I’m a huge fan of Junji Ito’s work and was watching slasher films before I was a teenager, so although I’m not a horror expert, I certainly enjoy the genre. Unfortunately, horror anime and manga have generally disappointed, so I decided to see what kind of recommendations the internet could give me. The internet truly did not disappoint.
Corpse Party: Tortured Souls is a 4-episode anime OVA (original video animation – released on home video formats, not on television as is the norm) that essentially totals the length of a horror movie. This OVA is based on the Corpse Party series of games, none of which I have ever played…as of yet. I simply read that this OVA was incredibly disturbing, decided to watch, and have concluded that reviewers are correct – this show is incredibly disturbing. Beware of spooky spoilers, anime-niacs.
The anime begins with a group of high school students at Kisaragi Academy sitting in a dark classroom as one of them tells a scary, but allegedly true, story about the terror at Heavenly Host Elementary School: A teacher died and the principal committed suicide. Of course, Kisaragi Academy stands where Heavenly Host once was. The ghost story is interrupted by a teacher who helps the teens bid farewell to Shinozaki, who is transferring to a different school. During a charm ritual to bless their friendship, however, the floor beneath the students collapses and they all land in different areas of a dark, abandoned school.
Thus far, the events of Corpse Party are very generic and cliché – promises of a happy future of friendship immediately following a spooky story that, unsurprisingly, directly relates to the trouble in which these kids find themselves. But the premise is not what impressed (and scared the hell out of) me about this anime – it was the artists and animators’ abilities to create incredible visual terror.
The art in the decrepit underground school perfectly sets the mood for what is about to happen. The students are mysteriously split up and the focus of Corpse Party’s first episode shifts to Naomi and Seiko as they try to find an exit. Slowly but surely, shadowy figures, blood leaking from the walls, and creepy voices add a terrorizing urgency to the escape. It is obvious that this school is haunted, but the situation quickly turns from terrifying to tragic. Naomi finds Seiko hanging in the bathroom, but not yet dead. The viewer watches her slowly and graphically die as Naomi tries to save her.
The students are trapped in the haunted Heavenly Host and must try to find a way to escape before being killed or going insane. Dead bodies filled with maggots, tongues cut out, and eyes ripped from sockets – this anime is extremely graphic and there are many disturbing moments I could not believe I was watching. But while Corpse Party most certainly delivers shockingly detailed visuals, the anime lacks in characterization and story.
Nine characters fall into Heavenly Host and with slightly under two hours, there simply isn’t enough time to give detailed backstories and much characterization to the teens. Had this been 12 episodes, I would have expected much more. It is certainly possible that the Corpse Party games expand on characters’ personalities and histories, but this OVA really focuses on the mystery of the situation in which the kids find themselves and the resulting terror. I also think I felt disturbed partially because of the juxtaposition of anime visuals and horror.
Sure, I’ve watched horror anime before, but this is gruesome, and these are high school students – anime high school students. The teenagers are cute and their mannerisms are endearing. It is this contrast of sweet and horrific that shocked me so often during Corpse Party. One middle school student who looks and sounds like she’s under 10 years old is brutalized in possibly the most disturbing moments of the entire show. Of course, Corpse Party does not end happily.
Corpse Party: Tortured Souls is a fantastic horror story, over-delivering on the horror and under-delivering on the story. Sure, there are some twists along the way that make the tale more interesting, but the tension, the dreariness and visual terror is where this OVA excels. This is most definitely a recommended watch for Halloween for any fans of anime and brutal horror, but certainly not with children present.