Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories is an artist and filmmaker’s dream! [Review]

Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories
Step right up and have a look. It’s time for Yamishibai! Pic credit: ILCA

Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories is the perfect series to watch if you plan to create videos online or in real life. The art style changes between seasons, and sometimes in the same season, some ghosts/monsters are beyond creepy, and each episode is about four minutes long.

But there’s also little plot to connect the seasons outside our narrator. Who appears in various locations, usually at 5 p.m., and calls out to us to have a look in a cheerful voice.

Until we reach season 10, where it appears he’s finally ready to retire from storytelling. But will the mask let him go?

Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories
Don’t laugh. You’re next! Pic credit: ILCA

What is Yamishibai?

Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories, also known as Theatre of Darkness: Yamishibai, Yami Shibai, or Dark Play, originally came out in 2013. It now has ten seasons and 130 episodes.

There’s also a spin-off series, Ninja Collection, and in a bold twist, Crunchyroll added the live-action series to the anime instead of listing it separately. Thus giving the show two seasons instead of one.

And everything works. The stories are based on Japanese myths and urban legends, but there’s rarely a happy ending.

Most characters aren’t doing anything wrong or deserve to be attacked, but death is a constant presence in the show. That said, Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories did surprise me several times.

The short duration of each episode helps focus the scares, and the viewer rarely gets the chance to figure out what’s going on. In this show, anything can get you killed or suffer a fate worse than death.

But that does leave room for more stories. One of the few complaints/wishes fans have is the inability to see the narrator’s face.

He’s always wearing a yellow mask that’s more than what it appears. If the mask is alive, then what fate has befallen the narrator?

Honoring the old while embracing the new!

Yamishibai is based on Kamishibai or paper play. It was very popular during the Great Depression, as a Kamishibaiya, or storyteller, would travel the streets and put on shows using illustrated boards and a miniature stage device.

Which is shown perfectly throughout the series. But the live-action takes it up a notch by producing longer episodes that have been cut into smaller segments.

Although some are taken from the previous seasons, the live-action also helps flesh out the reused segments. And there’s a shorter segment that isn’t revealed until the first one ends!

And the art style of the live-action uses static photos of the actors and their surroundings to give each episode a surreal quality. The expressions sometimes tend to be exaggerated, but everything fits together to give the viewer a decent show.

I’d recommend Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories to anyone who wants to experiment with visual storytelling and is an urban legend fanatic.

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