Can a freeware horror game rise above its humble origins in this 2017 3DCG anime film from Studio Deen?
Choosing an anime to watch shouldn't be as difficult as settling on the subject of a group project for a high school cultural fest (or out-running a strange ogre with a terrible craving for human flesh), but with such a wealth of streaming titles to choose from, sometimes finding the right show to suit your mood can be a daunting task.
In this survival-horror metaphor, let “Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog” be your friendly academic advisor. Each week we provide additional info and cultural context for an entry in Crunchyroll's library of titles to help anime fans decide whether or not they'd like to give it a try, and this week we're focusing on a feature that may put people in the Halloween mood.
What's AOONI THE ANIMATION?
AOONI THE ANIMATION is a 2017 3DCG anime film with direction by Toshiro Hamamura and animation production by Studio Deen. The film is inspired by Ao Oni, a 2008 freeware horror game by noprops. Crunchyroll describes the story of AOONI THE ANIMATION as follows:
The cultural anthropology club at a school in the remote Japanese countryside is doing a report on the AoOni, a mythical creature that inspired a hit video game. They find that the AoOni was based on a creature who may live in their own area. But things take a horrible turn when they learn that the creature might still be real, and that the creator of the AoOni game has just committed suicide before they were to meet with him...
An after-school club activity gone horribly wrong, AOONI THE ANIMATION leads with some light mystery elements as the cultural anthropology club investigates a strange coincidence that culminates in a night of flesh-rending terror in this unusual creature feature film.
While the animation and character designs for AOONI THE ANIMATION can be a bit clunky, the film makes a strong bid at establishing a dark and anxious mood. Japanese horror films in general are often less about verisimilitude and logic and more about establishing an uncanny and threatening atmosphere that disrupts the viewer's sense of the natural order of things. AOONI THE ANIMATION plays to this strength, especially with its music, sound effects, and environmental art design.
While many Western horror movies come with a sense of moral judgment baked in (such as Jason Voorhees slaughtering promiscuous, pot-smoking camp counselors in the Friday the 13th films), Japanese horror films often entertain a more neutral approach to the intrinsic unfairness of the horror genre.
The characters in AOONI THE ANIMATION aren't base or rotten people so that the audience can glory in their slaughter. The cast of the movie are just ordinary high school kids. They flirt, they joke, they gossip, they try to get to the bottom of a home-town mystery for the sake of their club project, and when they encounter the Blue Demon, their sudden and gruesome demises play as tragic and cruel.
Meta Madness and Misdirection.
Another interesting aspect of AOONI THE ANIMATION is that the film isn't afraid to get “meta” with its narrative, in the process shaking up the audience's expectations and throwing out the occasional red herring to keep the viewers guessing.
For example, the story is set in a world where the 2008 Ao Oni video game as well as its spin-off light novels and live-action movies exist, and some of the character's lines border on breaking the fourth wall, such as when they comment on the gory nature of the tale of the Bellflower Demon or when they theorize that maybe believing in monsters brings them to life.
Game Over: Bad End.
Crunchyroll currently streams AOONI THE ANIMATION in territories worldwide except Asia. The film is available in the original Japanese language with subtitles in English, Spanish, Latin American Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, and German. Presently, there is no home video release of the film in North America, so what you stream is what you get.
AOONI THE ANIMATION is definitely not for everyone, but if you can get past the sometimes dodgy visuals, you'll find a grim, atmospheric, and uncompromising little horror story to enjoy, and all within a brisk run-time of 60 minutes. And if horror's not your thing but you still want to get into the Halloween spirit, you can always check out the comedy version, Aooni The Blue Monster, which also features animation from Studio Deen, albeit in a very different style.
Is there a series in Crunchyroll's catalog that you think needs some more love and attention? Please send in your suggestions via e-mail to [email protected] or post a Tweet to @gooberzilla. Your pick could inspire the next installment of “Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog”!
Paul Chapman is the host of The Greatest Movie EVER! Podcast and GME! Anime Fun Time.