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In most horror anime, the terror often comes from the threat of death to the characters. Terrorized by ghosts, hunted by killers, and splattered into bloody pieces – there is no threat of death to us the audience, but it reminds us that it is out there. Lovecraftian style horror, or rather cosmic horror if you prefer the less name-brand classification, is defined by the fear of the unknown as well as the unknowable.
While specified Lovecraftian horror is rather rare in anime, you will see elements of it in horror anime sometimes because the unknown is a crucial part of fear. Instead of being a specific splatterfest of gore, Lovecraftian style horror focuses on our confrontation with the unknown and the madness that stems from seeing something beyond the scope of human understanding.
The terror comes from our own insignificance and dispelling the illusion that our presence has any meaning at all. It is a bleak outlook, to say the least, and in general difficult to write well. If you are looking for these Lovecraftian influences in horror anime, then check these anime recommendations out.
There are plenty of aliens in anime, but few anime where aliens act like they are indeed from a different planet than ours. In Parasyte, the aliens aren’t even in possession of a humanoid form. They are a parasitic species that rain on the planet one night and take over the minds and bodies of their hosts.
Once fully assimilated inside of a host, these aliens also posses full control over the flesh, being able to split, shape, and harden it into horrifying new ways to defend themselves and assert dominance.
While Parasyte follows a school boy who ends up only partially being infecting by a parasite, forcing them to learn to coexist together, it explores some Lovecraftian themes as he struggles to survive alien attacks and keep aliens from carrying out their machinations.
One of the major themes in Parasyte is that morality as we see it is only a human concept. What does a parasite from the stars know of good and evil? It is humanity who defined it, but it is not a universal concept. It makes some of the encounters particularly ponderous.
Made in Abyss is an anime series with an overall very simple premise of a group of explorers delving into a chasm where adventurers never return, but don’t necessarily die, past a certain level. As they descend in the Abyss, there is a constant about it – each new level is home to horrors worse than the level above it.
Made in the Abyss is one of the few adventure anime to embrace the very Lovecraftian fear of the unknowable. However, the characters are very rarely scared themselves. Instead, it is what the show displays that evokes fear and discomfort in the audience.
In addition to that, perhaps the most Lovecraftian thing that Made in Abyss does best is the viscera – the tentacles, the squigglies, and the gelatinous goop. The series really embraces the body horror and visceral textures that Lovecraft espoused in his works to great effect. It goes above an beyond the well-documented appreciation for the tentacle in anime and shows that you can do so much more horrifying things with wriggling horror.
The legendary horror manga creator Junji Ito has many of his works steeped in Lovecraftian ideas, particularly the body horror part of Lovecraft.
Unfortunately, his work doesn’t necessarily transfer to anime as smoothly as you would expect.
The Junji Ito Collection and Junji Ito Maniac are both anthologies adapting a collection of Junji Ito’s long library of works. Some are legitimately chilling, some are unintentionally hilarious. Both anime anthologies have the worst habit of starting with sillier tales, but if you continue watching, you will see Lovecraft’s hand shaping many of the more horrific stories.
Lovecraftian horror is always home to a pervasive sense of helplessness, and there are few anime series that capture a sense of helplessness like Berserk.
Just as humanity is privileged in our position of apex being on Earth, so too are action anime protagonists privileged to a certain degree of victory. Not in Berserk.
Gutts is strong, certainly stronger than any other regular human in the world of Berserk, but even his strength and struggle constantly flounder in the face of the higher cosmic powers unleashed in the world after a certain point in the series.
While Gutts celebrates victories even against abominations, there is always a higher power above his reach and wildly beyond even his own abilities. As the series goes on, you watch him even give away more of his humanity in a trade for power, and if there is one prevailing theme in Berserk, it is that power corrupts.
While there are many that enjoy lumping on Shinji for how whiny he is about his lot as mecha anime protagonist, his journey through Evangelion ends up in very Lovecraftian places.
The series not only explores his depression, but it truly captures the cosmic insignificance of humanity and the break down of the mind that happens when faced with the unfathomable.
This is also uniquely the one time I can recommend the original Evangelion anime, even the beautiful mess it was at the end, over the remake movies. The movies keep some of the Lovecraftian themes, but not quite like the original and the End of Evangelion movie.
The Devilman franchise treats human, demons, and their relationship with God in frank way. While Devilman Crybaby, the most modern adaptation of a story in the Devilman franchise, only touches upon it, the series really displays the insignificance of humanity and what madness takes over when we are faced with that.
We are insignificant against the might of even a weak demon. Devilmen are insignificant against stronger demons and angels. And finally, everything is insignificant against God who, in Devilman, is portrayed as an Eldrich abomination rather than benevolent or wrathful. Though, they are certainly prone to wrath when it comes to Satan and his fate.
When it comes to Lovecraft in anime, you have to make your own connections based on the themes between Lovecraft’s works and the themes of the anime. Aside from one rom-com anime with Eldrich abominations as cute anime girls, there aren’t really a lot of direct references to the lore. Well, until Housing Complex C.
This short 4-episode horror anime that suffers from pacing issues and thus earns middling reviews is perhaps one of the most specifically Lovecraftian horror anime series to be made yet. However, to say specifically as to why would completely ruin what is actually a fun little horror anime to watch.
Let’s just say that Housing Complex C is less body horror Lovecraft, and more cosmic horror “humanity is insignificant in the face of beings far beyond our narrow scope of understanding” Lovecraftian horror.
I am, admittedly, not so well versed on Lovecraft as I am on anime. As such, if you have more anime recommendations that best display the themes of Lovecraft’s works, let fans know in the comments section below.