5 Anime to Help You Get in the Mood for Halloween

The past week or so hasn’t been particularly spooky here on the West Coast, so I went through some of the anime I’ve seen to come up with a list of mainly “oldies but goodies” that can help you get in the mood for Fright Night. Some are spooky, some are comic, but they all get that good ol’ ghosty spirit going. To mix things up a little, I’ve avoided some of the classics that you might expect to see on this sort of list – no Blood: The Last Vampire, no Hellsing, no Vampire Hunter D… You might notice that these are all vampire series. I thought it might get a bit boring to see vampire after vampire after vampire on this list. I might do a vampires-only list at some point. For now, here are some of the less-known (albeit still pretty popular) works out there:

1. Haunted Junction

This was licensed awhile back, though I think it has since lapsed. It’s hard to find, but hilarious if you can. Set in an unusually-haunted high school, this 12-episode series follows the members of the Holy Student Council, who manage the school’s plethora of ghosts and other spirits. Naturally, the members of the HSC themselves have their own magical “blessings” – one has the ability to be possessed (and frequently is), one can exorcise spirits (usually by beating up the person who was possessed) and though the third can summon spirits, he would really prefer to lead a quiet life in a normal school. My favorite part of this series is its incorporation of Japanese urban legends set in schools. Our heroes’ school is haunted by a set of benign spirits who are straight out of these tales: toilet Hanako, the buxom girl who haunts the boys’ restroom to assist with whatever they might be doing there; Red Mantle, the dashing young man in a red cape and mask who exists for the girls at the school; the skeleton in the science lab who moves on his own; and so on.

2. Ghost Hunt

A collection of investigations by a psychic research center, this series is seriously spooky by the end. The center’s staff is composed of experts in a variety of paranormal fields, ranging from a shrine maiden to a priest to an onmyōji. One of my favorite aspects of this series is that it has a character type that I hate – the girl who is depicted as the only one in the whoooole group who feels for people, who consequently always argues against what other people are trying to do because someone might feel hurt – but it, unlike many other series with this character, highlights that other characters are often just as caring as her, and even more thoughtful. In other words, people lay the smackdown on the brat. I like. This anime is based on a series of light novels by Fuyumi Ono, the author of the Twelve Kingdoms series, another excellent set of books and anime.

3. Yami no Matsuei

About a standard of Japanese death folklore, the shinigami, Yami no Matsuei organizes the underworld as a giant bureaucracy, but one whose workers have superpowers. You’re already interested, right? The anime follows two shinigami, people who died with so much weighing on their minds that they couldn’t pass on and so became staff for the underworld bureaucracy. Tsuzuki and his new partner Hisoka as they try to clear up mysteries surrounding people’s deaths. The half-season (13 episode) anime gives us four mysteries which slowly tie together to reveal Tsuzuki’s secrets, Hisoka’s past and a horrifying serial killer who is obsessed with Tsuzuki. Beautiful and twisted, this is a great series to enter into the Halloween spirit with. Incidentally, the manga was put on hiatus some years back and some chapters that were never published in tankōbon or book form are finally scheduled to publish in January. Perhaps the mangaka will begin drawing the series again soon?

4. Mermaid’s Forest and Mermaid’s Scar

These two are OVA’s, or Original Video Animations (which is to say, direct to video) based on a short manga series by Rumiko Takahashi, the famous artist behind Ranma 1/2, Inu Yasha and loads more. Featuring among her darker works, the Mermaid set proposes that mermaids do exist, and that by eating their flesh some humans may gain immortality. The rest turn into horrible monsters. Of course, mermaids aren’t merely victims here. They also capture and eat immortal human flesh to maintain their youth. Into this setup are delivered Yuta, a fisherman who ate part of a mermaid captured by his fellow fishermen five hundred years ago, and Mana, a young girl who was raised by mermaids to serve as their anti-aging snack. The two travel around Japan looking for a cure for immortality and helping others caught in the mermaid snare.

5. Witch Hunter Robin

How could we have Halloween without witches? Robin is a young woman working in a secret organization like those we’ve seen in La Femme Nikita and Alias. Setting this series apart is the purpose of its secret organization: the tracking of those who may manifest witch powers, and their capture and containment should they so manifest. Many of the organization’s workers have powers themselves, including Robin, a pyrokinetic. As Robin learns more about witches and delves further into her organization the question of who can be trusted arises. One season long, this series has been lauded by basically every anime critic out there as a fantastic example of the medium. Watch it… if you dare.

Happy Halloween!


RED and a Reverse Bechdel

I was all set to post about Mechademia, but then I saw RED today and somehow my plans changed. (I also saw a soccer game at which they gave away red scarves, but I didn’t get one, so who cares?) Anyway, on with the show.

Slight spoilers, though not too bad.

RED is the story of Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a retired CIA assassin who is having trouble adjusting to civilian life, but also beginning to find love – until he is suddenly attacked by assassins. Bada bing, bada boom, he is back in the game. In short order he collects his lady love Sara Ross (Mary-Louise Parker) – to keep her safe, of course – and a handful of old comrades (or at least pleasant enemies) and sets about finding out who wants him dead/stopping them. It’s a fun movie that I would encourage you to see. For all the violence of the premise there’s not a ton of gore. There are plenty of explosions, which always pleases me, but your mileage may vary on that one. No, what I want to talk about here is the Bechdel test. For those of you who don’t know it, the Bechdel test came out of Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip. It’s gained notoriety because it showcases cleanly and clearly how badly women are represented in films. The test has three parts, as follows.

A movie must have:
1. two female characters
2. who talk to each other
3. about anything except men.

It sounds so simple. Women constitute about half the population. We talk to each other often at work, at home, on the phone, in locker rooms and restrooms… Topics of conversation include our jobs, our bosses, our kids, our hobbies, our yoga classes, new recipes, plays… You would think films would capture this as a matter of course. But they don’t. If you want to see how your favorite films stack up, head over to The Bechdel Test and search for them. You might be surprised. Then again, you might not. The Social Network failed, for anyone who’s been following the hubbub about that.

Now, you’re probably thinking “So, does RED pass?” and really, I’m not sure. There are four named female characters with speaking parts that I recall*, and of them I think two do speak together about something other than a man. That being an exchange along the following lines:

Boss: “What are you doing?”
Employee: “Nothing. Just… nothing.”

Not much, but enough to pass. Remember, this test is a basic measure; it’s not meant to be the be-all and end-all of realistic portrayals of women. There might have been more such exchanges, too. As I said, I didn’t pay that close attention. (I was too busy having fun.) What I did notice was how multiple characters pulled aside Frank Moses and spoke to him… about a woman.

There isn’t a reverse Bechdel test – two men who speak to each other about anything except a woman – because we don’t need one: practically every movie would pass it with flying colours. RED is a little different. It works Moses’ progress in falling in love to his progress in settling into retirement. In other words, it realistically suggests that, for a male character, a girlfriend isn’t merely a person the bad guys can kidnap at the appropriate moment or a fun roll in the hay while waiting for an assassin to come. She’s someone to talk to, someone you have to work with – and occasionally someone you really, really want to like you even though you effectively kidnapped her. In short, she is a part of your life. So we have Moses mentioning the woman he collected so that she wouldn’t be killed to his old friend, and then his other friends ask him about her, repeatedly, and then when the bad guys kidnap her (as you knew they would) naturally they have to mention her on the phone to him and again to each other. She’s central to the movie, as she’s central to Moses.

I didn’t keep track at the beginning of the movie because it’s so rare, but I wonder if this movie could pass a reverse Bechdel test? It might not. If Sara Ross is involved in all of the scenes where they’re planning how to find the bad guy, I don’t think it would.

This left me thinking, if a movie failed a reverse Bechdel test, would I care so much if it passed the actual Bechdel test? After all, if a movie solely included mixed-sex group scenes it would be incapable of passing the test, but at the same time it would be putting female characters front and center throughout the entire film, which is what the test was made in hopes of. I could go for that.

Final note, for those who are skeptical that the short dialogue above should give any proof of a movie’s seriousness about depicting women: I’ve noticed, over the years, that some TV and film pieces manage to work in small hints that yes, there are these creatures called women out there. A short scene in NCIS where the head of NCIS, an agent and a forensic pathologist – all female – discuss the most appropriate courtroom attire to ensure that one is taken seriously. Use of a sanitary pad to staunch blood flow from a bullet wound in Salt. There is such a moment in RED. I’d be happy to tell you about it, but it alone of all the scenes in the movie (and there were many funny moments) got the entire audience laughing as one. I don’t want to ruin it for you, but I assure you that it’s there. In addition, please note that I have written this whole post without mentioning Helen Mirren’s Victoria. This is because she is so fantastic I didn’t feel I could do her justice in the context of a Bechdel test-related post. And someone chose to make the most noticeable assassin female. Good choice. Offhand, for major characters I’m counting seven male and four female. For an action movie, that’s rather astonishing. Go take a look and see if you don’t like it.

*I should note that some people only count named characters for the test. For the purposes of this movie, I only recall the named characters + one unnamed woman who only spoke to men, and there wasn’t a huge speaking cast besides, so it shouldn’t have an impact.