「件が彼らを嘯く」 (Kenga Karerao Usobuku)
Last week, in the CHAOS;CHILD pilot, we talked about how paranoia is the most powerful tool of any good horror. This week, we see how that’s used in storytelling. ‘But Passerby!’ I hear someone cry, ‘This episode was hardly horrifying at all!’. Well, Greg, that’s sort of the point. In practice, horror is not that different from all other kinds of story. Tension has to rise and fall; a show be always trying to scare us all the time. For one, we’d get bored unless the show is able to deliver bigger and bigger scares continuously, which is untenable. It’s a sort of horror-inflation; if we’re inundated with the scares all the time, it’ll eventually become worthless. That goes for any other kind of excitement. So, every once in a while, there must be calm, to ramp the tension back down, so the next spike of tension will feel greater, by comparison.
Horror gets to do extra with this lull in tension because, again, paranoia. Even when the scary horror thing—let’s call it ‘the monster’—is not on screen, humans are pretty smart cookies. We understand object permanence. We know that the monster is still out there. Plus, we also know that we’re watching a horror anime, and know that it’s going to throw in a scare at some point. So we anticipate the monster. We look for it in every shadow, suspect every character as the next victim, jump at every sudden noise. Let’s face it, no matter how well a show designs its monster, nothing compare to our ability to scare ourselves. It’s why phobias exist; pure, irrational fear can be formed only from within. The imagination is a powerful thing. When the monster is on screen, and has form, we can sort of rationalise it, maybe think about how to defeat it or escape it. When the show plants the idea of the monster in our heads, though, our imaginations run wild. An idea is shapeless and perfect; in our imaginations, the monster is the scariest thing possible. And it’s much more convincing too, since it’s the product of our own minds. By building the sense of paranoia, the audience is roped into playing an active part in convincing themselves that the horror is real. There may be nothing to fear but fear itself, but that can actually be terrifying.
So yeah, that was a very long-winded way to try to explain the lull in episode 02 of CHAOS;CHILD. You’ll find that almost all episode 02s of any show will start by bringing things down from the big opener of the pilot, whether they deal in horror or not. One should note, though, that CHAOS;CHILD its fellow Science Adventure series—the semicolon titles—are not pure horrors. They, as one may expect, have a science-fiction/mystery angle. Even in the face of the terrifyingly supernatural, we are invited, through our protagonists, to seek answers and explanation. Science! The true horror, the crushing of the spirit, will come in the middle of the story arc (I suspect), when the answers do not come, our science seems to fail, and without it we become powerless.
So, mostly slow-ish setup, still, without the full paranoia kicking quite yet (though our protagonist is already suffering). The quiet seems better used to lull us into a false sense of security, to shock us all the more. Wait, is she really dead? Isn’t she a main character? She may yet survive, or perhaps we can’t believe everything we see, but what will it mean if CHAOS;CHILD is willing to kill a female lead just like that? We question. And we don’t know if there will be answers.