Updated: Jan 14
My introduction to Japanese animation was through Studio Ghibli’s Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind (1984), or as a kid in Canada it was known as, Warriors of the Wind. It follows the trials and tribulations of Nausicaa, the Princess of the Valley of the Wind, who goes up against greedy leaders from other lands who attempt to exert control over them. Nausicaa is a nature and animal loving pacifist (though in the manga she is a war hero/leader!) who is also fiercely independent and loyal to her family and village. There is very little murder and mayhem in this film, like all other Studio Ghibli releases, as these are typically targeted towards younger audiences. I also watched Sailor Moon (1992) as a pre-teen when it was released to North America in 1995. Over the years I have watched some other wholesome, heart warming releases from Studio Ghibli, and anime classics like Akira (1988) and Fist of the North Star (1986), but it’s not a medium I regularly sit down with.
So, for Taboo Terrors this month I wanted to find the nastiest, most violent and disturbing anime to broaden my horizons. I watched Corpse Party: Tortured Souls (2013), RIN: Daughters of Mnemosyne (2008), Elfen Lied (2002-2005), Genocyber (1994), and Violence Jack (1986-1990).
Is animated violence easier to watch than live action? This is a topic that interests me. In horror films, we can suspend our disbelief in watching these terrifying narratives unfold in front of our eyes because in the back of our minds we acknowledge that it is fake. Despite how realistic the blood and gore can become, we still know that it’s props, corn syrup and convincing acting (sometimes). Yet, for some, it’s still very challenging for them to witness carnage as it pushes our boundaries of comfort. In extreme horror anime, there is a copious amount of bloody violence and body horror. The human body in animation becomes a spectacle of disarray and excess. It veers into the realm of abject dread with infinite options for representing the body -- also death and life -- due to the unlimited medium of animation. There are never-ending possibilities that are not hindered by budgetary constraints. Both the writers and animators can go wild and create the most imaginative, and disturbing, imagery.
These animated TV series and films explore the depths of our physicality; of pure pleasure, pain and visceral responses, whether it be mental or physical arousal. Extreme anime like Elfen Lied and RIN: Daughters of the Mnemosyne juxtaposes horror, violence, mutilation and gore with nudity and sexuality, producing conflicting (but enjoyable) physical responses (laughing, screaming, shielding our eyes, cringing, stimulation/orgasm). These are memorable and pleasurable. Abjection, though reviled, is fascinating and scratches our morbid curiosity as human beings. Reactions to abjection are disgust, nausea, sweating, and discomfort because we are confronted with something that threatens to upset our delicate sensibilities and the distinction between self and other. It repels yet intrigues us, and this occurs in the darkest depths of Japanese anime. It challenges the idea that the human body is limited in its abilities; it’s forbidden, taboo and breaks our bodily boundaries, and this deeply unnerves us.
So, how did the films and shows I watched measure up? Were they truly disturbing? Here is what I watched (in order):
Corpse Party: Tortured Souls
This is a four episode run based off a video game (Corpse Party) and is a supernatural horror about a group of teenagers in a high school falling victim to a haunted elementary school. It’s ghastly horror with graphic kills and a high body count. There’s disembowelment, decapitations, suicide, maggots and entrails. Best of all was the first anime to portray tentacles! It's an action-packed, whirlwind of a movie whose pacing is lightning fast. Seriously, if you blink you will miss something The plot is confusing and by the end I still didn't really know what was going on, but that didn't stop ch adds even more zaniness to the over the top acting.
2. RIN: Daughters of Mnemosyne
Otherwise known as just Mnemosyne, this six episode series includes immortals (only women), Angels (not the Christian kind, only men), breasts and some average kills. There are snippets of more disturbing imagery but it lasts for mere moments, unfortunately. I was surprised to see how tame this was compared to Corpse Party: Tortured Souls. Mnemosyne was described online as portraying "grotesque and erotic imagery", but what it lacks in the grotesque it makes up with heaving bosoms, hairless vulvas and moaning women. There is nudity, sex (lots of cunnilingus), torture, mutilation, coerced sex/rape and surgical horror. I enjoyed this series more than Corpse Party due to the animation and storyline, but its concept of the women becoming strong & immortal yet absolutely incapable of controlling their lust when the male Angels are around was...unfortunate.
3. Elfen Lied
Based on a manga written by Lynn Okamoto, Elfen Lied is a 13 part series centered around a new species of mutated humans called Diclonii. Most Diclonii are women, with the show portraying only TWO male Diclonii hellbent on repopulating the world with their kind, retroactively destroying the human race as we know it. The main Diclonii is Lucy/Nyu who was to be the “Eve to the new human race” (not consensually). Elfen Lied is a heavy hitting show (with a beautiful theme song), not only with its violence, but its emotional power. It contains scenes of dismembering, loads of blood, decapitations, child murder, animal abuse/death, attempted rape and pe due to the animation and storyline, but its concept of the women becoming strong & immortal yet absolutely incapable of controlling their lust wh is not for the faint of heart, less because of the graphic violence (for which there is a lot of!), moreso because of the scenes of powerful young women/girls in captivity, dominated and controlled by men, held in bodily and mental restraints. And, of course, the explicit pedophilia. Watchers beware! I thoroughly enjoyed this one and it’s been the most unsettling and affecting of the anime I have watched thus far.
I was happy to finally watch something from the 1990s as the animation style (like 1980s anime) is up my alley. Generally the style is more aesthetically pleasing to me, but it's more so because the people look like human beings and less like caricatures of human beings and stepping into The Uncanny Valley. Fun fact: Genocyber was the first anime to portray tentacles! It's an action-packed, whirlwind of a movie whose pacing is lightning fast. Seriously, if you blink you will miss something. The plot is confusing and by the end I still didn't really know what was going on, but that didn't stop Genocyber from being a hugely compelling series. It's filled with blood, guts, intestines, eyes being blown out of heads, spines ripped out, executions, graphic child murder, assault (physical and sexual), child nudity, demons and cyborgs! It's everything a girl who loves extreme horror could want in an anime. The creature / cyborg / demon design was awesome! Genocyber ends up being more of a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future, sci-fi, cyberpunk horror, over straight up spooky horror. With all of that being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It's violent, exhilarating, and grim AF.
5. Violence Jack
This series is rude, crude and full of attitude! It’s a delicious blend of 1980s animation, Hong Kong action films and gritty 1970s exploitation films. Violence Jack started out as a manga in the 1970s, with stories from the books being turned into three OVAs (Original Video Animation): Harem Bomber (1986), Evil Town (1988), and Hell’s Wind (1990). Evil Town was banned in Australia due to its highly controversial content, which, now that I have watched it, I could understand; Evil Town is balls to the wall carnage - graphic rape scenes, vaginal impalement, hack n slashed children, and lots of violence and death. Harem Bomber has scenes of human trafficking, rape, abuse, and torture. Hell’s Wind is rape-revenge light and the least engaging episode out of the three. There are hangings, rape, and torture. Violence Jack is a saucy series and now I want to track down all the manga! According to Wikipedia, Violence Jack is not only known for it’s scandalous subject matter, but is credited with creating the post-apocalyptic manga and anime genre. This is one nasty anime!
So is animated violence and horror different then live action? Can it be as impactful? Can it be scary? I really think it can be. In portraying controversial content and imagery, anime is “flat”; it’s a 2D medium and is very “unreal”. But, it’s also a more surreal, stimulating, dynamic medium, and what it might lack in building suspense or atmosphere, it makes up for with being energetic, fast paced, and action packed with diverse, multi-layered story lines. It showcases a true spectacle of the human condition.
The speed in which the violence takes place within the framework of the medium is vastly different than live action. There are swift movements of foreground images and oftentimes they are intercut with slower moving images so the audience can take it all in. There are explicit close ups, slow motion, and also moments of levity where the pace slows down to focus (and linger) on a particular image. To those squeamish to the content, it can remain in their minds, haunting them. Animation in itself lacks context in our 3D world, therefore they are seen as outside of the “real” or the tangible world as we know it.
When it comes to Taboo Terrors in the world of anime, it can truly make all of our nightmares come true in a brilliant 24 frames per second.
Reference: Cutting Edge: Violence and Body Horror in Anime Caroline Ruddell