Bear with me…the intro’s a bit long.
Prior to my trip to Japan, me and my family were working through a storeroom so we could find things to sell
(to scrounge up extra souvenir money). One thing I found was a copy of The Bachman Books and, having previously known of the reputation of Stephen King but having never read anything by the dude, I decided to take the plunge.
About 300 or 400 pages in (in the Vietnamese airport on my way back from Japan), I came to a realisation: there isn’t much like Stephen King in anime…but why? You can argue something like Rage (my copy of the Bachman Books still has Rage in it) doesn’t exist in anime due to strict gun laws in Japan, but The Long Walk is something that could’ve been thought up anywhere…and that’s part of what makes it so scary.
The idea that popped into my head in the airport was that Hollywood and other non-anime sources are so good at horror and anime is so good at things that aren’t horror that anime doesn’t have room to compete. Horror is not a genre that traditionally has its roots in Japan, except for horror that falls more on the supernatural side of things (e.g. youkai stories like the kind that inspire Gegege no Kitaro). That’s not to say Japan doesn’t do horror – it has Sadako and Kayoko…and you could even count Godzilla as a horror story of what happens when radiation goes wrong. However, those are all live-action movies, and the only other genre that’s known to excel in horror is literature (not light novels, but bona fide literature like Frankenstein).
Sidebar: I haven’t watched any movies involving Sadako, Kayoko or Godzilla. I just know their names because of recent movies.
Furthermore, the demand for anime horror isn’t there because it’s normally better in other formats, like Junji Ito Collection, or anime that do horror well are normally of at least one other genre, like Thriller Bark in One Piece. Horror manga often have obscene amounts of detail in their artwork, which make them hard to adapt, and the format of the standard horror story, much like a standard mystery, means you can only get a genuine reaction once…which is to say, when you first experience it. Furthermore, you need to deal with being bored with the buildup if it’s a longer story, like Shiki, plus you need to be able to stomach the gore/body horror if it’s involved and that gore might not fly, even on late-night Japanese TV.
Also, it’s hard to genuinely scare people, even with the audio and visuals of anime – it’s easy to jumpscare, but not enough to keep them trembling at the sheer thought of a character. I remember marvelling at how simple Parasyte‘s concept was when I first came across it – “it’s a dude bonded to a flesh-eating creature!” – but now that Venom has come and gone (and I saw the movie on the trip back from Japan), Parasyte doesn’t seem so impressive. However, Shiki is something I’d point to as being a success on this front – it continuously manages to make lists for “top 10 best horror anime” based on how it treats Megumi, after all. (Comedy is probably a similar genre in that making the most people laugh at once is a very tricky endeavour, but unlike horror, you can line up a whole bunch of jokes and then create a cumulative effect in order to coax some laughs out of people. That’s absolutely not the case with horror.)
So, what do you think is the cause for there not being enough horror anime? Do we even have enough horror anime as it is right now?