It’s time for a new Should I Toon In. Animated shows come in a variety of flavors. There are plentiful comedies like Animaniacs or Tiny Toons. Sci Fi and Action are also highly represented in animation as well. One genre however that is often over looked is horror. Oh, I’m not talking about stuff like Ghostbusters, I’m talking real horror. It’s a shame too because everyone loves a ghost story and animation is a great medium for delivering one. Don’t believe me? Well check out the show we’re talking about this week: Yamishibai.
Im sure you can guess from the title that Yamishibai is an anime. Your guess would be right. Yamishibai is a relatively new series less than a year old that is starting to gain popularity online. I went from never hearing about it to hearing about it from two different places in less than 24 hours. That was enough to garner my attention. However after a few episodes it not only gained my attention but also got my interest… or however that line from Django goes.
Yamishibai is a 13 episode series based on Japanese urban legends and ghost stories. Each episode is told by our narrator only known as the Storyteller. At exactly 5pm, just as the sun is going down, he bangs his drum to attract the attention of a playground full of children telling them it’s time for yamishibai. It’s really the perfect set up for a show that gives you the same uneasy feeling the ghost stories you heard as a kid. It also helps that while the Storyteller is only on the screen for a few seconds in the opener is pretty creepy in his own right:
Each episode is short. REALLY short, less than 5 minutes including the opening and closing theme song. However, that turns out that less than 5 minutes is the perfect amount of time to set up a creepy scenario, raise the suspense to unbearable levels and then deliver on the build up. It’s actually quite impressive the way they’re able to pull this off so well each week but I think that’s because each story feels like a ghost story kids tell each other to freak one another out, and this show is able to recreate that feel masterfully.
Something else that this show has going in its favor is it’s animation style. The show is genereally told in Kamishibai style. Kamishibai means Paper Theater. Btw, Yamishibai means Dark Theater. Get it? Its kind of a pun. No wonder I love this show. When someone tells a story in a Kamishibai style they show large drawings set out on a small stage in front of an audience while the story is narrated to them.
In this way Yamishibai is not traditionally animated but more like slightly moving illustrated pictures, like a living storybook in a way. While this style might not work in an action heavy show like Dragon Ball, it’s perfect when telling these ghost stories. The style of animation just adds an extra layer of creepiness to the whole thing.
The episodes themselves vary. Each episode is a different story based on some urban legend or classic Japenese ghost story so the characters themselves are never the same. This makes sense because if you find yourself as a character on Yamishibai you’re pretty much screwed. I don’t feel like this is a spoiler because when it comes to most ghost stories of this ilk it never turns out well for your characters. However, since this is from Japan the ghost stories are based on their folklore.
Hence you have episodes based on ancient curses, those paper talisman things, banzai cheers, and even something called an Umbrella Goddess, who is way more freaking scary than something called an umbrella goddess has any right to be!!! Don’t worry about the cultural difference since these stories are universally unnerving. Hell, the episode I found the eeriest simply had to do with an elevator! (ALWAYS TAKE THE STAIRS!!!)
For me, the best part about these bite sized horror stories is that they really do deliver on the horror/suspense often in a variety of ways. My biggest complaint about horror movies today is that they rely almost completely on jump scares. You know the type of scare I’m talking about, you’re sitting there watching a movie that’s way more quiet than it should be just so they can blast a loud noise and make you jump. That’s not really “scary” per say, that’s just ‘startling”. (And lazy)
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a jump scare here and there, my issue is when that’s all a movie relies on for scares, which sadly is something most horror movies do nowadays. Yamishibai, while it does have jump scares, it also uses creepy music, creepy atmosphere, creepy visuals and legitimate suspenseful stories to deliver it scares as well. The jump scares are just there to keep you honest.
That’s pretty much all I can say about this anime without actually spoiling actual episodes, which I refuse to do. Last question to answer is Should You Toon In? If you enjoy horror movies at all, then Id say absolutely. In fact, I think just about anyone should check at least one out, they’re only 5 minutes long for crying out loud. You should check it out if only to see this wonderfully different style of animation and how well it works in this genre. You’ll probably spend more time watching cat videos on Youtube today than it’d take to watch just one episode of this. Even better, you can watch the entire series for free (and legally!) over at Crunchy Roll. That’s all I have to say on this one, so until next time: