Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror

Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror

Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror anime cover art
Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror Cover Art

Introduction

Today we have a Halloween special, so get ready to be spooked! Well, you would be spooked if horror anime were actually scary, but as I mentioned in my Horror Anime post back in May, anime doesn’t really do scary very well.

That said, Parasyte -the maxim- is a horror anime and still one of my favorites, so it’s not as if all horror anime are bad simply because they aren’t scary. And, the good thing about Ayakashi is that it has something for everyone (probably).

That’s right, Ayakashi isn’t just one anime, but actually an anthology series which includes three classic horror stories. These are Yotsuya Kaidan, Tenshu Monogatari, and Bakeneko. I’ll be going through each one of these stories individually.

Yotsuya Kaidan

I’ll say it now, Yotsuya Kaidan is the worst of the three stories featured in Ayakashi, and the others get progressively better from here. That said, it’s also the one which I would most consider to be true horror, though that’s probably a subjective label.

The story follows Iemon Tamiya, a samurai who falls in love with a beautiful woman named Oiwa. However, after their first child is born, Iemon begins to get tired of his wife, and seems interested in other women around town.

One of these women takes an interest in Iemon as well, but knows that he’s a married man. So, her mother, or some woman who works for her (I don’t actually know) decides to help her out by making Iemon leave Oiwa so he can be with the new girl.

To do this, she gives Iemon some poison and tells him that it’s medicine for his wife, Oiwa, who hasn’t fully recovered from childbirth despite it being a few weeks or months. Iemon then passes this “medicine” on to one of his vassals to administer to his wife.

While the poison isn’t meant to kill Oiwa, it does severely disfigure her face, which is supposed to scare Iemon away and make him divorce her. However, Oiwa believes the poison was a plot by Iemon to kill her, and incidentally falls and is killed on one of his swords in the house.

The curse of Oiwa then begins. Everyone who Iemon knows, trusts, or loves appears before him in the image of his deceased wife, Oiwa. Thinking this is Oiwa returning from the dead, he slashes at them with his sword, killing them.

Some other people who were involved with the cover-up of Oiwa’s death are also killed in various ways befitting of their crimes by the ghost of Oiwa. In the end, Iemon is alone, all of his friends having been killed, and he himself is killed by a vengeance-seeking samurai.

A woman holding a murder victim from the Yotsuya Kaidan story of Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror
A woman holding a murder victim

Along the way, there are other murders which take place, such as that of the man pictured above, but they’re more of a side story which is loosely connected. There’s also some random tragedy tropes mixed in which kind of came out of nowhere, but I’ll skip over those since they weren’t really important.

The end of the story then continues on to modern times in which the narrator tells us about how whenever this story was put on as a play or movie, the actors would get injured or die, suggesting that the curse of Oiwa lives on. I could have done without these modern “fun facts.”

So, if you hadn’t noticed, the moral of the story seems to be something about not being unfaithful to your wife. However, I’m not entirely sure that’s really a good fit here. Perhaps the more correct moral would be to not accept strange medicine from strange people.

While Iemon is definitely supposed to be the “bad guy” in the story who drove his wife to her death and who must live the rest of his life cursed, I think Oiwa is the true evil. I know I said that Iemon was checking out the other women around town, but other than looking at them, he didn’t actually do anything.

In fact, it was the single woman who took interest in Iemon who started the whole problem by poisoning Oiwa. As far as Iemon knew, the poison was actually medicine which was supposed to make Oiwa better, so in that regard, he was just doing what he thought was best for Oiwa.

He also isn’t the one who killed her either, because she fell and was killed in an accident. Sure, he committed other crimes such as throwing Oiwa’s body in the river and staging her death to make it appear as if she had been killed for being unfaithful, but he didn’t kill her.

He also wasn’t really to blame for the other murders he committed after Oiwa’s death, because the only reason he killed those people was due to the curse of Oiwa. If she hadn’t cursed him for no reason, he wouldn’t have become a ronin samurai.

Essentially, Iemon is innocent as far as being unfaithful and Oiwa’s death are concerned, but Oiwa caused the deaths of many people because she believed her husband was trying to kill her, even though that wasn’t the case. Overall, Yotsuya Kaidan was a 4/10.

Tenshu Monogatari

Although less about the horror than Yotsuya Kaidan, Tenshu Monogatari was a better story, and better told. This story follows a man named Zusho-no-Suke, who leaves either his wife or girlfriend, and falls in love with the princess of the Forgotten Gods, Tomi-Hime.

The Forgotten Gods are gods whose sacred ground has been encroached upon by humans, and who have resorted to eating humans to maintain their immortality. Because of this, the castle in which they reside is considered to be the home of demons by the locals.

However, after the falcon he was in charge of training for his master flew off towards the castle, Zusho-no-Suke must go after it, despite the legends. Near the castle, he meets Tomi-Hime, who instantly takes interest in him, likely because he treats her as an equal and not either an object nor a monster.

However, love between a Forgotten God and a human is forbidden because it will cause the Forgotten Gods to lose their immortality. This is exactly how Tomi-Hime’s mother met her end, and is why the elder Forgotten God continuously insists that Zusho-no-Suke is killed.

However, Tomi-Hime doesn’t want Zusho-no-Suke to die, and eventually the two form a couple. Meanwhile, back home in the village, Zusho-no-Suke’s girlfriend is worried about where he’s gone and what he’s doing. One day in the Forgotten Gods’ castle is much longer in the outside world, so he frequently disappears for long stretches at a time.

The girlfriend finally tells the landowner that his prized falcon and Zushi-no-Suke are at the castle, and a full-scale assault takes place. During the fight, many humans die by the hands of the Forgotten Gods, but many of the Forgotten Gods are also killed due to their immortality being drained.

I should mention here that although only Tomi-Hime is in a relationship with a human, all of the Forgotten Gods are affected by it. It’s unclear if this would be the case if any one of them fell in love with a human, or if it’s because she’s the princess. This also causes Zusho-no-Suke to become less human.

In the end, everyone other than Zusho-no-Suke and Tomi-Hime dies in the battle. You can kind of think of it like a reversal of Romeo and Juliet. Instead of the lovers dying, everyone else they ever knew dies. But since they get to be together, is it really a bad end for them?

While this story certainly had some horror elements such as the Forgotten Gods draining the life force out of humans, leaving them as dried out husks, the horror wasn’t really the focus. Instead, the focus was on the tragic romance between the two main characters, and I think that’s part of the reason it was better than Yotsuya Kaidan.

It also helps that this story was more cohesive and more well written. There was actual reasoning behind everything that happened this time around rather than the whole plot being driven by a misunderstanding which resulted in a curse.

The Forgotten Gods are simply trying to stay alive, and the humans are the antagonists who are encroaching on their land, as is so often the case. We also have a protagonist who is able to see both sides of the conflict, but doesn’t have the power to solve it, which we don’t often see in anime.

Finally, I could see some connections to other anime I’m familiar with, the most notable of which was surprisingly Naruto: Shippūden. Of these three stories, I believe the last one, Bakeneko, is the only original story. If this is indeed the case, then I could definitely see Tomi-Hime being the inspiration for Princess Kaguya.

Physical appearances aside, the story of Princess Kaguya shares many similarities to Tomi-Hime. Both are beings which are considered higher forms of life than humanity, and both betrayed their people by falling in love with a human, despite humans being a “power source” for their kind.

It’s also possible that there’s another, older story from which the characters of Tomi-Hime and Princess Kaguya were molded, but either way, the similarities are plain to see. Overall, Tenshu Monogatari was a 5/10.

Bakeneko

And now, it’s time for the best story featured in Ayakashi, Bakeneko. There are a number of reasons why Bakeneko is the best story in this anthology, some of which are the unique art style, the confined world, and the general plot.

As for the art style, well, just look at the picture below. It’s a very colorful story, though these colors are muted at times, and this simply helps make the series visually stimulating. There’s also an old, crinkled paper filter over everything, which further distances the visuals from any other anime.

I’ll be honest, at first I thought the colorful, strange visuals were going to be a distraction, but it’s surprising just how quickly it becomes natural. The character designs are also a bit out there, but again, this is something you don’t even notice once the story really begins.

The unique art style and color palette are just some of the ways Bakeneko reminds me of my favorite anime, the Monogatari series. That’s right, I’m going to be talking about Monogatari again today so be prepared.

The Medicine Seller from the Bakeneko story from the anime Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror
The Medicine Seller

As for the confined world, this is actually something I really like in series like this, such as the Monogatari series (again). The entire story takes place in a single house, much like many of the individual arcs of Monogatari, like how the Mayoi Snail arc takes place in a single park.

By limiting both the size of the world and the number of characters, a story can become something real for viewers to get invested in, despite what unrealistic events may occur. How so?

If the scope of the world is limited, every detail of the world is more likely to serve some important role. For example, the fact that there were rat traps all over the house, and no cat, was later used to figure out part of the mystery. In a series with a large, open world, things like this aren’t possible.

As for the small cast, this works in a similar manner to the limited world. A large cast may be good if a wide variety of characters is the goal, but if complex characters are the goal, then a small cast works best. Although it was only three episodes long, we learned a lot about what makes each of the characters within the story unique.

As I mentioned previously, these are things Monogatari excels at as well. Each arc typically takes place in one to a few small locations, and the cast of each arc is generally limited despite there being a fair amount of characters overall. Additionally, each arc tends to only introduce one new character.

But, the similarities with Monogatari don’t end there. The plot is essentially the same as well. In it, an unnamed medicine seller, who I’ll simply be referring to as the Medicine Seller, travels Japan in search of evil spirits which he then defeats.

He’s essentially Koyomi Araragi, but if he became even more cynical than he already was, and changed his fashion sense. To kill the evil spirits, he carries a demon-killing sword (just like the Kokoro Watari of Monogatari), however, the sword has specific conditions which must be met before it can be unsheathed.

The Medicine Seller must first learn the shape, truth, and reason of the spirit before he can slay it. By this, he means that he needs to know what kind of spirit it is, what the spirit is actually trying to do, and why the spirit is trying to do it.

Almost immediately the Medicine Seller is able to determine that the spirit is a bakeneko, or a monster cat (goblin cat). However, finding out the truth and reason aren’t so simple, because none of the other people involved are willing to spill their secrets.

Over the course of episodes two and three, we learn that the bakeneko is attacking the family because of the wedding of the daughter (who was killed by the bakeneko). The reason for this is because the bakeneko is the spirit of a cat who’s seeking vengeance for its master who was denied a marriage, imprisoned, raped(?), and then killed by the family.

In the end, while the Medicine Seller doesn’t believe that the bakeneko was in the wrong to be seeking vengeance, it’s his job to send spirits back to their own world, and out of the world of the living. As far as his comparison to Koyomi goes, in this regard he’s basically his opposite.

While the Medicine Seller believes humans and spirits should be separate, Koyomi sees no issue with them coexisting as long as nobody gets hurt.

Unfortunately, with only three episodes, Bakeneko was the shortest of the three stories featured in Ayakashi, despite being the best one. Fortunately, there’s actually a fairly well-known sequel to Bakeneko known as Mononoke, which has been on my PTW list for a while.

As a final comparison between Bakeneko and Monogatari, Bakeneko is the prequel to Mononoke and involves a cat spirit. Similarly, the first apparition Koyomi helps one of his classmates with is a cat. Coincidence? Let me know your thoughts in the comments down below.

Overall, the Bakeneko story was an 8/10, and I have high expectations for the Mononoke anime that follows it, so look forward to a review of that in the near(ish) future.

Conclusion

Taking all three stories into consideration, Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror is a 6/10. If you’re looking for something scary, this isn’t really something I would recommend, but if you’re looking for well written stories, I’d specifically point you towards Tenshu Monogatari and Bakeneko.

The OP for the Bakeneko story is available here. All three stories feature the same song, but include different animations. While I enjoyed the song and animations for the most part, they really don’t match with something that’s supposed to be horror, especially the song.

Have you seen Ayakashi? If so, which story was your favorite? Let me know in the comments. Also, if you liked this post, click the like button down below and follow me on Twitter @DoubleSama to receive a notification every time a new post goes live.

Additionally, if you’d like to join our community, there’s a Discord server open to everyone. There’s also a Patreon page for those who want to go one step further. Patrons receive a special role in the Discord server, among other benefits, based on their tier.

Speaking of Patrons, this month I’d like to thank Rob Wright!

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