I’m not entirely certain if Anime Corps has done anything spooky and festive for Halloween in the past, but I’ve been meaning to find an excuse to write about horror themes for awhile and seeing as Halloween is in a few three days, what’s a better time to talk about it than now? I mean, aside from Halloween itself since these posts are scheduled for Friday. I thought it might be nice to take a break from all the serious more emotional topics and talk about something everyone knows about and perhaps dive a little deeper into it. Let’s talk about horror!
First things first, I would like to address a popular misconception surrounding horror in that horror has to be scary to be considered horror. That’s just incorrect. Perhaps horror as a standalone noun meaning fear is what started this misunderstanding, but horror as a genre attempts to elicit negative emotions or thoughts from it’s audience by playing on tropes or themes most commonly associated with negativity to a near exclusivity. I see this more in the video game community than anywhere else with people claiming that because a game like Bloodborne didn’t scare them at any point it straight up isn’t horror, but it’s still something worth elaborating on.
This broader definition is most likely due to everyone having a very different set of fears and a very different response to common fears. I found the anime Another to be terrifying and I still refuse to watch The Conjuring again ever since I saw it when it first came out in theatres. However, to some people both of those productions were laughable. It’s impossible to make something that 100% of your audience will find scary as a guarantee. Something you can tune to effect a vast majority of your audience, however, is negative emotions in general. A game like Fran Bow being a perfect example of a game that almost only plays off of negative emotions. The entire experience isn’t so scary as it is disturbing and strange.
With that much more broad and effective definition of what can be classified as horror, it’s a lot more interesting to look into everything horror can do. I would like to look into the aforementioned Another for me to just name off everything that horror can just do in general. Without a doubt, Another is gore horror and without a doubt Another takes a lot of horror tropes and just uses them in rapid succession with enough break in the middle to make everything seem safe for split seconds before the next thing goes wrong. One of my favourite things that Another does is both play off of the unexpected and the expected. Some of the deaths you can see coming from miles away while others are instantaneous and sudden and gripping, creating a difference of environment between one that is tense and inescapable to one that suddenly transforms from normalcy into a horrific scene that didn’t even give you enough time to escape.
What makes these particularly effective to people who don’t know what they’re getting into is that it makes the atmosphere of the entire production stressful. Ever since the show makes itself clear that not only can everyone die but everyone most likely will die without making it entirely clear how each death will happen and keeping each new death original (while albeit occasionally being unreal) keeps this stressful environment alive. Anything can kill someone at any given time, and until the underlying mystery is solved everyone is at risk of dying. The conflict lies in what everyone knows will happen and won’t stop happening until the problem is resolved.
This tension and release cycle is one of the must fundamental principles of horror and is one that works to an insanely effective degree. By making the audience aware of the more tension filled moments, the moments where someone is most likely to get themselves killed, and then making the atmosphere of relief very and notably different you can control the atmosphere of your production and make the elements of both sides of the cycle more effective. You’re not pushing out tension filled moment after tension filled moment because then your audience would begin to expect it and it would lose it’s effect. The moments of relief add value to the events meant to rub people the wrong way by making them still seem unique and special in contrast to the norm.
Another show which did horror well, and which I praised the first episode of as how to do psychological horror, was Gakkou Gurashi!. The first episode is a beautiful example of misdirection before throwing you head first into the hell waiting on the other side. The way the scene is set up, the way the warning signs are subtly hidden in plain view, and the way every character acts and how much sense the world we just accepted as being weird makes afterwords is amazing. It’s one of the best reveals I’ve ever witnessed and even if you disliked the rest of the show, you certainly cannot deny that it had it’s magical moments.
That scene also built up a whole range of possibilities with one of the characters having schizophrenia. What if the rest of the characters were in danger and the one with schizophrenia was the only one who could help the rest of the cast? What if the one who couldn’t interpret reality correctly got separated from the others and was at the risk of dying? Disabling a main character in a subtle yet beautiful way builds an endless fountain of “What if”s that build up the tensity whenever an occasion like that is about to come true. It essentially has your audience think of what might happen and if you’re smart about it you can use that concept to misdirect them again and again for as long as your concept will permit with effectiveness.
Horror only gives hope to take it away and the good ending will never feel completely good when everything is wrapped up. While I was mentioning games a lot before (I guess this is sort of animeish now that there’s a Mad Father light novel), I’d like to still bring up Mad Father as being a good example of this. None of the three endings to the game feel completely right. Each one has dire consequences and repercussions and each one has a very different implication of what’s going on. Horror never has you escaping and thinking “Yeah, she got away! The day is saved!” because it’s not. At the very least horror downsizes the power of the protagonist because something horrible still happened. Something irreversible took place and even if the say is saved for the main character, the day is never saved for everyone. If you ask me, that is the most powerful form of negativity. Thinking back throughout the production and knowing even though what just happened, happened, you can’t ever say what happened was nice.
Well that was my short run down and slight opinions of horror themes and spooky stuff. I’ll more than likely revisit things like the tension and release cycle or the non existence of happy endings in horror productions, but I’d like to widen my horror pallet a bit more before I did that and not spoil everything I went into today. If you’d ever wondered what Tsuyuki does when he’s not writing for this blog, why not follow me on Twitter? I hope you all enjoyed, thank you so much for reading today’s post, and I will see you all next week!
The featured image for this post was drawn by pixiv artist YAMAno.