Anime and ‘the uncanny’: case studies on Shiki and Another

Creepy. Even if you’ve only seen the opening episodes of Shiki (Autumn, 2010) or Another (Winter, 2012), the chances are that you’ll have noticed the distinctly creepy atmosphere in both series. Clearly, these are horror shows, but I think that both particularly excel (albeit, in differing degrees) at creating and sustaining genuinely unsettling feelings within the viewer. Thus, out of all the horror, mystery and thriller shows to air over the past year or so, just what is it about Shiki and Another that makes them – along with the hairs on the back of our necks – stand out?

I guess it would help if we first clarified what we mean by ‘creepy’, in order to then see how Shiki and Another stand up against such definitions, as well as looking at other ways in which these two shows achieve their effects. Thankfully, Freud has already written an essay, ‘The Uncanny’¹, which explores such feelings in aesthetic works, which may prove useful in providing an initial framework for our exploration. Focussing on contemporary stories and novels as well as referring to myths, fairy tales and some of his psychological case studies, the piece begins by tracing definitions and root meanings of the word ‘unheimlich’ (in the original German, literally ‘unhomely’, but in most English translations ‘uncanny’) and its synonyms in a variety of languages, before moving on to identify common features of works that evoke such feelings of creepiness or ‘unanny-ness’.

These features and related feelings often include or concern: anything that ‘arouses dread and horror [and] fear’; ‘on the one hand… what is familiar and agreeable, and on the other, what is concealed’; ‘doubts [about] whether an apparently animate being is really alive… or whether a lifeless object might not be animate’; ‘epileptic fits and manifestations of insanity’; ‘the fear of damaging or losing one’s eyes’; ‘the “double”’; ‘involuntary repetition [and the] fateful and inescapable’; ‘something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression’; ‘something which ought to have remained hidden but has come to light’; ‘death and dead bodies, the return of the dead, spirits and ghosts’; ‘a living person as uncanny… when we ascribe evil intentions [or] special powers’ to him; ‘the idea of being buried alive’; and ‘silence, solitude and darkness’². Freud concludes his essay by comparing the uncanny ‘irl’ with the uncanny in fiction, observing with regards to reality that ‘What is experienced as uncanny is conditioned but comprises far fewer instances… and can be traced back without exception to something familiar that has been repressed’, and saying of the imagined experience that ‘the storyteller has a peculiarly directive power…’³. While the above is not exactly a definitive ‘check-list’, I feel that Shiki and Another seem to use a lot of the features that Freud identifies about works that arouse uncanny emotions, and so the remainder of this post will explore how the two series fit in with the above ideas concerning the uncanny and what is so unique about the creation of an unsettling atmosphere in each show.

Shiki: eyes, small towns, living burials, vampires and Dat Hair

Shiki spent ages setting the scene and building tension in its opening episodes and, while some may have complained about what they perceived as an initial slow pace, I think that this steady creation of a relentlessly unnerving atmosphere is one of the show’s many strengths. Sotoba’s small town, everybody-knows-everybody’s-business and God-forbid-you-should-dress-differently-or-think-you’re-better-than-the-rest-of-us vibe starts off as fairly harmless at best, and mildly irritating at worst, depending on whether or not you’re more of a Toshio or a Megumi. However, the air soon turns distinctly claustrophobic, watchful and utterly creeptastic. The small population of the ever-gazing and gossiping Sotobans alone is a good example of how a ‘familiar’ or homely place can become over-familiar or ‘alienating’, as Freud puts it, to the point of feeling stifling and threatening, and this is long before the vampires turn up.

This is evident in the way that several characters who have grown up or spent a large chunk of their lives in Sotoba feel about the place, such as the aforementioned Megumi, and also Natsuno and Kaori, who respectively mention feeling unable to express themselves (pink-haired Megumi, the big fashionista in a small pond), a longing to return to city life with all its superior tech and mod-cons (blue-haired Natsuno, the resentful Tokyoite, also Megumi’s stalkee), and as if they are being buried alive (normal-haired Kaori, poor self-appointed BFF to Megumi). Though arguably not as dynamic a character as some of the others, Kaori’s feelings and fears of being emotionally buried alive (following Megumi’s funeral, episode 2) are accompanied by one of the most striking motifs in Shiki, that of eyes, which of course gains greater significance once a certain group of red-orbed nocturnal beasties attack. Thus, despite the more obviously gruesome goings on later in the show, these early episodes with their references to feeling alienated, repressed, watched, stalked and buried alive do well to (begin to) convey that there is something highly uncanny about the world of Shiki, or, at the very least, the feeling that there’s something not quite right…

In addition to the quiet intensity of its unsettling opening, Shiki maintains the tension and creepy moments in a number of other ways, namely through its death and transformation scenes, but also through the way it depicts deceptively quiet scenes that seem just as horrific. For example: when Tohru is attacked and Natsuno wonders if it was just a dream (when Megumi comes after Tohru in his bedroom while Natsuno is staying over in episode 4); to the way that other characters suffer more violent attacks, but often the camera cuts away and leaves you to imagine the worst (such as when the former librarian vampire whose name I can’t recall jumps from the tree to (understandably) attack the horrible Masao at the end of episode 5); to the way that some of the townsfolk laugh, chatter and eat together, while covered in blood and handling twitching vampire bodies (episode 21). Clearly, the show’s descent into a habitual bloodbath in the final arc is unnerving enough to witness with its abundance of blood, vampires, half-crazed townsfolk and mounting bodies, but it’s this juxtaposition of the monsters’ behaviour with the humans’ capacity for their own monstrous deeds that also strikes a jarring chord, which may be uncomfortable because it highlights just how easily a sleepy, homely place and its inhabitants can become so desperate, violent and grotesque.

Another: eye-patches, crap weather, dolls, destiny and DEATH

Another, from the current season, was swift to establish its horror themes through the use of background and character designs and references to curses and unexplained deaths. And by ‘establish’, I mean, ‘bash us over the head with’. Yes, even though you might not think that creepy dolls are that creepy after you’ve seen them being flashed at you for the Nth time, the animation and palette is detailed and stunning and, especially when coupled with some very nifty camera angles, often incredibly effective at creating feelings of dread and isolation. Freud would be pleased indeed with how efficiently familiar and ‘safe’ places such as schools and hospitals come to feel so sinister, as is evident in those scenes featuring the gloomily-lit elevators and corridors of the hospital and the vast empty space of the school rooftop with that glowering grey and mauve-tinted sky overhead. I mentioned dolls above, and this brings me to the doll-like Misaki, who is the main focus of the first few episodes. Indeed, the show takes ages (and I mean ages) to confirm what the mystery is regarding Miss Eye-Patch, and it’s this ambiguity surrounding whether or not she’s even alive that is the hook that draws us in to the story and makes you stick around and want to find out just what the hell is going on in Class 3 and in this town.

Unfortunately, despite her vaguely sinister monologuing (or perhaps because of it), I just don’t find Misaki’s deadpan pretention that interesting or alluring. However, that doesn’t mean our generic bland male lead can’t fall head over heels for her! To be fair though, I might also be tempted to stalk Misaki to find out whether she’s actually alive or not if she was in my class, and her resemblance to those disconcertingly life-like dolls is pretty unsettling, and that’s probably to do with what Freud mentions regarding doubt about how alive or not an object or person may be as a feature of the uncanny factor.

Finally, regarding that curse: we have, in more recent episodes of course, learned a lot more about The Curse of Class 3, and this raises the idea of repetition, the inescapable, repression and the directive power of the storyteller as other factors in evoking uncanny elements. So far, the deaths in Another appear to be as random as they have been grisly (with the exception of the school teacher, whose actions were premeditated). Thus, coupled with the threat of them continuing unless the curse is somehow broken, the series of gruesome events that are now in full swing in the latter part of the series is clearly accompanied by feelings of anxiety and dread. So, unless that pesky amnesia that’s also afflicting Misaki and co. clears up, it looks like the curse will probably claim a few more victims before the season is over, which would naturally raise the creep factor even higher until the show’s climax and denouement.

Final thoughts

To conclude, Shiki and Another each do very well to create a unique atmosphere and convey an intriguing narrative with satisfying horror elements, though I believe that Shiki does it much better. Aside from the connections with Freud’s theories, let’s not forget that both shows also succeed for the most part in sustaining the audience’s interest and desire to know what happens next (or should that be, who dies next), as well as habitually creeping us out. Given the number of shows out there that are bursting with supernatural elements such as death, ghosts, vampires, youkai, gods and demons, I thus feel that Shiki and Another are noteworthy additions to the horror genre that have the added impact of making their audiences feel genuinely and habitually on edge throughout the process of watching and otherwise enjoying the ride. Or, in other words…

Tl; dr? Watch Shiki. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. ;)

 

Notes:

¹ S. Freud, ‘The Uncanny’ (1919), in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XVII (1917-1919): An Infantile Neurosis and Other Works, pp. 217-256. Also available online here.
² ‘The Uncanny’, pp. 219-246.
³ ‘The Uncanny’, pp. 248 and 251.

This entry was posted in Another, Current, Editorials, Shiki. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

26 Comments

  1. Bob from Accounting
    Posted March 6, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    I still haven’t watched Shiki. I need to get to that.

    Hmm, the last time I was truly frightened by anime/manga was my recent catch-up on the Claymore manga. It contains what may be the single most disturbing monster design in the history of ever. (NSFW) http://i995.mangareader.net/claymore/120/claymore-2780659.jpg
    I mean, what the hell is THAT? (Btw, there are little heads on the ends of the tentacles that you can’t see, just to make it worse).

    • Posted March 9, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      I still haven’t watched Claymore. Perhaps I need to do the same.

      Re: Dat Pic… Well, I bet Freud would have had a field day with that. I wonder if you were more disturbed, as opposed to frightened, though (despite the montrousness, it nonetheless looks like a lithe naked female form), which makes me wonder if any of the Claymore beasties are meant to be seductive (e.g. as vampires are often traditionally portrayed), or just straight-up scary…

    • Posted March 10, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      Bob, you need to watch Shiki pronto! It’s one of the best horror shows out there.

      Also, Hana, don’t watch the anime. It’s slow as hell. Manga is much better.

  2. whatsht
    Posted March 6, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    I liked both Shiki and Another. To me, the sudden changes in characters are actually quite uncanny. As shown in the first arc of Higurashi, we see the characters change and the results.
    The opening song is important when you set the mood, a creepy song can be unnerving but a happy song can be used to trick the audience.

    • Posted March 9, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      I haven’t seen Higurashi, but what you say about the opening song is interesting – gosh, how could I forget to mention Buck-Tick’s awesome first OP for Shiki?! In contrast, I thought Another‘s OP is a bit OTT for this job. However, I’ll add that, as you suggest, the soundtrack is defo another significant factor in establishing mood.

  3. Posted March 6, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    I can’t get into Another, it keeps shooting itself in the foot by being incredibility unsubtle and hilariously OTT, so I end up laughing at the show instead……which completely kills any feeling of unease or chills I may otherwise have experienced. It almost seems like the creators have a checklist of things that are established as being unnerving, and are just trying to fit as many of them in as humanly possible without paying any heed to the flow of the show. The soundtrack and direction are just too heavy handed.

    By stark contrast I was frequently on the edge of my seat watching Shiki and a number of episodes completely creeped me out. Shiki spent a lot of time cranking up the tension, building a stifling atmosphere in Sotoba, before taking off the brakes and watching the entire town self destruct. The direction and soundtrack were sublime, and Shiki was deft enough to give the viewer time to really stew over things before giving us answers.

    Another has all the elements that a good horror show should have, it just completely fails to pull them together the way Shiki did so wonderfully.

    • Posted March 9, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      Subtlety is certainly not Another‘s forte, so I can see why you dropped it within the opening episode(s). I probably would’ve done the same if I hadn’t been intrigued by the mood and set-up to continue, and then after certain events in epi 3/4 I’m now committed to seeing it through to the end (it also helps that it’s only one cour, perhaps), so I’ll see if I would recommend it as a good show overall or not until it’s completed. Shiki is defo the superior of the two shows, and also like what you say about the use of time and (delayed) answers; a great way to build up and maintain tension indeed.

      • Posted March 10, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

        I haven’t dropped Another – still watching it, but now treating it as a comedy since I can not take it seriously as horror.

        • Posted March 11, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

          Lol/ groan – not quite the same, but that makes me think of the phrase ‘train wreck TV’. Or rather, ‘boat wreck’… *ba dam psh!*

  4. Dein
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 2:56 am | Permalink

    Disclaimer: Horror shows are usually well outside of my sphere of interests, and I started watching both Shiki and Another for completely misguided reasons.

    Chihaya aside, Another is the only other ongoing show Im following, mostly because I have a soft spot for PA works. I liked it at first, but as it progressed, it started to seem like it’s trying far too hard. It does a good job setting up the stage, but once the smoke screen that is Miaski’s mysterious nature is removed, the main “horror” seems to be surprisingly bland. Kinda like Misaki was the only glue holding the other creepy elements together, like the hospitals, schools, dolls and ancient desks with menacing words on them. It tries to keep the eerines alive by showing the “countermeasures” team being all secretive and reluctant to share any real info, but while logically I can see where they’re coming from, the end result looks more likea group of kindergardeners being all giddy about sharing a secret the new kid doesn’t know and milking it for all its worth. Despite all that, the show still delivers a pretty cool atmosphere.

    As for Shiki, I remember giving it a shot because, for some completelyuknown reason, I was expecting a vampire-themed show in the same key as Tsukihime, but that wasn’t really the case. The eyes were a really cool theme, and I got the impression that the show was at its scariest when there was literally nothing going on and one of the characters was just being “watched”. I eventually dropped it after 4 or 5 episodes, but after reading your entry on it, I might give it another shot.

    • Posted March 9, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      Oh, I hope you do; Shiki swiftly became one of my favourite shows, and I’m not exactly much of a horror fan either (squeamish + overactive imagination = Hana gets freaked out easily).

      As you suggest, Another‘s main flaws are to do with the character interaction, and the overacting in those early episodes, but I guess it says a lot about a show that still keeps you watching it based mainly on the visuals and atmosphere (the power of anime I guess, lol). Hopefully, Misaki stil has a few impressive secrets to reveal… We’ll see, I guess…

      Not familiar with Tsukihime, but you’re right in the way that things were pretty terrifying when nothing was (yet) going on… as well as when all hell breaks loose later of course, but I’ll leave you to descover and enjoy the ride if and when you do decide to return to it.

  5. Razzler
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    I had high hopes for Shiki to be super scary since the last anime adaptation of Fuyumi Ono’s work, Ghost Hunt, really gave me nightmares especially File 7:Bloodstained Labyrinth but alas, I was greatly disappointed. Besides the same scenes you pointed out, I found the series to be such a bore. Emotionally, it didn’t evoke any kind of fear or creepiness but frustration. FRUSTRATION!!!For a town full of busybodies, how can they be so naive and ignorant to their surroundings? How can they not believe that an Undead was true when the town had an urban legend regarding said Undeads?It’s like their traditions and beliefs when poof when the Shikis came. And don’t get me started on Seichin. That bastard! (>x<!). I consider Shiki more as a psychological thriller-drama rather than a horror anime.

    Anyway, haven't seen Another yet but based from reviews, it has great sound effects so we'll see.

    • skeine
      Posted March 9, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      I second the incredible creep factor from Ghost Hunt’s “Bloodstained Labyrinth” arc. I find it difficult to find animated horror genuinely frightening — it’s the wrong medium for the genre. But that arc pulled it off in spades.

      • Posted March 9, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        Looks like another one to add to my To Watch list – cheers, both of you!

      • Razzler
        Posted March 10, 2012 at 7:31 am | Permalink

        @skeine: Totally loved that arc! It was awesome. You should read the manga. Even there, Bloodstained Labyrinth was scary and the very last arc of Ghost Hunt was especially creepy too. YOU. SHOULD. DEFINITELY. READ.IT. NOW! NOW! naaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwrrraaaaaaaaaawwwrrr!

        • skeine
          Posted March 10, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

          After a directive like that, how can I not? Will do.

    • Posted March 9, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      I consider Shiki more as a psychological thriller-drama rather than a horror anime.

      I think that’s a fair observation, as I haven’t seen enough straight-up horror shows to say otherwise. What you say about boredom I can understand if you weren’t gripped by the tension and pace as a package, but what you say about frustration is interesting; in a way, it seems like they deserved what happened to them… Lol/ groan re: Seichin, though I was more disappointed with Natsuno… though, that’s all I’d better say for fear of spoiling stuff, hehe.

      • Razzler
        Posted March 10, 2012 at 7:20 am | Permalink

        I was more disappointed with Natsuno

        Oh, I forgot about him. All the time he was being an emo about Touru Mutou and vice versa, my thought balloons were filled by this: http://i2.kym-cdn.com/entries/icons/original/000/008/910/ultra-gay.png

        And I found him really stupid. If he wanted to end all Shikis, he should have made sure that all Shikis were dead and not go all macho with Tatsumi while Seishin and Sunako were having their moment.

        But I did enjoy Shiki a little bit. I especially love the clothes. I felt like I was watching the Fashion Police. The best ones were glitter-Lady Gaga Chiriko, Natsuno’s pink shoes, white shorts jumper of Tatsumi, well all of Tatsumi’s outfits. And most especially, those hairs. I was rooting for Ricchan not to die. Why did she have to die when she had that hair. Seriously?!

        Anyway, you should definitely watch Ayakashi and Mononoke too. There was also one anime where they tell you about an urban legend in Japan and they tell you that anyone who sees a representation of that legend will also see the ghost but I forgot the title. That sure gave me the creeps. Hehehe. >:)

        • Razzler
          Posted March 10, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

          And most especially, those hairs. FAIL!! Sorry ’bout that. Should be: And most especially, those hairstyles.

          X( WTH the edit button?!

        • Posted March 11, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

          Oh, I forgot about him

          You know, I think I read somewhere that Natsuno dies (as in, stays dead) in the original source material, which might explain why he wasn’t as dynamic a character as we would’ve hoped he’d be in the final arcs of the anime.

          Damn, how could I forget to mention Dem Outfits as well as Dat Hair?! Seriously though, I thought the character designs were also great in conveying the more surreal side of the uncanny in Shiki. Though, yes, Ritsuko and her hair were just awesome. Re: Ayakashi and Mononoke – duly noted (thanks!).

  6. CriticalMass
    Posted March 9, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Shiki? Seriously, Shiki?

    That show is overrated. Highly overrated. Razzler said most of my thoughts best. Shiki is much less a horror anime and much more of a thriller. Your mileage may vary when it comes to how well it does either of those. Besides the moment where Megumi crawls out from under the bed, I didn’t find it creepy at all. The terrible character design probably didn’t help.

    For my money, Shiki lets the cat out of the bag much too early with its mystery and just drags its feet for a good ten or twelve episodes. I just got frustrated waiting for the townsfolk to catch up to where I was. I realize that fictional characters have to be a bit behind, what with being unable to see the full perspective like the viewer, but it shouldn’t take them four or five episodes to get to a basic idea.

    I have to say I was not impressed with Shiki’s attempts to “build tension” either. They either took too long to come to fruition or just ended up a complete anti-climax.

    I’d say Another is the superior horror show, the one that really hits you with the fear that OMG SOMETHING’S GONNA HAPPEN!!, though the last episodes have lost a bit of steam. Still, those dream sequences, those dream sequences, man.

    (side note: Another’s OP is not great. At all. I’ve gotten more used to it but I don’t think it works. )

    • Posted March 11, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

      I take it you’re not a Shiki fan, then.

      Shiki is much less a horror anime and much more of a thriller

      Good point; I guess the more overt/ traditional horror elements are so delayed that, by default, it might seem more of a thriller overall. Is that also why you’d say Another is the superior horror show, or do you (also) mean it’s the superior show overall? I guess what makes me reluctant to view it in a better light is the fact that it’s not very subtle (like, as you suggest, the OP), but I can see why some would see that as both a plus and a minus, given the context.

      • CriticalMass
        Posted March 12, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        Delayed?

        I see it oppositely. It seemed to me that Shiki tried the “traditional horror” route in the first five episodes or so, then completely gave up on that for the rest of the run.

        To me, horror and mystery are intertwined. A good horror has a sense of mystery. A good horror keeps you off-balance and never quite lets you into what’s going on until it begins ramping up the tension for the climax. I’d say Jaws is a good example of this kind of idea. You see very little of the shark. It’s the paranoia that it’s there, waiting for something.

        Shiki fails at this almost immediately. You know it’s vampires by the second episode, if you didn’t know going in. It’s letting the cat out of the bag in a major way. There’s no tension left, no mystery to follow. Shiki’s attempt at tension is to repeatedly kill off secondary characters (you could probably make this argument with Another as well but work with me on this one). But, since the audience already knows what the characters don’t, they are more likely to cheer for stupid people getting killed than to feel any real sympathy for them.

        There seems to be two schools of horror: don’t tell the audience anything (Another) and tell the audience everything (Shiki). I think the problem with the second is that it doesn’t ask the audience to invest in the characters like the first school does.

        It seems a bit unfair to judge Another too much on its OP. To be honest, I find Shiki’s OP extremely overrated. There was one (visual) moment in each OP that I thought “oh, cool” and then skipped it the rest of the time. Even the music seems to be trying too hard to elevate itself in a way the show just can’t live up to. For my money, Higurashi’s openings do a great job at really setting you up for some crazy/creepy stuff to go down.

        All in all, I’d say Another is the superior horror show in general (something I could probably argue) and probably the superior show overall (that’s a matter of opinion).

  7. Posted March 10, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Good observations, Hana. Horror is a hard genre for 2D because it’s already not real so you don’t really feel the horror or the creepiness factor. And I would be with Cara on Another front. I’m just unable to feel attached to it and I don’t only blame that IDIOTIC, CHEEE CHALK ON BOARD ALI PROJECT OP, but the presentation as well. I’m just not digging the random doll images when some of them could have been creepy if placed correctly.

    However, Shiki was an experience in itself. And personally, I liked the hairstyles and the unique character designs rather than the usual norm because seriously moe doesn’t work well with horror and maybe the reason Another doesn’t attract me because of it’s slice of life-ish character design (I swear, I’m watching another HanaIro with murders). Though P.A Works is learning the genre and is improving as the episodes go; Shiki on the other hand had everything going for it. From it’s creepy BGM to camera angles and the agony the shikis faced. What really pulled me in the inhuman behaviour by humans and seeing the other side of the mirror with the survival of the fittest.

    • Posted March 11, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      Horror is a hard genre for 2D because it’s already not real so you don’t really feel the horror or the creepiness factor.

      I guess we’re so used to seeing fake blood etc. in anime, that you do have to be especially clever with the visuals and/ or other ways of suggesting things to create fear, as opposed to just shock/ nausea. For example, as you mention, those life-like dolls could’ve been used so much better, too.

      Your specific comparisons re: the character designs are also interesting. Perhaps in Another they should be even more realistic (as opposed to SoL) or ‘gritty’, or the other/ another extreme like Shiki (Dat Masao *shudders again remembering*). And yes, seeing the human’s behviour become more and more unfamiliar and questionable was definitely fascinating. Thanks, Kyo!

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

It sounds like SK2 has recently been updated on this blog. But not fully configured. You MUST visit Spam Karma's admin page at least once before letting it filter your comments (chaos may ensue otherwise).

Current day month ye@r *

AWSOM Powered