“Yami Shibai: Japanese Ghost Stories” (also known as “Theater of Darkness”) is a short-pull series, as none of the episodes go over five minutes. For those who remember, this is more like “Night Gallery”, in which a short tale is told and there is some kind of ironic twist at the end, but something bad happens to the person in question.
This is a show with not only limited animation, but it is a caliber of stop-motion. This approach may be off-putting to some, as it really is an ‘economical’ approach to animation that may or may not work. The stories themselves may also be too brief to generate any real scares, not much different than tales around the campfire, done so I can make you drop your marshmallow into the flames.
It opens with a bunch of kids at a playground, but they are not playing. They are waiting. But waiting for whom? The ice cream man? The Octopus Ball woman? The friendly neighborhood dope peddler? Nope, it’s this guy on his bike, lugging his little shrine. The kids cluster around him and he tells another tale of terror and torment.
It’s just that for someone like me, who grew up with first run “Twilight Zone” and “Night Gallery”, you see right through the stories pretty quick, so there is (for me at least) disappointment, as I can predict exactly what happens, which is a downer. There should be some degree of surprise or unseen twist to make it more suspenseful, but there isn’t. It’s merely that they moved it to Japan, but these stories are fairly universal and could take place almost anywhere in the world (well, maybe not Antarctica).
But it’s that animation that hampers the show. Sure, they try and make it look older than it is, like the film stock has faded and gotten badly scratches with time and neglect, but the whole thing has the feel of a school project, where you have a tight budget and need to do the best you can with what little money you possess. We can see the heart, but it is hampered by an amateurish approach to things. It’s just that it never felt moody or atmospheric enough to induce goose bumps (the ending theme is THE scariest part of the whole show).
Check it out if you want, but don’t expect too much from it.
On a scale of 1 to 10:
Artwork 4 (Really flat)
Plot 5 (Done before and better)
Pacing 5 (Sluggish)
Effectiveness 5 (Where is the fear?)
Conclusion 6 (It reaches a ‘coupler’, but doesn’t really end)
Fan Service 0 (A similar show would be “Honey and Clover”)
Overall 5 (Not much to recommend it)
And remember, it’s first run until you’ve seen it. Step right up and have a look.