It's Season 2 of Yamishibai! Same premise, format and deliberately ugly animation that's supposed to be reminiscent of kamishibai paper puppets. (It looks horrible, but it's a short-form horror series. It's a valid artistic choice. It works.) Travelling entertaining tells horror stories to children in the form of a puppet show. It's more of the same, basically. If you liked Season 1, I expect you'll like Season 2. That's me.
I was mildly curious based on the directors, incidentally. Noboru Iguchi: director of lurid schlock gore comedies like Sukeban Boy, RoboGeisha and Zombie Ass: The Toilet of the Dead. Shoichiro Masumoto: actor (including some voice work on Yamishibai Season 1), writer and occasional director. Takashi Shimizu: creator of serious horror franchise Ju-on/The Grudge. Those aren't names you expect to see on an anime. However in the end, this is still basically just more Yamishibai and my main reaction was "a continuation".
The main difference this year is a greater variety of endings. Season 1 had a standard template, although it didn't stick to it rigidly (e.g. ep.5 "The Next Floor"). Character gets involved in increasingly horrific situation. Character dies. The end. Admittedly you didn't usually see the kill itself, but you weren't left in much doubt about the poor chap's future prospects.
Here, though, perhaps the protagonist's well-meaning efforts might actually doom the person she loves. Perhaps a ventriloquist's doll will merely lie there saying sad things. Perhaps a baby will be born. Not all of these work, but trying new stuff is clearly better than ploughing the same furrow 26 times in a row.
What's the show's hit rate? I'd say about half the episodes are okay, then half the rest are flat-out meh. The others, though, are great. That's not too bad for a short-form anthology series. If you like horror, I'd say it's worth the time investment, especially since the show's concept has given it such a distinctive aesthetic. (Even if you're such not a horror fan, though, it might be worth watching the good episodes. It'll cost you four minutes of your time. What have you got to lose?)
Are the episodes scary? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes what they do best is just creepy atmosphere, but I'm fine with that. Atmosphere is good.
Funky theme music for the closing titles, by the way. I loved that. Season 1's song had been fun too, though.
To reiterate something I said last time, incidentally, I think there's a lot to be said for the counter-intuitive concept of short-form horror. Obviously you don't get all the build-up that you'd think was mandatory... but the great thing about film and TV is that it's immediate. We've been trained to get it straight away. A scene starts playing, an actor starts speaking and the audience is in the moment in one second flat.
Going through the individual episodes, assigning scores out of ten:
1. "Taro-chan" (6) - a police officer does a ventriloquist's act about road safety. You know what's going to happen... except that you'd be wrong, because the dummy doesn't lift a finger against anyone. It just talks.
2. "Kitchen" (8) - a university student is invited to her friend's apartment for the evening, where she'll enjoy dinner and a creepy air conditioner. What is this? What the hell are those eyes? I like this story's non-traditional monster, which manages to be unsettling despite (or because of?) looking so goofy.
3. "Inside" (8) - small boy brings home a matryoshka doll. Mum doesn't like it. Mum gets weird. Has a pretty good ending.
4. "Wall Woman" (8) - pretty formulaic, but this one actually scared me. No, don't close the curtains. Bad idea.
5. "Locker" (6) - a high school student is in love with a boy and hears an urban rumour about a train station coin locker. This story has yet another doll. That's three in the first five episodes, although in fairness this one's particularly repellent-looking.
Somewhere around here, I was wondering if this season's hit rate was perhaps a bit lower than Season 1's.
6. "Nao-chan" (7) - a father makes shadow puppets on the ceiling for his son as they go to sleep. This one has its creepy moments, especially the boy being able to see Nao-chan. The explanations left even more unsaid than usual, though.
7. "Capsule Toy Machine" (8) - a capsule toy machine is a Japanese vending machine that sells tiny toys in plastic bubbles. They're everywhere. This story's about old men playing them. This one's a little bit different and I liked it.
8. "Farewell Confessional" (9) - made me laugh. Also the happy funeral in itself managed to unsettle me a bit.
9. "Ominie-san" (8) - another story that's different. Ominie-san is a purple unidentifiable substance, the kind of thing that looks as if it's probably moving even though it's not. People like eating ominie-san.
10. "Bugged" (7) - a misanthrope keeps a diary. A vivid vignette of mental deterioration.
11. "Picking Up" (9) - boy finds manuscript on train. Righteously satisfying. What our hero does couldn't be called bad by horror movie standards. It wouldn't move the needle on an EC Comics-o-meter. However I disapproved, it seemed guaranteed to get him in trouble and (heh heh) it did.
12. "Netsuke" (6) - a student helps her grandmother tidy up the shop. She finds a box that contains netsuke (tiny sculptures). Grandma remembers that her late husband got angry when she tried to touch them.
13. "Bringer Drums" (6) - young married couple moves into village. This one, to me, says "eh"?
Is Yamishibai a massive mega-hit? No. It's a bit odd. It's sinister and disorientating. It doesn't always work, but that's fine since the episodes are so short that there's always another one coming up soon. I still quite like it.