Plot: Inspired and reliving the stories of old 60s and 70s horror stories that used to be told in magazines, Sekai no Yami Zukan presents several of these stories as short animations.
Breakdown: Hey, it’s October again! That means it’s time for Animating Halloween! The month-long event at The Anime Madhouse where I load up the month with Halloween and horror-based reviews! I’m ready and raring to go, so let’s start! (Cards on the table. I meant to post this review last October, but it slipped through the cracks. Sorry. :x)
I had been a bit sad when I finished the last season of Yami Shibai, so I looked up series that were similar to it.
I didn’t really expect to find a show that was a damn near clone of it…
Sekai no Yami Zukan basically is Yami Shibai, with the only real differences being the art style (though the animation is still the same extremely limited slideshow-esque style), the bookends being….well, a book instead of a kamishibai show, and the subject matter focusing much less on supernatural pieces of folklore and more on things like….aliens, ancient civilizations and alternate dimensions. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and considering the time period it’s taking from, it’s understandable that these topics are being covered.
Also, I should mention that the director of Yami Shibai 2, Noburo Iguchi, directed this. Considering Yami Shibai 2 was largely meh, that was a little worrying right out the door. This guy has absolutely no other crew credits to his name besides directing Yami Shibai 2 and Sekai no Yami Zukan.
I didn’t feel compelled to give a specific post to each episode like I do with Yami Shibai, so let’s just go down each episode quickly.
Episode 1: The Black Shadow of Temptation – In this episode, a man is incredibly suspicious when he realizes his wife is sneaking away at night. One night, he decides to follow her. She, in a daze, walks through the woods, getting cut up and wounded by the trees and rocks, yet not feeling or noticing a thing. She meets up with a strange figure of a man, and her husband jumps out demanding to know what she’s doing.
The man’s an alien, she and her husband get abducted, the episode ends ambiguously with them as well as several other people in pods being experimented on in the alien ship.
I don’t get it.
Literally any story could take this turn. A man was eating his dinner and got abducted by aliens. A kid was putting gum in his sister’s hair when he was abducted by aliens. What the hell does this turn even have to do with the plot? Was she being seduced by the alien? What did jealousy have to do with it besides getting him abducted too?
Episode 2: The Fairy in the Snow – Quite a bit better than episode one, especially in regards to the ending…..but holy crap, one scene had me literally, not lying, laughing out loud for a solid minute.
The story goes that a boy named Michael was lonely and starved for love since his father was constantly chastising him and his parents were always arguing. He had no friends, but made himself a friend one day when he built a snowman.
Michael’s father destroyed the snowman and told his his son to stop making such pointless things when there are more serious matters, such as an impending snowstorm.
As the snow starts, Michael sees the snowman come to life and beckon him from outside his window. Michael, against his father’s orders, goes off to join his only friend, tired of his miserable life with his father. Michael’s father grabs his gun and runs after him, but the snowman pushes him off a cliff.
That was the scene that had me rolling. The simplistic animation coupled with the silly visual of a snowman murdering someone was just a perfect mixture of hilarity.
Michael hugs the snowman and thanks him for saving his life, claiming he’d gladly give his life for his friend. The snowman asks if he’s sincere in his statement and reveals that he’s really a monster under the guise of a snowman. Michael gets sucked into the snow and the bigfoot-esque creature escapes into the blizzard.
The monster idea, while predictable, was well-executed, except I really think they could’ve come up with a better monster design besides bigfoot.
Episode 3: The Reaper Racing Across the Plain – Still getting better, but ehhh. This story is about a hitch-hiker named Noel who gets a ride in the middle of the desert from a beautiful woman. After a while, she starts acting strange, and Noel wants to be let out, but the woman won’t let him.
It’s suddenly revealed that the woman was being used as a puppet by robotics within the truck. She is a lure to get unsuspecting men into the truck. It was a man-eating truck that uses humans for fuel, and now Noel is being absorbed.
This one was predictable on one hand because there’s obviously something wrong with this woman, and hitchhiker stories never go well. On the other hand….sentient robot car that eats people for fuel. I honestly can’t tell if that’s silly enough to ruin the story. Maybe if the narrator hadn’t flatout said this was a man-eating car that used people for fuel? The fact that it used the woman as a puppet and as bait was really clever, though.
Episode 4: What the Mysterious Circle Really Was – Getting better still, but what is with that title?
A farmer and his son see a strange circular light above their cornfields one night. The next morning, they discover that there has been a crop circle-like design cleanly cut from their cornfield. The boy surmises that it was aliens, but the more logical father believes it was a thief. To combat the thief, they stakeout their other cornfield that night. Right as they’re about to leave and go to sleep, they spot the same circular light again – this time it’s coming closer to them.
They realize that the light is not a UFO or even a disk, but a tornado-like swarm of massive insects the size of cars. They have razor sharp wings and massive mouths like sharks. They were devouring the crops and now they were targeting the farmer and his son, but they survive.
I adored the art in this one. The monsters were nothing special, but I really liked the details and the style. Also, I like that they went away from the predictable and silly alien explanation. Wasn’t very scary, though.
Episode 5: The Mechanical Men Come – Robots!…..Obviously.
This one is terrible on all grounds. A man is in a restaurant and notices that the waiter hasn’t been serving anyone for over an hour. When another patron complains about it, they realize that most of the patrons and the waiter are robots…..Why they’re in the restaurant when they don’t need to eat, and why one has a minimum wage occupation, I don’t know.
The man panics and runs out into the streets to make it back to his house to save his family, but the city and subsequently the country/world are already being overrun with robots. Survivors try to flee, and the man spends six months fighting robots and living on the streets while trying to make it back to his family, who are, from all I can tell, in the same general area. Why it took him over six months to get back, I don’t know. Luckily, his family never left the house that entire time. Yay!
He becomes leader of a survival group with his wife and daughter, they flee, and it’s revealed that the father was really a robot the entire time….his whole life. He thought the best way to annihilate the human race would be to become one and infiltrate them.
I have….so many questions.
First off, why? Why? For all of it. Why? If the main aim of these robots is to kill all humans and basically assume human identities that will inherit earth for whatever reason, why not just kill them all and be done with it? Why spend decades in a human skin trying to infiltrate them when you have a massive robot army who could wipe them out with no issue?
Second, how did he create a daughter if he’s always been a robot? How did his wife never find out?
Third, why did he freak out in the restaurant if he already knows of the robots and is one? Not just in his actions but the narration gives us his thoughts.
Fourth, why did he stay ‘in character’ during those six months if he’s a robot? If the robot apocalypse was already happening, what is the point? Join them and kill all humans.
Fifth, why bother saving his wife and daughter from the robots if he was planning on trapping and killing them anyway? This whole six months+ ordeal seems to be for the sake of leading a small group of survivors, including his family, into a fatal trap, but if he wasn’t helping them this whole time, they’d already be dead.
Sixth, how did his wife and daughter survive that whole time in their house? It’s not even barricaded.
Seventh, why did he go to the restaurant in the first place? He was alone. Robots don’t need food.
But the episode isn’t even over yet. We see that this whole thing is a virtual reality simulation that the dad bot is watching in the future – basically a recreation of historical events kinda thing. In all of its expositiony glory, his now robot wife explains that humans have been wiped out for years and they enjoy their future with their robot daughter.
Even the art was the worst for this segment. It’s all craggy and yellow with weird details. And the childish manner in which it’s drawn sucks out any horror the episode may have had.
The music was a little cool, but that’s about it.
Episode 6: The Nightmare that Disappeared into the Sand – A monster washes up on a beach and, surprise, it’s really a monster. Three dumbass self-absorbed teenagers get eaten by it.
I have nothing else to say. It’s really boring.
Episode 7: The Innocent Clown – PBBBBBBBBBBBBBBTTTTTTTTTT AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! Oh my god! HAHAHAHAHAHA! Oooh….*sigh* Congratulations – you are one of very few pieces of media to actually make me laugh at clowns.
First and foremost, the ‘animation’ of this episode completely ruins any semblance of horror, because the ‘animation’ is just photographs. Nothing drawn here, just photographs ‘animated’ in quick succession.
Second, this one is cheap enough to use jump scares, because no one ever likes to see clowns suddenly appear.
Third, because this isn’t animated, we can clearly see that this clown is just a guy in a cheap clown costume.
Fourth, the story goes that there’s an urban legend about cloudy days. If you stay inside on a cloudy day, a clown will appear from another dimension and kidnap you. Don’t laugh yet, that’s not what I’m nitpicking at the moment. When we see outside, it’s clearly sunny…..Just sayin’….we’re not blind.
Fifth, what the hell is that urban legend? If that were real, nearly everyone would get kidnapped.
Running down the story real quick, a girl and her younger sister are inside of their home during a sun—cloudy day. The younger one has her back turned to us the entire episode…..so she’s obviously a jump scare. As the older one is brushing her hair, she sees a clown appear in the mirror. It disappears and reappears on the patio to jump scare the audience.
The older sister finds that she is paralyzed and the clown is actually targeting her sister. The older sister uses all of her strength to cover the mirror with her body, which seems to deter the clown, assuming the mirror was the portal to the other dimension.
The sister is safe, the older sister is now able to move freely, but the younger one still won’t turn around. When she does, jump scare, the clown’s face is photoshopped onto her…..pbbbtttHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh and the older sister is kidnapped by the clown and dragged through the mirror, only to be discovered by the real younger sister when she returned later that day. Apparently the younger sister was the clown the whole time? How does that make sense? She was there long before the clown entered. And, what, does that mean he was just dicking around that entire time? For what purpose?
Eh, who cares? This episode is only remotely creepy if you’re deathly afraid of clowns. Pretty good for a hearty laugh, though.
Episode 8: The Mysterious Natives Who Never Get Sick – Stupidest one yet, in my opinion.
There’s a tribe of natives that never gets sick. A research team went to investigate why they’re able to stay so healthy, but they went missing. Concerned about his wife, the leader of the team, a man named John, went to the area to find the tribe and locate his wife. They say they’ll show him to her but only if he agrees to learn their secret too.
John agrees, and they knock him out with a weird gas animation. When he awakens, he finds his wife, Mary, and the research team dressed as cavemen and he’s now in his shorts. Mary states that the secret to their health is people. They shrink them down to microscopic levels and force them to combat pathogens entering their system, otherwise they’ll die.
Why the caveman outfits? Why is John the only one in normal shorts? Why are humans more adept at combating pathogens than your own white blood cells? How are they surviving in there? Poking at them with a stick probably wouldn’t do much. Humans are covered in germs and microorganisms and you’re injecting them into your system. You’re essentially loading yourself up with pathogens to fight off pathogens. How are they shrinking them? Do they have an endless supply of research teams to inject themselves with or do they sacrifice their own people sometimes? Why don’t the people just die? It’s morbid, but surely you’d die anyway from a lack of food or water. If I had to choose between a lifetime of battling germs with sticks in someone’s blood stream or dying, I probably wouldn’t hesitate too much, especially considering that battling the germs just helps the people who did this to you in the first place.
Episode 9: The Cursed Box that Brings Misery – One thing this series kinda has going for it is the ridiculous plot twists it throws at us. Even if they’re stupid, the audience typically doesn’t expect the turn the story takes. Here, it’s just a cursed box. When you look at it, you’ll either die or get possessed and kill people. The end.
The narrator makes it seem all spooky by saying ‘Now you looked at the box’ so now I guess everyone who watches this will die. Better tell everyone in a Youtube comments section.
Episode 10: The Strange Mask that Sees the End – Got a pretty good one here. It’s an original premise, though the ‘supernatural mask’ is one that’s been done time and again, and they do some pretty creative things with both the story and the animation to make it seem creepy and unsettling. This is one episode I won’t spoil for you.
Episode 11: The Call from Beneath the Earth – These people are insanely stupid. The story’s stupid too, but these people in particular are stupid.
A couple goes to an island that is covered in creepy statues. There, they meet a creepy woman. She tells them of a legend where couples would swear their love to each other in a different location where there are more creepy statues out in the middle of the jungle. The idiots follow the creepy woman, continuing to find creepy statues along the way. She leads them to a creepy cave where they find a creepy altar and, surprise surprise, it was a trap.
The cave is filled with eyeless cave dwellers who have lost all of their senses from living underground (I’m pretty sure they only lost their sense of sight considering they can have conversations, but whatever. Also, she navigates above ground very well for someone with no senses) They want their ‘light’ which is their way of saying they want their senses so they can live above ground again. Seeing as how the woman can function just fine above ground, I don’t see what this is about. Why are they even underground to begin with?
The cave dwellers spew some liquid onto the couple, which turns them into stone. The statues were really people the cave dwellers have attacked this whole time since the liquid not only seems to petrify them, but also mutates them I guess?
The narration then says they turn regular people into these statues because they hate them so much for their senses and ability to live in the light. They thought that giving the light dwellers as offerings to…whoever, they’d get their light back. The end.
This one only got a little lenience because the petrifying liquid thing surprised me a little and is kinda creative.
Episode 12: The Red Eyes at the Bottom of the Sea – This just reeks of a low budget B movie.
A mad scientist kidnaps a guy vacationing with his wife at the beach and performs an experiment on him that turns him into a humanfish: A human-fish hybrid….the end. I was starting to crack a smile at how silly the whole thing was, but, ultimately, it was just boring.
Episode 13: The Tree Shrouded in Fog – This one is alright, but bittersweet.
A girl is walking through the foggy woods trying to reach her grandmother’s house. Three handsome young men try to stop her, warning her of the dangers of the foggy woods. She proceeds anyway since she must reach her grandmother’s house. As she walks, the fog gets incredibly dense, and she soon sees shadows which take the form of her grandmother, who abuses her, and the students and teachers who used to bully her for being an orphan.
She runs away from the visions and meets the three young men again. They tell her that the fog takes the form of whatever she fears most, but they’ll lead her to a tree where all of her sadness will dissipate. She finds her deceased mother welcoming her with open arms as she reaches a clearing. The young men explain that they’ll gladly give her this happiness, but she must give up her body. A tree appears in place of all five of them with knots in the shapes of their faces, happily together forever. They say that new knots shaped like faces are added whenever the fog lifts.
Bottom Line: As a whole, this series could’ve been much worse, but it’s still very hit or miss. The source material lends itself to being mostly goofy over being interesting or scary, and that hurts it a lot.
They have some nice art styles here, and they do some clever things with the animation sometimes, but the art can also be terrible with weird animation choices that actually harm the story more than help it.
Like the art and stories, the music is also hit or miss. Some selections are really cool, catchy and haunting while others are incredibly silly or annoying. The ED is the one consistent song that kept being praised in the comments, and while I agree that the song is good, it’s also repetitive and not great.
It’s an alright series to sit through if you’re itching for something in the same realm as Yami Shibai, but, while there is one really good story in here, it’s definitely one of the biggest mixed bags I’ve ever watched.
Additional Information and Notes: Sekai no Yami Zukan was produced by TV Tokyo, who also produced Yami Shibai, and it was animated by ILCA, who also animated Yami Shibai….Starting to believe this was meant to be an actual off-shoot of Yami Shibai but they opted to have it be its own thing while also seeming very similar to it. It is not currently licensed in the US.
Recommended Audience: There’s some violence and a little bit of blood as well as ‘scary situations’ but no nudity or sex. 10+
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