The mysterious, yellow-masked Storyteller is a man whose true name and origin are both unknown. He appears at dusk where children gather and recites sinister tales based on Japanese urban legends, to which his young audience eerily intakes. However, the Storyteller is no ordinary teller of tales. He incorporates a kamishibai, a traditional paper-scrolling device, to add visuals to his already demented narration.
A series of short horror stories, Yami Shibai begins with a bachelor who, after moving into a new apartment, immediately starts sensing a malevolent glare being pressed into him. A single talisman rests on his ceiling, but he has no way of knowing it is one of the few safeguards that separate him from a bottomless pit of suffering. Each story is more terrifying, more appalling, and more sickening than the last as the Storyteller's audience find themselves being sucked into the vicious world of his words.
Step right up and have a look… It's time for Theater of Darkness…
With this ominous presentation, a mysterious man wearing a golden mask invites us to enjoy Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories (Theater of darkness, and from now on, YS), an anthology of Japanese rumors and urban legends, full of spirits, ghost, curses, and all those creepy things we like so much. No gore or extreme violence here, only pure, clean terror.
Unlike creations like Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror or Kousetsu Hyaku Monogatari, which both had a more medieval setting (or at least, before the Meiji era), YS take place in
modern Japan. Personally, I think this is a plus, because, although it's true that there are some Japanese folk elements, it's not hard to understand what's going on: with minimum reasoning (and a couple of anime in your list... not that many, but enough to know that those papers with rare scribbles are actually talismans, for example), you can know what's going on (and that without the gazillion clarifications subbers usually add in historical anime).
One of the first things you'll notice in YS is its duration: less than five minutes, and that including the presentation and the ending song. How does this affect the story? Contrary to what one can expect, it's actually something good. When it comes to horror and suspense, keeping the tension is vital. The episodes in YS (all self conclusive, by the way) are often very direct, stating the situation/predicament of the protagonist almost immediately, and before you know it, the conclusion arrives. The stories may not be very original, but YS really knows how to use the shock factor: even when you know what is going to happen, in the end you'll be surprised.
The second thing that stands out in this anime is, of course, its animation. Still images… almost no animation (you're never going to see lips moving, or eyes blinking, for example)... low budget? No, for the visual aspect, creators decide to imitate the kamishibai, a traditional storytelling technique inspired by the artistic usage of paper figures and scrolls (thanks for the tip, MAL synopsis). It's similar to that seen in Midori: Shoujo Tsubaki but, in YS works a lot better. Even if the animation is a bit static (but don't worry, there are some movements... this is not Inferno Cop), both character and backgrounds are well done, and are occasionally replaced with photos, and even sometimes with live-action moments. A strange combination, yes, but it works well, and really contribute to produce some disturbing moments. Also, it worth mention the good coloring: after all, it helps the ambientation a lot that the palette used has a majority of opaque colors, and strong and violent red/violet/black tones for the... complicated moments. And the final detail: a lot of little black dots are present during the animation, simulating that we are watching something in an old projector. It's a nice touch.
When it comes to horror, sound is very important, since it sets the mood... and I must say that, here, YS is brilliant. The seiyuus (whoever they are) fulfill flawlessly with their work, showing the full range of emotions present in this kind of work: tranquility, confusion, and finally, fear. Bonus points for the narrator, that, even if he only have a few lines per episode (and only at the beginning), he remains constant throughout the series. The sound effects are deep, loud and clear, being the most predominant (of course) the footsteps, or the door openings/closing. These are particularly powerful in the sense that, for a long time, there's no music... only sound. But when the music finally hits... god damn. First, it starts quiet, ominous, almost imperceptibly... and then it starts to rise up, only to hit you in the face in the perfect moment, the one with more tension. As a final detail, it worth mentioning the ending: personally, I wouldn't even consider Hatsune Miku for a series like this, but the song Kaifuu Emaki works perfectly. Not only sounds fine, it has a kind of distorted tone that made the song slightly unsettling. Awesome job.
Final words: Yami Shibai is a fascinating product. The stories are interesting (with some cliché, of course), dynamic and gloomy, that can actually surprise you (or at least, scare you a few times). Visually is not spectacular, but it works fine, and its personality is undeniable. Sound's impeccable using silence and music at the right times to create the right mood. And most important, the episodes are very short, so the tension is high all the time. If you like horror animes, YS is practically mandatory.
Acérquense y observen… es hora del Teatro de la Oscuridad
Con esta ominosa presentación, un misterioso sujeto de mascara dorada nos invita a disfrutar de Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories (Teatro de la oscuridad: Historias japonesas de fantasmas, a partir de ahora, YS), una antología de rumores y leyendas urbanas japonesas, llenas de espíritus, maldiciones, y todas esas cosas escabrosas que tanto nos gustan.
A diferencia de creaciones como Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror o Kousetsu Hyaku Monogatari, que tenían una ambientación más bien medieval (o al menos, anterior a la era Meiji), todas transcurren en el Japón (más o menos) contemporáneo. Personalmente, creo que esto es un plus, porque, si bien es cierto que hay elementos folclóricos japoneses, no presentan una dificultad a la hora de entender que es lo que está pasando: con un mínimo razonamiento (y un par de animes en la bolsa… no muchos, pero los suficientes como para saber que esos papeles con palabras raras son talismanes, por ejemplo), uno comprende (sin la necesidad de que los subers agreguen miles de aclaraciones).
Una de las primeras cosas que uno nota de YS es su duración: no más de cinco minutos, y con eso incluyo la presentación y el ending. Como afecta esto a la historia? Contrario a lo que uno podría esperar, juega a su favor. Cuando se habla de horror y suspenso, mantener la tensión es algo vital. Los capítulos de YS (todos auto conclusivos) suelen ser muy directos, planteando la situación/predicamento del protagonista casi de inmediato, y para cuando uno se quiere dar cuenta, la conclusión llega de golpe. Las historias no serán muy originales, pero YS juega muy bien con el shock: hasta cuando uno intuye como va a terminar el capitulo, al final se sorprende, por cómo se barajan las cosas.
Lo segundo que llama la atención en este anime es, por supuesto, su animación. Imágenes estáticas… animación casi nula (nunca van a ver ojos parpadeando labios moviéndose, por ejemplo)… bajo presupuesto? No, para el aspecto visual se decidió imitar el kamishibai, un estilo de contar historias en las que se usan figuras de papel y pergaminos (gracias por el tip, sinopsis de MAL). Es similar a lo visto en Midori: Shoujo Tsubaki, pero, la verdad sea dicha, en YS funciona mejor. Sacando el hecho de su no muy fluida animación (pero que se entienda, sí que hay movimiento en los personajes, esto no es como en Inferno Cop), tanto los personajes como los fondos están bien hechos, y ocasionalmente, son reemplazados con fotos, y a veces, hasta con momentos live-action. Una combinación extraña, si, pero funciona bien, y realmente produce momentos realmente perturbadores. También, cabe mencionar el buen trabajo en el coloreado: después de todo, ayuda mucho a la ambientación que se haya usado una variedad de colores opacos en general, y fuertes y violentos tonos rojos/violetas/negros para los momentos… complicados. Y a todo esto se suma el efecto en la animación de los constantes micro puntos negros, que simulan el efecto de que estamos viendo algo en un proyector antiguo. Es un buen detalle, y todo suma para que el producto final asuste más.
En una producción de terror, el sonido es muy importante, y hay que decir que, acá, YS es brillante. Los actores (sean quienes sean) cumplen impecablemente con su labor, mostrando toda la gama de emociones presentes en este tipo de situaciones: tranquilidad, confusión, y finalmente, miedo. Puntos extra para el narrador, que si bien solo tiene unas pocas líneas por capitulo (y solo al principio), se mantiene constante a lo largo de la serie. Los efectos de sonido son profundos, siendo el caso más evidente el de las pisadas, o cuando se abren la puertas. Estos son particularmente poderosos por que durante ratos largos no hay música… solo sonido. Pero cuando finalmente llega la música… agárrense. Primero arranca tranquila, ominosa, casi imperceptible, para ir subiendo, y golpear en el momento justo, en el de más tensión. Y como detalle final, cabe mencionar el ending: personalmente ni se me hubiera ocurrido usar a Hatsune Miku para este tipo de serie, pero la canción Kaifuu Emaki funciona muy bien. No solo suena bien, si no que tiene una especie de tono distorsionado que la hace ligeramente macabra. Muy buen trabajo.
Bueno, para redondear, Yami Shibai es un producto fascinante. Sus historias son interesantes (tal vez con algún cliché), dinámicas y tétricas, y realmente pueden sorprender, o al menos, hacer pegar algunos saltos. Visualmente no es espectacular, pero cumple de forma muy convincente, y su personalidad es innegable. El sonido es impecable, usando sonidos y música en los momentos justos para lograr crear malestar. Y lo más importante de todo, los capítulos son cortos, por lo que la tensión no se pierde en ningún momento. Si te gustan los animes de terror, YS es prácticamente obligatorio. Con cada capítulo que ves quedas con ganas de mas…
Sometimes the simplest of ideas work surprisingly well. Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories (or Theater of Darkness) is essentially the animated equivalence of telling spooky stories by the campfire. Of course, unlike campfire ghost stories, it has the advantage of telling its story through visuals and atmosphere setting sound design. This is as rudimentary as storytelling gets, short and quick to the point. Yet these tales of horror are plenty effective; distilling the tense atmosphere and shocks which make those short ghost stories so much fun.
Yamishibai wholly commits to creating a creepy atmosphere from beginning to end. The short opening for every episode has a man
in a creepy mask telling a bunch of pale, lifeless looking kids with bloodshot eyes at a playground to gather round and listen to his story. The color pallet is all grimy, dank, and subdued. Lighting is used to ominous effect, casting shadows and shining at discomforting angles. Ambient noise and a few musical tracks create tension very efficiently. The show does a good job building up to the inevitable jump scares in every episode, which are surprisingly effective given how prevalent they are. You could probably have a seminar on how to properly do a jump scare using this show.
To say that Yamishibai is animated is a bit of a stretch, actually. Fluid motion is pretty much non-existent here, and characters mouths don't even move when they talk. It isn't done in the traditional animation, instead much more like an elaborate puppet show of sorts that uses paper cutouts. Oddly enough, this doesn't hurt the show, and in fact it even works to the show's benefit, although it makes quite clear that there wasn't much of a budget behind this project. This style gives the show an almost other-worldly feeling that helps the scares along, as they might have come across as trite in a more traditional animation style or live-action. The constantly on-edge voice work and ominous use of sound complete the creepy package.
With all this said, Yamishibai is undeniably a one-trick pony. The only thing the show actually accomplishes is the effectively creepy atmosphere. The stories themselves are, frankly, unremarkable. Yes, they are steeped in Japanese occult lure, which is interesting, but that is it really. They are only serve as the skeleton for the show's short creepshows. They never give much of an explanation and ultimately don't leave any sort of impression. The stories all follow essentially the same formula, and so can be very predictable. Some are outright silly, most notably an episode that features a poop monster, and are only saved through the show's effective atmosphere. This is excused by the fact that these are short episodes with run-times no longer than 5 minutes, but it is clear that Yamishibai is as narrow in scope as a show can get.
Minimal ambition aside, Yamishibai is a fun little taste of the macabre. All things considered, it is nice little collection of creepshows. It isn't a big time commitment only spanning 13 episodes, roughly around an hour with the short running-time of the episodes. It's a good little time-waster to watch in the dark.
Yami Shibai was an anime like I haven't seen before. I only anime that I could possibly slightly comapre it to is Pet Shop of Horrors due to the way that it is set out with new characters and storylines each episode. It was a quick watch of horror which I could fit in to watch anywhere and get a little creeped out everytime.
The story was ok. Considering each episode goes for a duration of 5 minutes with a new story each episode there was not much room for development of a story. But that was not the point of this anime. It was just
a quick little horror story to give people a scare.
I really liked the art style of this anime. It was completly different to most art styles in the way that it resembled a paper cut out and stop motion animation. Even with this simple art design, the anime still managed to look good and present scares. In fact, some of the scenes were probably even creepier being this type of art style.
The sound was another main aspect of this anime. Some of the small creaks and cracks that this anime made really added to the tension and scares. The voice acting was really good and the sound the creepy beings made and the way they spoke made them even spookier.
Much like the story, being such short episodes with new characters you could never really get to attached to chacters, but in retrospect you didn't need to. These characters were just experiencing something creepy and you didn't need to know their whole backstory. Enough was known about them in most of the epsiodes to know why they are where they are and what they will do about the circumstances which is all you need for this anime.
I really enjoyed this anime and although I never got completly scared I can tell you 100% I go creeped out. Some of the stories and character designs were super creepy and haunting and there are few that I don't think I will ever forget.
Overall, I think this anime is a good one to watch if you are a fan of horror and just want something quick and creepy to watch. For storylines and character development watch something like Another but if all you want is a quick scare and can accept a different art design then I would recommend this.
Theatre of Darkness will be the shortest hour of your life.
Allow me address the elephant in the room – the episode runtime. The problem here is I do not lean strongly either way because I cannot completely tear down nor defend it. I will say it is a big factor as to why I did not rate this a perfect 10, though. Visually, it is compelling. There are times when the quality falters, but because of the stylistic choices which fit in with the cutout 'theatre' image, I cannot complain. The sound and atmospheric design is very well done. And most importantly, the horror is
executed amazingly. But this is where the 4-minute limit becomes a hit-or-miss situation.
There are quite a number of times where the fast pace actually helps. There is literally no time for draggy or slow exposition or set-ups (all of which are handled concisely and without halting the progression of story), and every episode almost instantly dives right in. The suspense is amazing. And there are undoubtedly one or two episodes which were just right, and might have in fact been ruined if they had added even a minute more. But there is mostly where all the advantages of using 4 minutes shine – the build up.
On the other hand, more often than not, the fright is cut off so anticlimactically and abruptly, that you're left with less of a horrified "oh my god" and more of a genuinely confused "what the fuck". Unless that was their goal, since it is half the reason why you're so compelled to watch the next one, because you feel the need to satisfy all the unreleased tension. But if this was the point, then why wouldn't they just make an anthological movie? I understand that every episode is meant for just one quick scare, but that's 10 seconds after 3 and a half minutes of really, really good set up and anticipation; it almost feels as if they're pulling punches.
Perhaps what makes it frustrating is that it is very obvious that the staff involved are very good at what they do, and that they have the potential create a fantastic horror anime. They evidently understand how to make an atmosphere creepy, and not pretentiously so. For instance, many horror filmmakers use mannequins without necessity, simply throwing out the mascot of the uncanny valley simply because people are creeped out. Yami Shibai uses it once, and they use it oh so beautifully. And the fact that they can create such suspense for characters that the viewer hardly has time to become invested in or care about speaks volumes.
I can't say restricting them to 4 minutes is wasted potential, because it is a very difficult task – so if anything they had to work even harder for it. But they were given the freedom to lay down something spectacular without prohibition, it would be phenomenal.
Let’s take a look at some of the best horror anime ever, featuring all the scary elements a horror story should have - death, zombies, ghosts, gore, tragedy, the paranormal, and more! So clear your schedule, call over some friends, switch off the lights, grab the popcorn and prepare to be terrified!