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Satsuriku no Tenshi – 01

「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 Sequence

ED: 「Pray」 by 千菅春香 (Chisuga Haruka as Rachel)

July 8, 2018 at 1:48 am
18 comments »
  • July 8, 2018 at 2:42 amSetsunahenry

    It’s similar like Clock tower games where Scissorman is chasing you while you run as fast as you can and find a way to hide yourself.

    • July 8, 2018 at 6:46 amPasserby

      I’d assume running and hiding from the bogey is a fairly common horror trope, but from the premise scythe-guy is actually going end up more ally than bogey in this story.

  • July 8, 2018 at 3:04 amzztop

    Satsuriku will be 16 episodes long.
    https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/daily-briefs/2018-06-28/angels-of-death-anime-listed-with-16-episodes/.133538

    Word is that only 13 will air on normal Japanese TV, while the last 3 are online.
    This will likely not affect overseas online-only viewers, unless there’s a viewing hiatus similar to Idolish 7 or Dies Irae, whose final episodes aired some months after their respective seasons.

    • July 8, 2018 at 6:44 amPasserby

      16 is a rather curious number. I like to be optimistic and take this as a sign that the staff have a clear plan and judge that 16 is the number of episodes they need.

  • July 8, 2018 at 3:08 amLoliHat

    Of the two new shows based on games, this and Island, I definitely prefer this one.

    Island felt like so much that was important was left out and came across as generic.

    Satsuriku no Tenchi felt tight with elements that were good in the game, but wouldn’t be good in an anime, were left out so that we could focus on the action and horror.

    While the introduction of a third-person perspective alters the horror found in a game, one must realize that a game is more immersive and involving. For a passive medium of anime or manga (as opposed to the active/involved medium of a game), the way the horror is conveyed has to change, and at least in the first episode the adaptation from one form to the other worked well.

    • July 8, 2018 at 6:40 amPasserby

      To play devil’s advocate for ISLAND, visual novels always start very slow. They may just be hiding too much of their hand, which isn’t really a good thing, but it does mean that the story will pick up later on.

  • July 8, 2018 at 3:10 amAngelus

    Horror anime is really hard to get right. Too hard for most directors, including this one, I fear.

    I think the main problem is that they don’t take full account of the range of possible human reactions to horrific situations. For example, when faced with real-life horror, it’s not unusual for people to laugh. The reason for that is simply to release endorphins to help mitigate shock, but it means that if you don’t hit it just right then you risk your show being perceived as comedy. In the case of this one, I won’t say I found it quite as hilarious as Another or Aru Zombie Shoujo no Sainan, but it came close in parts.

    Interesting to bring up the shift from first to third person as I’d not really considered that before, maybe because I’m not a gamer. There really aren’t many first person viewpoint anime out there – One Room is the only one that comes to mind right now, so probably the less said the better unless you’re really into ASMR.

    As for caves, is that Plato’s cave you’re talking about? In reality, it was the first human being who stepped into a cave who was the foolhardy one!

    • July 8, 2018 at 6:38 amPasserby

      A mix of cave analogies; Plato’s cave is in there somewhere. If you prefer, feel free to substitute the first human stepping into a cave and getting mauled by a prehistoric bear.

    • July 8, 2018 at 9:41 amThe suffocated

      How is Another hilarious?

  • July 8, 2018 at 7:39 amzztop

    Satsuriku’s manga version added some extra character narratives to the story, (likely) at the request of creator Sanada Makoto. I expect these narratives will be included (entirely or in parts) in the anime, given how character interactions are one of the plot’s primary drivers.

    https://randomc.net/image/Satsuriku%20no%20Tenshi/Satsuriku%20no%20Tenshi%20-%2001%20-%2027.jpg

    One example is Danny’s past, which was never given in-game but expanded upon in the manga, explaining his fixation for eyes and the reasons for his madness. You see a brief part of it this episode.
    Show Spoiler ▼

    • July 8, 2018 at 8:01 pmPasserby

      It could be that this anime is simply based on the manga rather than the game directly, though I wouldn’t be able to tell.

  • July 8, 2018 at 9:33 amjasmin12e

    Only watching this because I played the rpg maker game hope this doesn’t drag like the ending to that did.

  • July 8, 2018 at 10:42 amArche

    Really enjoyed your paragraph on horror games. It mirrors opinions I commonly share with friends on older games

    I haven’t played the game for this but I like how the setting looks like we’ll get no room for things to feel normal. Even when Rachel got room to breathe when Danny first appeared it never changed the feeling that something was wrong

    • July 8, 2018 at 7:59 pmPasserby

      If you enjoy retro horror games, Angels of Death is on Steam and Ib is freeware.

  • July 8, 2018 at 2:31 pmhjerry

    I’ve seen criticisms online that this show fails as horror, because it lacks genuinely scary moments.

    For me at least though, calling this “horror” or at least straight horror, is kinda missing the point. This series is more mystery suspense thriller than it is horror. Who is she? Who is he? Where are they? Why are they there? These are the questions which will drive this series, and whether the answers given are satisfactory and/or satisfactorily relayed, or even answered at all, will really determine whether this show fails or succeeds.

    • July 8, 2018 at 7:58 pmPasserby

      As you can probably tell by my post, I consider mystery to be fundamental to horror, especially psychological horror. As such, the actual horror should be revelatory, or perhaps the truth is fundamentally horrifying. Even then, psychological horror isn’t necessarily the kind that makes one jump or scream. There may be a jump here and there just to relieve the tension valve, but psychological horror more makes us feel paranoid and oppressed. Therefore I would like to see Satsuruki no Tenshi focus on the uncomfortable and the uncanny as it progresses.

    • July 16, 2018 at 5:33 amiron2000

      I agree with hjerry.

      I don’t find it to be horror, for me.
      Its more of a mystery with a tinge of suspense.

      Theres a lot of unknown but it doesn’t scare the viewer.
      (It would be horror if I’m the girl, to me)

      Perhaps its not atmospheric enough to make me uncomfortable.

      To me uncanny and uncomfortable would be Junji Ito Collection.

  • July 8, 2018 at 6:57 pmtonyharo

    hmmm, last few seasons have been dry for any good horror. this one seems especially demented, in a good way.

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