「Kill me… please.」
Let’s not talk about Angels of Death a la Satsuriku no Tenshi just yet. Let’s instead go on a tangent about horror and adaptations of videogames. Videogame to anime adaptations are usually a step backwards. An interactive medium, like a game, is by its nature more immersive than a passive one. Being able to actually do rather than just watch puts us, the audience, in a much close closer proximity to the narrative. Yet, even with this disadvantage, anime adaptations keep happening regardless. There are three main reasons for making them. One, it’s just to sequeeze a bit of extra cash out of a franchise. Those shows have no analytical value. Two, the anime is adding narrative to a game without much of it in the first place. Those can almost be considered originals. Three, the anime is making use of the major advantage of anime: they look better. This was especially true for dated games. Remember the old JPRGs that will use the occasional animated cutscenes to breathe life into their badly textured polygons? A full anime adaptation is like that, but for the entire game, so it’s no wonder that even though adaptations of videogames often go poorly fans are still usually eager for them. We are, after all, simple creatures and are attracted to pretty things, and the promise of a story we experienced and loved getting the anime makeover is something that few fans can resist.
But, sometimes, prettier is not always better. When a story is crafted around a specific aesthetic, taking that aesthetic away may ruin the entire thing. Horror, in particular, is a genre that suffers often from a complete misunderstanding of the aesthetic and lose all effectiveness. Horror is weird. It inverts many of the standbys that usually attract viewers to an anime. It does not run on action or spectacle. It does not dazzle with effects or parade its designs. Instead, it thrives on obscuration, keeping viewers in the dark (figuratively and literally), and leaving things to the audience’s imagination. Paradoxically, sometimes it may be that the more limited a medium is, the better it is for horror. Any of you ever played the original Silent Hill? Remember how there was this fog everywhere? This was a design by necessity, as the Playstation simply did not have a lot of rendering power and therefore most of the town had to be kept hidden behind the fog. But it helped create the claustrophobic environment that horror thrives on. Later graphical upgrades of Silent Hill removed the fog and allowed for significant viewing distance, not realising that this actually sabotaged the horror atmosphere. And it became a trend; as games looked better, the horror genre got worse. Turns out, humans are a lot better at scaring ourselves than anything else, and even though HD zombies may be very detailed they were not nearly as effective as old horror techniques based on psychological manipulation. Which brings us to the revival of text-based adventure games like Satsuriku no Tenshi (and, of course, granddaddy Ib et al). They are not anything to speak of graphically, being limited by all of RPGmaker’s technical prowess, but apparently for horror games retro is the way to go.
I hope you’re seeing the analogy I’m trying to draw here. This Satsuriku no Tenshi adaptation by J.C.Staff is quite a good looking show. While there’s no demanding action sequences or anything like that, the art and designs are consistent and there is enough detail in the animation to keep things visually interesting. That is, it’s making use of the strengths of the anime medium that we discussed before. But I wonder if that is to its advantage. With text and rough illustrations the Satsuriku no Tenshi game was able to draw on a level of surrealism that the anime dose not employ until its last scenes, and even then perhaps it still sticks too close to realism. For an intensely psychological experience like Satsuriku no Tenshi reality is more of a hindrance than anything and sometimes we should fully embrace the acid trip. I understand, though, that for an inexperienced director still preoccupied with storyboards and composition this is a difficult hurdle to leap. It also doesn’t help that the anime also has to, by necessity, shift from the first person to the third. The first person is by its nature narrower, tunnel-visioned, and claustrophobic — perfect conditions for horror. The third person, on the other hand, is expanded and aloof, a perch from which we the audience can witness the horror without it feeling personal. There’s the issue of Rachel having to constantly to to herself, but also notice the camera work. Note how so many shots are of madmen standing behind Rachel (Chisuga Haruka). Obviously that’s for the surprise factor, and also because having someone standing behind you where you can’t see them is naturally unnerving and uncomfortable. But it’s far more uncomfortable for Rachel than it is for us, here in the third person perspective. We are do not feel the same oppression and while we may certainly be shocked we are not necessarily horrified.
Of course, this is just the first episode and as Satsuriku no Tenshi builds itself up it will be more effective as it goes. The groundwork is already there and seeing the mystery being laid out before us, I’m optimistic. I’m a sucker for a good mystery, and those always make for the best foundations for a good horror. I doubt most people find the feeling of horror actually pleasant, per se, but the thrill of horror is the tension between curiosity and paranoia. The first human being who stepped out of the cave into the dark understands the desire to plumb the unknown, but the second one who stepped out and saw his friend mawed by a tiger knows to fear it. In this balance is the fascination of horror, where we’re confronted with the bizarre and unexplainable, and we really want to know what’s going on, but something is telling us that we may not like what we find. We essentially creep ourselves out more than anything, and that’s a mental space no other genre taps into. And perhaps that is the metric by which Satsuriku no Tenshi will be judged. It is one thing to invoke fear. But a good show is one where, even in the face of fear, we cannot tear our eyes away.
ED: 「Pray」 by 千菅春香 (Chisuga Haruka as Rachel)