The dark and brooding Ayakashi is composed of three horror stories: the narration of a young woman named Oiwa who was abandoned and betrayed by the one she truly loved, leading her to curse all who stood in her way; a story of two star-crossed lovers – a human and a forgotten god – and their struggle to have a future together; and the tale of an evil and malicious demon who is haunting and murdering a family for unknown purposes. Though different in animation style and tone, each story shares a similar theme: the darkness of the human heart.
StoryOh boy... anything in the horror genre, let alone something that blatantly has "horror" in the title, is a must see for sothis. Luckily, with Ayakashi, it wasn’t a disappointment. Ayakashi, in the same vein as Memories or Cockpit, is a collection of three unrelated stories that all fit into a certain genre; in this case, horror. Though the title boasts "traditional Japanese horror", only the first of the three tales is based on a real Japanese horror story. They are, however, told in a traditional narration style and draw thematic elements from Japanese horror stories. It’s hard to review something which has three very separate stories, so I’ll break down each section by story. The first tale tells the story of Oiwa, a legend in Japan (and was a real person). Though virtuous and good-hearted, her husband Iemon is bored with her and ends up betraying her; but not until Oiwa is horrendously scarred due to malevolent interventions. The narration tells of her eventual death and cursing of anyone who treated her unkindly. Out of the three stories, this one was probably my least favorite; but, I still enjoyed it. It is four episodes long and the pacing is definitely a bit slow. Though the overall story ends up being dark and satisfying, it does take quite a long time (and quite a lot of patience) to see it through. People just starting out with Ayakashi might be bored and drop the series completely; in my opinion this would be a mistake. In general though, a nice dark tale of revenge, and I was glad to see historical elements (that are still based in legend in Japan) as well. The second tale is about a young man and a forgotten god (well, goddess) who fall in love. I enjoyed this arc quite a bit, as it is a little (but not much) more upbeat, has a happier ending, and is gorgeous in the animation department. Though also four episodes in length, I thought the pacing was far more appropriate and kept my attention the whole way through. Like the first tale, this one ends up being quite dark and involves a great deal of death; but hey, what’s a good horror series without some good old fashioned death? The third tale is definitely the clear winner of the "most messed up story this year" award. It tells of an evil spirit who is haunting a certain family, and only a medicine seller can help shield them from its wrath. In my opinion other sites spoil this arc in their basic descriptions of the series. So, just keep in mind that this arc is about an evil spirit, period. It was this arc that caused a friend to recommend me to watch the series. At first, I was very skeptical, as episode 9 (the first episode of this arc) is a little strange. Combine that with very odd animation and a very unusual way of telling the story, and you risk losing the viewer for a number of reasons. Luckily, episode 10 quickly turns from so-so to completely badass, and it’s all downhill from there. The story is shocking and dark, and has the most impact. I highly enjoyed this arc, and would recommend it for fans of Hundred Stories or Mermaid’s Forest (if you’ve seen this and agree, go on and make recommendations in the database!). A word of caution: if you are watching the fansubs, GG’s version, at the time of this review there is a major translation error in the third arc which in my opinion ruins the viewing of that arc (I was confused the whole time until the error was pointed out to me). For more information check out the FQC section in the forum. AnimationAs with the story, each story has its own animation style. The first story’s animation, like the plot, is probably the least impressive. Though gorgeous, especially in the scenery shots with falling snow or sunsets, the rough-looking character designs gave it an older feel which clashed a little with the gorgeous backdrops. The second arc is absolutely stunning with brilliant pastels and pretty (both male and female) characters. The depiction of the forgotten gods’ transformations was very well done. 100% satisfied with its animation. The third story has very... bizarre animation. Imagine Gankutsou, but a lot more abstract. The entire series of episodes is filled with odd camera angles and different ways of "filming" it. It really is an experience to watch, especially once the demon comes into play. Unique and interesting, just a little hard to get into at first. One additional thing I wanted to point out is that in the first arc, real video footage is mixed with animation. This, for the most part, was only in the historical scenes where the narrator was explaining how the legend of Oiwa is still around in today’s society. SoundThe music definitely lives up to the "classic" adjective in the series’ title. With the exception of the intro song (which is an odd mix of traditional sounds and rap), all of the music sounds very traditional and fits well with the stories. The outro, unlike the intro, also sounds very traditional. All of the seiyuu did a good job with their parts. Not much to complain about here.CharactersIn all three stories, the characters are wonderfully developed (especially the first two stories). We are truly shown the dark side of humanity, and the corrupt characters show off this point nicely. The third arc is the most marginal for character development, mostly because only a few of the characters are introduced in detail (and we are left with a lot of unknown information). My favorite characters were probably the forgotten gods with their transformations from beautiful women to scary demons. OverallNot quite an 8, Ayakashi overall delivers what it advertises: horror. If I was rating this score on story 3 alone, it would probably be higher. Nevertheless, each of these tales is dark and interesting, and will appeal to fans of horror. Folks who enjoy traditional music as well, or want to see a real life legend, will also enjoy Ayakashi. All I’d suggest is if you are bored with the first arc, fast forward to episode 5. Each story is completely separate so you won’t be missing out on anything special, and you might find the other two stories more up your alley. Why, then, did I rate this a 7.8 when all the above scores are over 8? Though it’s a good series, it definitely didn’t capture my attention enough (except story 3) to warrant a higher score. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s no Mermaid’s Forest or Hundred Stories. Still, a nice and recent horror series that I enjoyed watching; maybe you will too.
Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror/Samurai Horror Tales is a horror anthology of three unrelated stories: Yotsuya Kaidan, Tenshu Monogatari, and Bakeneko, the third of which received a far more successful spinoff in the form of Mononoke. Each arc was done by a different, and then-unknown director, though the director of the third, Kenji Nakamura, went on to make the critically acclaimed series "Mononoke" and "Trapeze" (He also made [C], though that fails to fall into the previous category). This review will mostly be split up into the three arcs. (NOTE: The R1 release of this series switched the first and second arcs around. This will be listed in the original order).Arc 1 - Yotsuya Kaidan (episodes 1-4)Yotsuya Kaidan (Yotsuya Ghost Story) is a story based on someone who died in horrific circumstances, due to being wronged by pretty much everybody around her, and manifests as a vengeful spirit, laying a curse on all those responsible. This tale is actually told as a story within a story, as narrated by a scriptwriter adapting it into a play.This arc happens to be the only one based on an actual Japanese tale, but that doesn't lend it many favours. It begins on very bad footing, the key reason for it being this: The characters actions make insanely little sense. Every character is a stunningly terrible person with absolutely no train. of reasoning to follow. They could not be more one-dimensional if they tried. This was obviously an attempt to make us hate them more, and make the inevitable ramifications of the curse more cathartic, but it's done so ham-fistedly that it simply becomes stupid rather than cathartic.Unfortunately, the horror elements that could have made this halfway entertaining are botched as well, as a result of a limited animation budget and some really bad directing causing major corners to be cut, making large chunks of the arc funny instead of horrific. The art isn't terrible, but it's not impressive either, and it makes itself quite clear on how low-budget it was. There are also frequent live-action sequences as well, which would probably have seemed more impressive if it wasn't so obviously yet another corner-cutting method. At the end of it all, we have a poor-quality story with poor quality directing and terrible characters, giving Ayakashi a very bad start. The only redeeming feature of this arc is an excellent monologue in the final episode, detailing the aspects of this as a story in the real world, and how it transcends its existence as a story to be something much more real.Story: 4/10.Characters: 1/10.Production: 3/10.Overall: 3/10.Arc 2 - Tenshu Monogatari (episodes 5-8)Tenshu Monogatari (Goddess of the Castle), in spite of being in a horror anthology, is less a horror story and more a tale of forbidden love. While there are horror elements, courtesy of the Forgotten Gods the arc focuses on, it mainly focuses on one of the Forgotten Gods falling in love with a human rather than, say, the Forgotten Gods eating people as the arc starts off with. However, this change of style is somewhat welcomed after the overblown style of the previous arc.But unfortunately it's not very good either.While this arc does fare better than the first, it succumbs to a major pitfall quite common of romance series: We have to actually give a crap about the main characters for it to work. And in the course of a mere four episodes, which are far more plot-focused than they are on characters, this becomes an impossible task. This is a shame, because unlike the last arc, there is actually a halfway decent story to be told here.However, just like the previous arc, this story is damaged by blatant directing issues, corner-cutting, and a low animation budget. And wow, the animation budget really doesn't get much lower than this. The animation is amazingly cheap. While this doesn't make it funny like it did in the previous arc, it completely nullifies anything the action in this had going for it. Which is sad, because there were obviously some good ideas at hand here. With a decent budget and more episodes to develop the characters in, this could have been good, but sadly this isn't the case. So while Tenshu Monogatari manages to be better than the first arc, it still produces nothing of worth and is generally a waste of time.Story: 6/10.Characters: 4/10.Production: 1/10.Overall: 4/10.Arc 3 - Bakeneko (episodes 9-11)Wow. Talk about saving the best for last.The Bakeneko (Goblin Cat) arc is an enourmous departure from the last two arcs in every sense. The first, and most obvious, is that everything in it looks beautiful. Corner-cutting is obviously at hand here, but it is used to the arc's benefit in every single way. Its method of corner-cutting is to use an unmoving plaid style similar to that of Gankutsuou. However, it far out-performs Gankutsuou in that sense. The way that the Bakeneko arc is animated makes everything look as though it is a moving Edo-period painting, and is executed flawlessly. But the budget they saved on animation, rather than simply going unspent, is used to create absolutely mind-blowing action sequences.That isn't the only aspect of the production that is leaps and bounds ahead of the previous two arcs, however. The directing in the Bakeneko arc is absolutely mind-blowing. The transition in directing quality from one arc to the next is effectively the difference between Tommy Wiseau and Stanley Kubrick. Toei probably weren't even trying with the first two, and merely saving their resources for this arc. The amazing directing in this is responsible for the key factor in this arc: It's the only one in this horror anthology that is genuinely scary. This is as a direct result of Nakamura handling the tension in this arc amazingly. Every moment of fending off the titular monster is incredibly intense. This is also probably the best example of Monster Delay (not revealing your monster's appearance for a long time) that I've ever seen. And as mentioned before, every action sequence is brilliant. This includes what is easily the most beautifully-animated rendition of people being torn to shreds and having their remains splattered across a wall that I've ever seen, to name just one moment.Another aspect of this arc's excellence is our main character, The Medicine Peddler/Kusuri-Uri. This arc has taken a lesson from the previous arc in not trying to develop characters in too short a space of time. Instead, Kusuriuri relies on how little we know about him to be an interesting character. His otherworldly appearance, his strange mannerisms, and his charisma all make Kusuriuri an excellent character. But moreso, it is the method with which he needs to slay demons that makes him stand out. For him to be able to unsheathe his sword, he must know three things: The form the demon takes, the truth of how it came into existence, and the reasoning behind the demon's actions. Only once he truly understands the demon is he able to exorcise it. This, I believe, adds an excellent layer of depth to this arc.But while the directing behind this arc is certainly its most stunning aspect, it is carried by an excellent story as well. The aforementioned requirements behind unsheathing the sword cause the backstory behind the demon to unfurl, creating a stunning, tragic tale that I daren't spoil the details of.Story: 8/10.Characters: 8/10.Production: 10/10.Overall: 9/10.General:The music in Ayakashi is shared between the arcs, and is the only aspect that is consistently excellent between them. The background music is always fitting, is rather excellent, and in the Bakeneko arc's case, the absence of outside noise is used to more amazing effect than any of the music is. The only letdown in the case of the music is the opening theme, and even that is only hit and miss. The melody and beat to it is actually extremely good, and is a disturbingly apt mixture of classical Shamisen music and hip-hop, but is unfortunately let down by a terrible vocalist.The acting in the original Japanese is adequate, but mostly unmemorable. But it is still significantly preferable to the dub, which you may recognize as sharing the entire cast of Vision of Escaflowne. And if you ever saw the Escaflowne dub, you should know to stay away. The only character whose performance really matters is that of Kusuriuri, who is given an excellent, otherworldly charm by Takahiro Sakurai in the original track, and is given a terribly normal-sounding performance by Andrew Francis in the dub. In case you didn't get the point already, don't go anywhere near the dub.Overall, Ayakashi is two thirds poor quality and one third stunning. However, the last third is told in different format in the spinoff series Mononoke, and while I don't yet know which version of this arc is preferable, it's probably not worth watching the first two arcs of Ayakashi just for this arc as a result.Final Words: The first two arcs are very bad, but the third is amazing. If all of Mononoke is as good as the third arc it may well be one of the best anime ever made.Also Recommended: Aoi Bungaku, MononokeMusic: 9/10.Japanese track: 6/10.Dub track: 2/10.Overall: 6/10.
I stepped into this series with the false expectation that it should be similar to the off-shoot series derived from it, Mononoke. Oh, how two-thirds wrong I was! Er, a better explanation is that only the last story of three separate stories is related to the Mononoke counterpart. If you are a fan of Mononoke, I suggest starting at that story arc and going backwards after finishing each arc, or perhaps only watching the last arc, simply because most reviewers, including myself, agree that the stories are arranged worst to best. The first story sets the bar pretty damn high (or low), with one of the opening lines being, "There has yet to be a movie so horrible, the audience regrets going to see it." If I can take that out of context for a second, I have seen many horrible movies which I regret seeing, but obviously this was hinting towards things like Hostel or Human Centipede, right? This somewhat pretentious phrase, coupled with other reviews and comments that were saying how disturbing this series was (or gave them nightmares), couldn't have possibly hyped up this series any more for me. I was ready to have my pants scared off. Yotsuya Kaidan (ep 1-4) Story 5.0 However, this mindset was especially wrong for the first arc. The story is super slow in its pacing, not because nothing was happening, but because the narrator, who is the writer of a Kabuki play(this story), is presented at the introduction and end of every episode- in effect, killing any inertia created from the last episode. This equates to watching one episode of the Twilight Zone broken up into multiple episodes, with a narrator giving his pseudo-philosophical musings after every commercial break. There is even an epilogue, which our narrator expounds upon how every showing of this play is cursed, because the performers are hurt in strange accidents and such. While I found this very interesting, it felt like it was tacked on to the end of the first arc. The major problem here is that it's just not scary. It's spooky, creepy, or slightly unnerving. If you think campfire stories are scary, you might enjoy this a lot- if you have the patience. The thing is it is a good story. It's just really dated. It could have used a major update or overhaul, but instead feels like a traditional retelling of an old folk tale. Characters 3.0 The characters themselves are nothing special. This is based on a play after all. They fulfill their various roles, in a bland Shakespearian style. Unfortunately, it also fails to draw the audience in, because there is little to no emotion in even the most evil character. This, coupled with the fact that there are hardly any real motives going on here, make watching this an unnecessary alienating experience. Why was the husband so evil? How did he self-justify his terrible actions? Why does he have no guilt? Answering these questions would have brought some life into this flat, dated, Kabuki drama. Especially, since he is the character you see in most of the story (aside from that pesky narrator). Sound 4.0 Just like the story: spooky not scary. The music is done well enough. Nothing gave me "the chills". Nothing outstanding or particularly deplorable here. (I'm not talking about the awesome openings). Animation 6.0 It's not bad, but as I said earlier, I was expecting Mononoke-esque. It's fairly well done, but I just have one beef. The main ghost of the series face is supposed to be deformed(=ugly), and characters react to it like it's the most disturbing thing ever, but it looks like a flat-2d purple bokeh/watercolor piece super imposed onto the ghost's face. Tenshu Monogatari (ep 5-8) Story 8.0 The second story was a nice surprise after the lackluster first. While nothing groundbreaking was happening, fortunately there was no stodgy narrator to break up the flow of the episodes. It is basically a love story of forbidden love mixed with the tale of sirens or "women" who feed on the flesh of men. More specifically, this is also not a scary story, but I do feel like what it sets out to do, it accomplishes very well. What does it set out to do? It's definitely creepy at first, but in the end you'll see that this is a romantic love story. As I said, it's about forbidden love, but also how much is sacrificed for it. I can honestly say that this has A LOT of Shakespearian quality to the story, but the flavor is definitely Japanese. I would also like to add the main characters probably won't die in the end. Characters 7.0 All of the main characters, seem to have a moment where they weigh their options for some reason or another, and we really feel like they are propelling the story along when they actually choose to act. We also know their motives, and that they don't necessarily hurt the one they love on purpose, and some actions like love, for instance, can also be quite destructive. You will believe that they did not intend the worst to happen, and at the same time realize and empathize with the selfish acts of love that have caused it to happen. I would have liked to see more inner struggle in the male lead, because he seems that he doesn't love his wife that much. Or does he? I feel like this could have been touched upon and wasn't. He just leaves her. No conflict. Just an inkling of regret that was washed away eventually would have been enough. Sound 7.0 Fairly subdued but like the first. There are no more cheesy ghost howls this time around, though. Animation 7.0 This time the animation is slightly different from the first story. There are more wild and creative character designs. Again, nothing like Mononoke, but I would say this rates somewhere between the first and the third story for the much needed reaction shots that weren't in the first. For example, there is a corrupt official who kills a female servant and then we immediately see his two generals grimace at each other in fear and disapproval. This kind of characterization in the animation was missing in the first. Bake Neko (ep 9-11) Story 10 This is Mononoke! The story of this arc is much more moody, mysterious, and violent. Our main character, the medicine seller, is an enigmatic exorcist who monitors a family and waits for the demon to show its Form, Truth, and Regret, by which it can be slain. The Form, Truth, and Regret is revealed usually by the characters or perpetrators themselves after they've had enough torture from the demon's constant barrage of hallucinations, flashbacks, and intimidation. There is definitely enough dank and blackness in the story to disturb you a little. Once it comes to its true, ugly conclusion, you will be questioning how humans can do such horrible things. And that is exactly what I want in a horror tale. The monsters surrounding us are much more scarier than a demon. Characters 9 The medicine seller himself is quite aloof and nonchalant compared to the other characters who go about screaming and running from visions and haunts. In short, he is our anchor to reality, while the other characters go about insanely accusing each other or not revealing some terrible reality until the end. You can definitely see and hear the characters anguish; there is some very deep characterization in the animation of the characters and the voice actors. Sound 10 Creaks. Groans. Sliding door shuts. All of these effects is used to upmost effect because of the mutation of audio through high quality warping and tweaking. That and the abruptness of these sound effects creates an uncertainty of what will happen next. A lot of the cat sounds, work as a very effective allusion to the demon while serving as a foreshadowing device as well. The characters voices seem to be modeled after the caricature design of the characters faces, giving each a distinctive and colorful feel. Animation 10 The first thing that comes to mind when having to describe the animation in this story is Katamari Damacy. A very devilish Katamari Damacy. The colors are vibrant and allude very strongly to watercolor. If this wasn't arty enough, they are overlaid with a watercolor or "wet" paper effect, making each scene look as if it was taken from someone's easel. As I mentioned before, the characters themselves have a caricature-esque look to them (also reminding me of Katamari Damacy) and juxtapose well with the high use of color. It also makes it very bearable to sit though the more disturbing parts without feeling too sickened, and quite pleasant to look at- if in a twisted way. It looks to be very high quality behind the paper filter, but I can't say whether it's technically impressive. It is very well colored, original, and fresh. ______________________________________________________ Overall 7 I think it's quite odd to organize a collection from worst to best, and I would recommend only the last two, if your short on time. An important point is that even though the last story is not in the Mononoke series, it is the most disturbing compared to the entire Mononoke series. it's the also the only one (including Mononoke) that made me cry from how sad it was as well. The last story just really digs into your emotions and doesn't let go and wrenches all of them out at the end with some good storytelling.
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