Ayakashi: Classic Japanese Horror is an anthology series and a fictional retelling of three classic Japanese horror tales. The series aired in 2006 and was the third Fuji TV series to be broadcasted in the noitaminA slot.
The story begins with Yotsuya Kaidan, the story of a wife betrayed by her husband who seeks vengeance even in death. The opening arc may seem boring due to the fact that none of the characters are particularly identifiable. It is, in essence, a story within a story, with an old playwright narrating the tale. A retelling of a story written by 18th century playwright Tsuruya Nanboku. Personally, I enjoy this form of storytelling as it is rarely seen in anime today. The story is chillingly provocative and it sets the atmosphere for the rest of the show.
Tenshu Monogatari tells the story of forbidden love between a goddess and a human. Quite possibly the least reputable arc, it is still commendable for maintaining the show’s great atmosphere. The story itself is decent, albeit predictable. I hate to compare this to Kyoto Animation’s Air, but there is one noticeably similar aspect that almost had me laughing by the end (not in a good way either). Still, the arc has its merits and is not to be missed.
Finally, capping off this harrowing anthology is Bakeneko, the story of a mysterious cat monster with a vendetta against a certain family. This arc is arguably the most well-done of the entire series. It was directed by Kenji Nakamura who went on to direct several other noitaminA shows including Trapeze and Mononoke. In fact, Mononoke itself is a spinoff of Bakeneko. It follows a mysterious medicine seller who wields a sword capable of slaying Ayakashi once certain “conditions” are met. A great 3-episode arc with gorgeous artwork and a stellar cast of characters.
One final note: Japanese “horror” differs considerably from that of the western world. From what I understand, there are three main classifications of horror in the Japanese sense. These are psychological, demons (aka youkai), and guro, none of which are particularly “scary” from a western standpoint. In American cinema, horror often times relies on heavy buildup of a scene followed by a sudden emotional surge which is then repeated throughout. While this is certainly present in anime, it is definitely less common. Horror anime such as Ayakashi employ more of a hitchcock-esque style, relying on atmosphere and imperfection to draw out emotions of discomfort rather than straight fear. I could go on and on, but let’s leave it at that. Ayakashi definitely qualifies as horror, but don’t expect to be seriously scared.
Final Thoughts: 7/10
Overall, Ayakashi is a great (and short) series befitting of the noitaminA timeslot. Be warned however, though the plot is relatively easy to follow, much of the dialogue references Japanese culture, customs, and folklore. Many fansubbed versions of the show leave the script unlocalized. While this may be confusing at first, part of the show’s appeal is its exploration of classic Japanese horror storytelling. An English dub supposedly exists, though I would highly recommend the original Japanese for obvious reasons. A great series for anyone looking to delve into Japanese folklore, horror, and historical fiction.