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Life, Death, & Anime

Written By Avra Margariti

Avra Margariti is a queer author and Pushcart-nominated poet with a fondness for the dark and the darling. Avra’s work haunts publications such as Strange Horizons, F&SF, The Deadlands, Vastarien, and Reckoning. Avra lives and studies in Athens, Greece. You can find Avra on twitter (@avramargariti).

Anime is a storytelling medium with an established history of exploring death through the liminal and the metaphysical, particularly in terms of alternate dimensions, original afterlife landscapes, and delightfully disturbing ghost stories. Folklore merges with horror and sci-fi elements to create unique blends of storytelling.

Ghost Hound

An underrated series, Ghost Hound explores the small-town experiences of three traumatized teenage boys, whose lives get upended when they discover they can access the spirit realm. As they explore the liminal state of out of body experiences, they gain insight into the hidden world overlapping with their quaint mountain community and the sinister vein pulsating underneath.

This anime series is like an emotionally deeper and more aesthetically pleasing Stranger Things, with 80s-reminiscent sci-fi subplots. The folk horror elements are woven tightly throughout, with panoramic views of small-town gothic through the lens of bodiless, vision-like dreaming, and microscopic, rainbowed spirit-organisms writhing in barrels of fermenting sake. The show is made by the creators of Ghost in the Shell.

Keywords: cults, dark coming-of-age, out of body experiences, medical experiments

Dororo (2019)

A remake of the 1969 series of the same name, Dororo follows a lonely samurai who, as an infant, was ritually dismembered and sacrificed by his feudal lord father for the so-called good of their people. His body parts were given to twelve demons, but he still miraculously survived his own unmaking. After his father abandoned him, he was found by a war criminal-turned doctor, who gave his infant body prosthetic limbs to help him attain his superhuman revenge.

Unbound by family and duty, the young samurai goes on a journey to recover his body parts by slaying the demons that now own pieces of himself. In the process, he meets an orphaned thief who helps him regain what was stolen from him. Thief and samurai begin to protect each other as the series progresses, and learn to live, as well as to fight.

Although it deals with some heavy themes, the series often ends up being a heartwarming viewing experience. Dororo doesn’t limit itself to being only a tale of revenge, but broadens its scope into a story of selfhood and belonging.

keywords: body horror, demons, samurai, found family, revenge, reclamation

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    Mononoke

    A series of ghost tales with an original approach, Mononoke features breathtaking visuals of crimsons and golds and is characterized by deeply philosophical influences. Mononoke is an anthology series made up of individual episode-stories, where each chapter deals with a different spirit. It follows the anonymous protagonist known only as the Medicine Seller as he wanders the countryside after the end of the Edo period. The Medicine Seller carries a sword through his journeys and encounters different ayakashi, spirits who linger in the physical world by binding their forms to the negative emotions and festering needs of human beings. In each episode, the Medicine Seller is tasked with learning the true nature of each spirit so he can battle and exorcise it with the use of his sword, as well as his wits.

    Mononoke employs fascinating visual storytelling techniques, and combines action with melancholy and the pervading knowledge that parallel planes of existence and their supernatural creatures always walk alongside human joy and sadness.

    keywords: historical, exorcisms, bucolic horror, folk tales, avant garde

    Death Parade

    A darkly comedic show occasionally poking fun at its viewers and its own self. Each episode contains sinners, saints, and the bar lounge where their souls land after life. In Death Parade, purgatory is a decadent but dangerous floor sprawling full of rich textures and dark color palettes. Inside that bar, the visiting dead are called to play several games in order to secure a place for their soul’s next cycle of reincarnation. To erase or face their sins—for a price.

    The games played in this noir-styled limbo include darts, billiards, and twister. All games are presented as a darker variation on the original, a pound of flesh the players must pay for each round, whose scores get weighed against the players’ souls.

    Although each episode focuses on different players (after the previous ones have moved on to face their sentences) and the interpersonal drama that arises between the dead throughout each game, the true core of the series’ characterization is the permanent cast: the bar’s mysterious employees. These are the humanoid entities who judge whether each soul should return to the void, or continue on to its next reincarnation. The judges of the dead are supposed to be impartial and have no emotions, since they themselves aren’t human, only tasked with judging humanity’s moral failings. In reality, the arbiters of purgatory often find themselves drawn to the human players, which raises both inner dilemmas, and cosmic questions.

    keywords: dark comedy, death games, bars, purgatory