What They Say:
Ghosts. Curses. Demons. If you crave tales of terror and seek mysteries that defy explanation, go to the park at 5. That’s when the man in the yellow mask will arrive with his kamishibai, the paper theater, to tell his sinister stories of Japan’s darkest side. But be warned: this storyteller’s works may do more than simply send shivers down your spine. Because the more fascinated you become with the supernatural, the more the supernatural may become fascinated with you.
Enter a world where the closest of friends can become the deadliest of enemies, where the most mundane of objects can become hair-raising nightmares, and not even one’s own family can be trusted to remain human. Dare to pierce the veil of darkness and a realm of ultimate horror awaits as you discover Yamishibai – Japanese Ghost Stories!
Contains episodes 1-26.
Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories is presented in a standard DVD case, holding two discs, each disc holding a separate season. Cover art shares a similar palette to that used throughout the series, with washed out drab colors and an almost watercolor-like effect applied throughout. And while the front cover art of a girl being grabbed by a mysterious force is actually a photoshopped version of one of the series’ calmer scenes, it does represent the mood for the series efficiently. Hidden faces within the background of the front cover really bring home the eerie mood the series aims to portray.
What is especially useful for non-Japanese consumers is the set’s description on the back, making reference to the masked man telling these spooky tales via his kamishibai paper puppet theater—something quickly gleamed over with little thought in its short opening. As bare bones as this release is, I will say its written description does its best pitching the series to anyone looking to make a better-informed purchase.
Menus for both discs are basic, listing each episode in two columns that take up the better portion of the screen. With episodes being as short as they are, such a simple and direct approach to the menu makes sense.
Extras include trailers for Sentai’s other releases and nothing else. If anything, one would expect at the least creditless opening and ending sequences, so to have even those excluded from this release is a shame.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Anthology series tend to share the same strengths and weaknesses across the board, and Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories is no exception. With no one character to follow throughout the entire run of the series, it makes getting invested in the story that much more difficult. Doubly so, considering how short each episode already is. At about four minutes per episode, there’s just not enough time to build up the tension, though a handful of episodes still shines nonetheless (particularly in the second half of the second season, with a few more sprinkled throughout season one).
Stories lean more towards an initial realistic or mundane setting, at places like an abandoned corridor at school, or an otherwise empty apartment, with the horror slowly creeping its way into things. Characters are mostly forgettable in their genericness as per the horror genre norm, and are even left unnamed in some cases if only because the true focus is the inevitable scare come the episode’s finale. Each episode’s form of horror varies, sometimes taking on the form of a jump scare or alternatively through a genuinely horrifying and unsettling twist in the story. Because of such, only a handful of episodes are really memorable and worth watching more than once, with a smaller handful being smart enough to start mid-story for the sake of time and pacing. Personal favorites include: “Hair,” “Contradiction,” “Capsule Toy Machine,” and “Ominie-san.”
Since each episode is portrayed in the style of kamishibai (paper puppets), animation is very minimal, trying to keep things in vein of the original format created oh so long ago. For the most part, such a stylistic change doesn’t detract too much from the short stories being told, though there are a few times where a scare would have definitely benefit from something more intricate than paper-puppet levels of animation. Regardless, the style works in most cases, helping set the stage for each mini-sode, with the occasional episode even going out of its way to momentarily break this self-rule, as sudden fluid live-action animation works its way in to really bring home the unnerving-ness of that particular scene.
It’s an interesting quirk, but at the end of the day it’s still a mediocre series.
Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories is a series that would have much better benefit from the episodes being available for purchase individually. Due to the hit-or-miss quality of its episodes, being able to cherry-pick the few gems would have been much appreciated over this bare bones release. Still, due to its bare-bonesiness, it’s been watered down to a pretty reasonable price, especially for anime release standards. If anything, it’s one of those blind-buys you add to your online order to get free shipping, but not something you go out of your way to buy alone.
Spoken Languages: Japanese, English subtitles.
Content Grade: C+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B-
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: April 19th, 2016
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Video Encoding: —
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Lenovo Laptop IdeaPad Y570, 15.6”