Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories: Season 3
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2016: X-Z
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2016
Director: Takashi Taniguchi, Tomohisa Ishikawa
Actor: Risa Aizawa, Ryota Murai
Keywords: Yamishibai, anime, horror, ghost
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: Season Three: 13 four-and-a-half-minute episodes
Url: https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=17778
Website category: Anime 2016
Review date: 18 August 2016
It's Season 3 of the horror anthology show with creepy, ugly animation! "Kamishibai" is traditional paper theatre. "Yamishibai" would mean "darkness theatre", which this is. This year they've made two minor innovations:
(a) Realistic situations. This only applies to a few of the stories, but it's a powerful horror tool that this series had surprisingly never used before. Ep.2 and ep.3 in particular don't jump straight into horror tropes, but instead put us in a situation that's bad, but could happen to anyone.
(b) Unrealistic monsters. I could go further and say "goofy". Season 1 had been so traditional with its ghosts that it got a bit repetitive. Long stringy black hair, staring eyes, white faces, etc. Season 2 was more varied. Season 3 seems to be trying to mimic Terry Gilliam's animations for Monty Python's Flying Circus. Admittedly we'd had a few silly-looking monsters in earlier seasons too, e.g. the blobby eye-thing in 'Kitchen' (2.2), but personally I think that one worked. The silliness enhanced the horror. For me, these ones tend to detract from it. The damage isn't fatal and I still enjoyed the series as a whole, but there are several stories when an atmospheric set-up gets undermined by its big reveal. This kind of subversion can be great when it works, but... yeah, well.
They've also changed the framing sequence. Mr Creepy Kamishibai and his playground-visiting has been replaced by a little boy with a sketchpad and a song. "Friends over there, come here. Friends here, go over there." We also have a fairly unpleasant closing theme song, instead of the cool songs we'd had until now. I regretted this, although that said I quite like the ever-increasing number of disembodied heads who sing that song at Sketchpad Boy.
Going through the stories with scores out of ten...
1. 'Lend It to Me' (7) - set in a bathhouse, with a conversation between two customers who can't see each other because of the wall between the men's and women's baths. I'd give an 8 to all the stuff before the reveal, though. That was good. It grabbed my attention.
2. 'Tunnel' (8) - one of the better episodes, I think. It's one of those realistic stories I mentioned. (Well, up to a point.) Most people should be able to identify with our heroes, driving along a road they don't know and almost out of petrol. They reach a junction. They choose to try the tunnel, which is a mistake. For once even the monster works, because its silliness manages to be freaky.
3. 'Rats' (9) - this one got to me. It gave me the shivers. Rats, ughh. A young couple move into a flat that has rats. The husband laughs off his wife's squeamishness and tells her she'll just have to get used to it, but unfortunately the beds are at floor level and the rats could run past and bite your face if they wanted. Again it's a real situation, but more likely to make you squirm than any ghost. I'd have preferred it with a less goofy ending, but that almost goes without saying.
My only other grumble is minor and involves the voice actor playing the husband. He's quite good and I'm sure I recognised him in other episodes too, but he must be a good forty years older than the character he's playing. He sounds elderly. This couple's meant to be young!
4. 'The Noisy Hospital Room' (7) - the show's starting to repeat itself. There was a hospital episode in Season 1 ('Zanbai', 1.2), although this story arguably owes a debt to 'The Family Rule' (1.3) and its sinister laughter. Ironically this story also has the silliest-looking monsters yet, to the point of being comedic.
5. 'Museum of Taxidermy' (6) - what you'd expect from a horror story called 'Museum of Taxidermy', but with less subtle visuals.
6. '"That Side" Festival' (7) - if you can forgive the visuals, I think this one's quite good. Getting lost at a festival can indeed be a bit nightmare-like. Besides, the marching ghosts make it sinister.
7. 'Behind' (7) - on a school field trip, a boy tells his friends about a bad dream he's having. Again this is basically decent, except that those twisting heads are quite likely to get laughs. (If anyone did it in live-action, though, it might be stomach-turning.)
8. 'The Empress Doll' (7) - four teenagers dare each other to explore an abandoned house. So doomed. The mirror games are nifty and for once there's even quite a good horror reveal.
9. 'The Fourth Man' (8) - a girl hears an urban legend about the Handshake Men. I liked this. The urban legend angle gives an almost fairy tale feel to the storytelling, as if the Brothers Grimm had decided to traumatise all children everywhere.
10. 'Merry-go-round' (7) - a girl's offered a free ride on a merry-go-round. I'd be keen to see this one remade with visuals that lived up to the story's considerable creepy potential. Even as it stands, it's well worth a watch.
11. 'Cuckoo Clock' (6) - as with 'The Noisy Hospital Room', the reveal of a particularly daft-looking comedy monster is accompanied by in-story laughter from the characters. Is this deliberate? That cuckoo clock isn't scary at all. It's not even in the same universe as "scary". Fortunately there's a secondary plot twist after that.
12. 'In the Water' (5) - this one didn't work for me. It's another Ghost Hair story, like 'Hair' (1.1).
13. 'Drawings' (9) - this, on the other hand, is great. You'll miss the coolest thing about it if you haven't been watching the show from Season 1, mind you. It's got Drawing Boy. It's got Mr Kamishibai. It's got Something You Never Knew about his "oshimai".
And there you have it. This review has probably put far too much emphasis on the monster designs, which after all are usually just a briefly glimpsed element of quite a well-told story. However I really do think they're a failed experiment. If you're watching in company, don't be surprised if they sometimes get laughs. I still enjoyed the series, though. I've liked all of Yamishibai, including the weaker episodes, and there really is some good stuff in here. The realistic angle is both new and excellent, albeit only used in a minority of stories. The show is still rich in creepiness. The flat, alienating animation style is still an interesting choice for a horror anthology. I'd be keen to see a Season 4, although I almost wish they don't since 'Drawings' is pretty much the perfect conclusion to the whole thing.