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Halloween: Old Skool Anime Style!

Halloween is the perfect time of year to revisit the horror genre. Here in the west live-action horror tends to be the go-to genre of choice, but anime has a plethora of horror to explore. The following picks here are fit into the Old Skool Anime category and range from the bloody and action-packed to the downright uncomfortable. Moreover, all of these were key releases in ensuring anime became integrated into the west. Be warned as from here, there is something for every fear.        

Perfect Blue

Satoshi Kon’s life tragically ended through illness at just 46 years old. As a result, he helmed just four movies, but every single one is essential viewing. His first feature film, the haunting psychological thriller Perfect Blue, ranks as one of his most influential and impactful films. Mima is a pop star with the group ‘CHAM!’, but upon leaving the group to pursue an acting career, her life begins to turn upside down. Someone is stalking to her every move to the point where Mima isn’t sure what is real and what is not. The beauty of this brutal, brilliant thriller is that you’re taken on the journey too. Perfect Blue also serves as an excellent insight into the effects social media can have on mental health. Truly a masterpiece that was ahead of its time, and still resonates today.    

Devilman: The Birth + The Demon Bird

Devilman is as dark and gory a shonen tale you’ll likely ever come across. The timid yet purehearted Akira Fudo is thrust into the underworld of demons by his old friend Ryo, who needs Akira’s help to take them on by becoming the human/demon hybrid, Devilman. With his life at home put on notice as a result, Akira’s newfound strength and confidence are tested by a variety of demons that he has more in common with than he could ever know. These first true anime adaptations of Go Nagai’s masterwork are often used as a case study of western exposure to anime and the initial practices that followed. The forever hilarious English ‘fifteening’ dub - intentionally raising the age certificate by adding profanity to translated scripts – provides a layer of entertainment within itself. The truth is these Umanosuke Iida-directed OVA’s remain the closest adaptations the manga has ever had. It will forever remain a shame that these productions did not continue. Devilman Crybaby is the obvious alternative, with Masaaki Yuasa’s injection of pace and intensity to Nagai’s masterwork proving a far more intense experience.

3 x 3 Eyes

Yakumo Fuji is happened upon by a young woman named Pai who, having spent time with Yakumo’s father in Tibet, delivers the news that his father has in fact passed away. A letter from Mr Fuji, delivered by Pai, also explains that Pai is an immortal; the last of a powerful race called the Sanjiyan. Pai longs to become human, and she has sought out Yakumo to fulfil his father’s promise to her. Naturally, Yakumo dismisses it all as nonsense. That is until Pai’s confused pet demon bird, accidentally released, kills Yakumo in the act of saving Pai. This compels Pai’s Sanjiyan alter ego – complete with third eye on her forehead – to entrust Yakumo’s soul to her, making him an immortal zombie protector. From then on Yakumo is a marked man (literally, due to the resulting mark on his own forehead), as he and Pai embark on the journey to make Pai’s dream become a reality. Yuzo Takada’s supernatural horror is a tale that takes the ‘immortal life’ quest and spins it around. Both Pai and Yakumo now seek mortal life, and the bond forged through magic makes for, ultimately, a zombie love story. While it doesn’t hold back on the gore, with some particularly gruesome moments, 3 x 3 Eyes is also a very touching tale that pleasingly adapts the opening chapters of Takada’s beautiful manga.

Cyber City Oedo 808 File 3: Bloodlust

Bioengineers are being murdered for their work, and all the hallmarks apparently lead to the culprit being a vampire. Enter Benten, the androgynous infiltrator, who makes up one third of chief Hasegawa’s criminals-turned-cops team. Old friends, a mysterious young woman and the cryogenic company the victims worked for all come together as the seemingly impossible threaten to become a reality. Only the Cyber City team are able to stop it, as Benten’s head is literally on the line thanks to their explosive neck collars that keep the ex-cons in check.

This third and final episode of Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s excellent cyberpunk crime series is the best of the bunch. Harking back to the director’s more familiar urban gothic aesthetics, albeit in a futuristic environment, remains stylish and slick. Probably the most successful and notable of Manga UK’s replacement scores, courtesy of Rory McFarlane, hones rock tones in line with the intrigue, mystery, and moody surroundings with his most accomplished tracks in the series. The infamous English dub is another case study of localised anime in the 1990s, bringing unexpected macho comedy into the mix. Cyber City Oedo 808 still looks fresh today despite its age and remains an absolute highlight of Kawajiri’s body of work.

Wicked City

The human world and the demon dimension – The Black World - co-exist, unbeknownst to the public. Taki RenzaburĊ, a human ‘Black Agent’ is assigned, along with Black World counterpart Makie, to ensure that a peace treaty gets signed by keeping guard of the 200-year-old lecherous mystic, Guiseppe Mayart. Taki must soon face some of the creepiest-designed demons you will ever see on screen as the treaty is threatened by demonic destruction.

Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s
directorial debut is the perfect display of the grotesque, varying from fast-paced action scenes to sexually charged and explicit body horror. It all looks fantastic, with crisp visuals and brilliant monster designs that still resonate today. But be warned: this isn’t one for the squeamish. 

What are your Old Skool Anime horror picks? Please check out the Old Skool Anime series for more retrospectives on anime's yesteryear.