doctor Zombie finds it fucking awesome!


Number 1 - Elfen Lied
















Elfen Lied is, well it's sort of... you see... it...

Hmmm...

Elfen Lied is something incredible. And that's the problem. Elfen Lied was one of the first horror anime I watched when this whole strange obsession started and every other one I see after this is held up to Elfen Lied as a benchmark. Unfortunately, nothing I've seen yet can match it. I've been chasing the dragon to try and find something as good, as poignant, as emotionally powerful as Elfen Lied; and I continue to be disappointed.

Elfen Lied is gratuitously gory. It is rife with nudity. It speaks frankly about topics like animal abuse, child abuse (both physical and sexual), and the horror of humanity. The thing is, these things only make the story more poignant and visceral.

Elfen Lied tells the story of Lucy - a mutant known as a Diclonius. Diclonius have invisible arms that they can control with their arms. They also are evil, sociopathic, and hate humanity. Lucy escapes a lab where she's been abused and experimented on by the government and is shot in the head during her escape. This injury forces her Diclonius nature into her subconscious and gives her another personality entirely. She becomes Nyuu, a childlike innocent who is taken in by cousins, Kohta and Yuka. As they come to love her, and she them, the government continues to hunt her and Lucy is there.., stirring evilly below the surface.

Horror Level (Scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being AWESOME!) 5? 10? 200? Hey, it's my scale, I can disregard it if I want! I can't begin to explain how absolutely fantastic Elfen Lied is. It is horrifying, it's moving, it's the sort of story that sticks with you for days afterwards. It's life-changing.

Look at it this way. When I watched it, it made me cry.

That's right. This cartoon, this animated story... made the cold, heartless, undead Doctor Zombie cry. The horror, comingled with the poignancy of a heartbreaking story, awere enough to overcome even my hardened emotional defenses. I added the theme to my iPod.

Life changing, man. Life changing.

Please. If you love horror, if you see nothing from this list, do yourself a favor and please see Elfen Lied.




   


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