I'm throwing this out there right now: I've never seen a scary anime title before, and I'm not sure there currently is one. The medium is capable of delivering gore and shock, but among the many shows and movies I've seen over the years, not a single one seems to know the visual language for instilling actual fear in its viewers (or at least this viewer). Still, there are quite a few fun/interesting/nervy titles out there worth checking out this week leading up to Halloween. I've tried to provide the best means for seeking out some of these shows and movies--quite a few are readily available, while several are in nebulous states thanks to the changing fortunes of the anime industry over the last few years.
10. Highschool of the Dead
Unadulterated jiggly goofiness, unapologetic T&A and gore. Highschool of the Dead is the kind of series you get mad at or simply roll your eyes and roll with its goofiness and commitment to its premise: that is to say, the global takeover of the living dead of the entire world, and the rough and tumble band of Japanese high school students willing to brave out the apocalypse. Pure and simple, it's fan service with zombies, and you'll either hate it or think it's ridiculous good fun (sometimes in the same scene). Besides fetishizing its female cast, it also serves as a nice bit of weapon porn for people into that, with guns, vehicles, and swords being lovingly displayed and wielded by the cast ads they strike down the ever-expanding zombie population.
Availability: The entire series just got an R1 DVD and Blu-ray release from Section 23 Films, so you can either pick that up or rent it through Amazon's VOD service.
9. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo
This was kind of an odd pick for me, but I think in part the high-concept pitch of the series helped it make the list. To wit: the The Count of Monte Cristo has been transplanted from its original Mediterranean setting of the 1800s to retro-futuristic cities and outer space where the titular count has returned, not simply as a wealthy nobleman, but as a wealthy space vampire ex-pirate with a mercenary maid and mechs to wreak his vengeance upon the nobility that betrayed him years before. Concerning itself as it does with disguises, masks, and misdirection, it felt like a perfect pick for this list.
Availability: The entire series is streaming on Netflix and on the Funimation site. There's also a really inexpensive boxset collecting the entire series, so check that out if you dig the physical media thing.
8. Black Jack
Tezuka's brilliant scarred surgeon gets into some truly bizarre cases that would give Dr. House a run for his money. And sometimes they get downright supernatural. This entry might be a slightly difficult one to track down given how many scattered releases of Black Jack anime titles there are, but if you can find any of them, they're worth checking out if only for the delightful oddity of the character and his baroque medical adventures.
Availability: The 1992 series is available for rent on Netflix, while individual volumes can be purchased on the cheap from Amazon.
7. Kakurenbo: Hide & Seek
I'm going to be honest with you: I'm not a huge fan of Hide and Seek, but I can see the appeal and why it received so much attention upon its release five years ago. It's pretty short, but this story pitting a group of school kids against a supernatural terror as part of some long-running game played in the slums has some interesting, CG-assisted animation, and, if you're in the right mood for it, a decent bit of atmosphere to draw you in.
Availability: This one is a little hard to come by, but various resellers are offering it for wildly varying prices on Amazon. But, Netflix appears to have it on DVD for rental.
Hellsing is a mix of that outsized style of Japanese cool that thinks that shapeshifting, nearly immortal vampire kings and dressing like a mix between a 19th-century fop and Colonel Sanders all done up in red are good things to cram together. And they're kind of right. The 13-episode series from 2001-2002 (don't mind the recent Ultimate OVA) draws together vampire lore with elements of Stoker's novel, millennial Illuminati-style threats, and so very much gore. Set in London and following a rookie police woman-turned vampire servant of Alucard and the titular vampire-slaying organization, it has more style than sense. The animation isn't always the best (there's a lot of stiffness to some of the character movement) but many of the character designs and situations are wildly inventive and nasty, especially Alucard's elaborate, eyeball-covered black dog form.
Availability: It looks like you can still rent disc-based copies of the series through Netflix, while buying the actual set might be a little less simple. Rightstuf.com has the entire series for about $45, while Amazon has a bunch of copies from various resellers.
5. Wicked City
Okay, this one rubs right up against getting a little tentacle-y, but beyond that, there's a very solid thriller about mismatched partners across the divide of the human world and the "Black World" populated by shapeshifting, demonic creatures. It's a like a buddy action film with a little dash of romance and body horror thrown in for good measure as the partners try to prevent a group of terrorists from the Black World side from disrupting the truce between the two dimensions. The credits for director Yoshiaki Kawajiri should speak for themselves, so suffice it to say, if you've liked any of his other work, you should definitely check this out.
Availability: Sadly, it's out of print on DVD and there are currently no legitimate streaming options for it.
4. Soul Eater
I spent a lot of words recently talking about how much I love this series, so you know why I like it. But why is this a Halloween pick? Well, besides taking the opportunity to bring it to your attention again, the Nightmare Before Christmas meets old Bosco cartoons feels like more than enough to get you in the mood for Halloween festivities. Plus, the costume options--so many costume options!
3. Vampire Hunter D
Let's get some more vampires up in here, am I right? Hideyuki Kikuchi's fearless vampire killer is essentially Blade with, you know, a magic talking hand. Originally springing from a series of source novels, the two movies in the Vampire Hunter DVampire Hunter D and Bloodlust--don't share any continuity or even a similar animation style. They are joined by one tough, no-nonsense vampire killer with a weakness for vulnerable ladies. Plus, the D universe exists in one of those cool industrial-retro-post-apocalyptic eras which lend the whole thing a very odd and interesting aesthetic across both movies.
Allegedly, as of last year, an animated series was being planned in Japan.
Availability: Whoa, it looks like both the first and second film, Bloodlust are way out of print. Thankfully, Amazon the sequel as VOD, so there's that option. Sadly, its current rights holder, Urban Vision, seems to have had a financial shakeup last year, leaving the future of many of their titles in limbo for the moment (including the aforementioned Wicked City).
2. Perfect Blue
From the late, great Satoshi Kon, comes this thriller set among the world of pop idols as a J-Pop singer attempts to navigate the transition from singer to actress and finds out that one of her fans might not be willing to let her sully her pristine image. Perfect Blue retains so much of its power thanks to its plausibility: it's not a broad horror story, but a very clear snapshot of fame and sexualized young women. Besides being a nervy, smart thriller, the movie looks great (thanks to animation by Madhouse).
Availability: The film got a decent-ish DVD release 11 years ago, but it's weirdly going for $40 right now on Amazon. It's a shame there's no domestic Blu-ray release yet, though.
1. Boogiepop Phantom
Boogiepop Phantom is an uneasy and strange mix of serial killers, pre-millenium tension, aliens, clones, secret organization, addictive drugs, and the impermanence of memory. It's not light viewing by any stretch but it's essential viewing and worth checking out as soon as you get the chance (actually, I should give the whole series a full writeup soon).
When I described anime titles that were "unsettling" up in the intro, I was alluding specifically to the decade-old Boogiepop. There was something in the water at the beginning of the new century with Japan, muddling through their economic "lost decade," and it felt like a lot of the horror fiction was centered on being lost, getting disconnected, or disappearing altogether. Between Boogiepop, Serial Experiments Lain, and live action features like Kairo (aka Pulse), the anxiety in a lot of Japanese fiction was palpable. Like most of the titles on the list, while it's not a "Halloween" title per se, it's got the right amount of spookiness and weirdness that makes it worth seeing.
Availability: The series is currently streaming on its YouTube channel. But if you like to have actual, physical copies in your hand, Rightstuf.com has the whole series and the live action movie in one set.