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Anime / Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories

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Step right up and have a look, it's time for Yami Shibai...

Everybody loves a good horror story, don't they? Well, maybe they got a little more than they wished for in this...

A rather peculiar animated series from Japan, Yami Shibai (also known as Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories or Theater of Darkness) is a compendium of short horror stories based off Japanese folklore and urban legends, as told by an old man to the kids in a playground, through the paper theater (or "kamishibai"). The series through the ninth season is available on Crunchyroll, with a tenth set to release in January 2022. Oh, and there's also live action adaptation as well (also available on Crunchyroll).



  • …And That Little Girl Was Me: The season 3 finale reveals that the child narrator from the third season is actually the old man narrator from the first two.
  • Animation Bump: The only bit of conventional animation in the first season is from "Tormentor", which helps to illustrate who is being affected by a particular curse.
  • Art Evolution:
    • Season 3 has notably better drawn character models, though still with the iconic stop motion animation.
    • Once again in Season 4, to the point that some episodes look more like mainstream anime aside from the stop motion.
  • And I Must Scream: Anyone who moves into the apartment in "The Neighbors" will be lured into the neighboring one and trapped forever with the tormented spirits of its previous victims.
  • Artifact Title: In season 3, the original intro with the paper theater and the old man is replaced with a child drawing in a sketchbook on the playground, so the pun about "Kamishibai" no longer makes sense. Then the season 3 finale reveals that the boy was the old man all along. However, it's back for seasons 4 onwards.
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  • Art Shift: Season 3 features bouncier and more fluid animation, and slightly more visceral styles for monsters. In season 4, each episodes will have close-up shots in live-action, usually on a small object or a note. In season 5, the art takes on more of a stylized from resembling watercolor or illustration which varies from episode to episode, and some of the episodes feature film grain effects.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For:
    • The man in "The Next Floor" wanted to be left alone... So he's left alone in the closed-down, haunted mall at night (or possibly forever...).
    • Miki from "That Side Festival" wanted to stay at the festival forever...
  • Babies Ever After: "Nao-chan" ends with Takkun's parents welcoming a new baby into their family, named after their old deceased college friend. By the looks of the face the baby is making, it very well was the Nao-chan shadow Takkun plays with, and heavily implied to be the real Nao-chan as well.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: When even apparently normal human characters have these eyes, watch out...
  • The Blank: The gallery attendant from "Paintings" reveals that she doesn't have a face when she moves out of the shadows
  • Body Horror:
    • Kotone from "Cursed" has one inflicted on her so that her skin is black and blue with bruises and has a red arm stretching around her wrist.
    • Satomi from "Merry Go Round" is turned into a twisted merry go round horse, and is still alive.
  • Breather Episode: "Flower Reading" in season 5. The episode as a whole has a Lighter and Softer style and is more colorful than the others, and ends on a bittersweet note rather than a Jump Scare or Downer Ending.
  • Cats Are Mean: In "Tongue" a man is seemingly haunted by the ghost of a cat for the sole crime of burying it after it had been hit by a car. Except it's not the CAT'S ghost, it's the ghost of a woman whose body he DIDN'T find.
  • Costume Copycat: Appropiately used by both Yukari and Haru in the episode "Copycat"
  • Creepy Child:
    • The boy in the season 3 intro.
    • Kotone in the episode "Cursed".
    • The friends of the titular "Tomonari-kun", as well as the ghost himself.
    • "Tunnel" seems like its going in this direction at first. The actual twist is even worse.
    • The little girl in "Give It To Me" starts out normal enough, but she gets increasingly creepy as the episode progresses. Then she suddenly appears in the protagonists car...
    • The girl in "Flower Reading" is a bit creepy, but might be benign.
    • Whatever was inside the titular "Snow Hut".
    • Takashi in "Tree of Innocence".
  • Creepy Crows: "The Crow Children". They're not actually crows...
  • Creepy Doll:
    • The Matrushka doll from "Inside" and also the doll inside the train locker from "Locker".
    • "Taro-chan" from the story of the same name, particularly because he's heavily implied to be housing the soul of a little boy who died in a traffic accident.
    • "The Empress Doll"
    • Mikoto from "The Reception Room", though thankfully it doesn't seem to be evil.
  • Creepy Monotone:
    • The old man telling the stories tends to always speak like this.
    • The speaking voice of the Umbrella Goddess.
    • The nurse in "The Noisy Hospital Room".
    • Nakayama/Honoka in "Calling Crane".
  • Creepily Long Arms: Whatever is inside the aquarium in "Fish Tank"
  • Daylight Horror: While most of the stories are set at night or twilight, the daytime is no protection as several stories do take place during bright sunshine.
  • Dead All Along: The main character from "Copycat" is actually a ghost, which leads to her copycat friend committing suicide. The main character of "Flower Reading" might be this too, if he didn't just die at the end.
  • Deathbed Confession: Inverted for "Funeral Confession". All of the attendants of the funeral go into the room of the deceased to tell them one secret they never were able to reveal when the deceased was still around.
  • Death of a Child: No one is safe in this series, least of all children.
  • Dem Bones: The creepy skeletons that appear when a character lies about writing a story he found on a train and they drag him down to Hell.
  • Demonic Dummy: The ventriloquist dummy from Taro-chan.
  • Demonic Possession: "Tormentor", "Contradiction", possibly "Inside". The same also applies to "Calling Crane" and "Tomonashi Cave". Also what happens to Satoshi in "Tree of Innocence".
  • Downer Ending: For the most part, the stories told by the old man seem to be lack anything resembling a Happy Ending, even if a story doesn't end with an impending death.
  • Driven to Suicide: The season 1 story "The Overhead Rack" features a railway that has had jumping incidents with increasing frequency. The meat blob whispering about pain and cold to especially vulnerable people might have something to do with it, as we see with our protagonist.
  • Eastern Zodiac: The theme for season nine centers around the Chinese Zodiac.
  • Eldritch Abomination: More than a few of the... things that appear in the show (read: those that aren't Humanoid Abominations or Animalistic Abominations).
  • Evil Phone: "Giveback-Sama" revolves around a phone number you can call and ask a mysterious entity for a favor. However, you have to call the number again the next day and say thanks, otherwise it will have deadly consequences. Moreso, you can only make the call exactly one minute before midnight.
    • "Public Phone", where a phone booth is haunted by a Humanoid Abomination, which lures in more victims by letting them call for help with a phone card inside the booth before killing them
  • Evolving Credits: In Season 3, a new singing mask was added to the credits every episode, until all 13 of them appeared around the drawing boy with the thirteenth being worn on the boy's face.
  • Exact Words: The ritual in "Swamp Offering" involves throwing away a most prized possession, not necessarily your most prized possession.
  • Eye Scream: Don't ever reveal that you can see ghosts in "If You Want to See Ghosts", because they don't like being seen, and will remove your ability to do so... and anything else.
    • Takuya does this to himself at the end of "Frogs Eggs" so he won't be scared of other people's eyes anymore.
    • The woman from "Manga Cafe" sold her eyes to afford a valuable earring
  • Failing a Taxi: "Red High Heel" starts with a salary man who's been working late finding it impossible to catch a cab home, and starts to walk home. Once a free taxi picks him up on an empty suburban road, he quickly wishes it hadn't...
  • Fate Worse than Death: Anyone who doesn't heed the rule of not taking any pictures of the art in "Paintings" is trapped inside a painting themselves and added to the gallery. And judging by the creepy art, it's not a pleasant fate
  • Four Is Death: In "Capsule Toy Machine", the salaryman we follow begins to rapidly age as he uses the mysterious and titular machine one night. He only manages to collect three toys, but as he reaches for a fourth he expires.
  • Frequently-Broken Unbreakable Vow: In "Tomonari-kun", the main character promises the boys that she’ll play with the strange shadow they call “Tomonari-kun”, but never has time to keep it (and it's implied she's creeped out by the boys and doesn't want to uphold her promise). Unfortunately for her, Tomonari-kun forces her to enact on the promise, dragging her into him and turning her into another shadow.
  • Genre Anthology: The episodes are all independent from each other, with no revisited characters in the stories or horrors.
  • Ghost Story: A no-brainer, although in some cases it seems to play with the usual expectations.
  • Haunted Technology:
    • In "Video", three bored boys decided to play a cursed VCR tape they got from their friend. It doesn't end well for them!
    • The main character in "Cassette Tape" returns to his parents home and finds one of the old cassette tapes he used to record audio diaries as a child. They start out normal, but the entries go on longer than he remembers doing the diaries, and become increasingly nonsensical and surreal. Eventually, it reaches his teen and adult years, long after he moved out of his parents home, and finally reaches the day he arrived back. He understandably freaks out and pulls off the headphones which he only now notices are not plugged in.
    • The TV in "Notice Of Termination of Service" won't shut off, and starts listing people in the town who have died recently, finishing with the name and picture of the main character, accompanied by someone beginning to knock on the door.
  • Haunted House: Several, most notably in "The Empress Doll", "Fish Tank", "Sewing Shears" and "Kitchen".
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: Quite often.
  • Hellevator: "The Next Floor". It takes the protagonist to floor B4, which is a totally dark floor that all the patrons (minus him) walk into as if in a trance. Then it goes to B13, this one lit with a Red Filter of Doom, and a bloodied man tries to drag himself into the elevator, but the doors close just in time.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The weird breathing sound the Umbrella Goddess makes.
  • Hidden Disdain Reveal: Ayano from "Kitchen" becomes increasingly more unpleasant once she thinks our heroine doesn't like her cooking, ending with her admitting she found her annoying and breaking off their friendship.
  • Hope Spot:
    • In "The Umbrella Goddess", Kenji is made to stay in his parents' shed and never open the door until morning after seeing the titular spirit. Aside from getting snacks from his friend Takeru, he keeps the door shut all night, throughout shakes, pleading from the spirit, and the spirit impersonating Takeru to get access to him. But just as he moves to go outside to rejoin his friends and family, the spirit seizes him. Well, he did open the door for Takeru earlier...
    • "Cursed" makes the viewer think that Kotone's curse had been lifted by the priests once her curse marks went away. Nope. When the previous priests mentioned that there was nothing they could do to stop the curse, they meant it; it not only kills the priestess who oversaw the ritual, but also goes right back to Kotone to claim her life the day afterwards.
  • Horror Hunger: "Ominie-san"
  • Inescapable Horror: As with many Japanese horror stories, there is no escape once you're targeted by the supernatural, even if you survive the initial encounter.
  • Live-Action Adaptation: Believe it or not, there have been live action adaptions of some of the episodes.
  • Look Both Ways: The story Taro-chan tells has him getting hit by a car while riding his bike. Judging by how he sounds like he's sobbing when the policeman throws him off, it's likely that this was how the real Taro-chan died.
  • Loss of Identity: Seems to be the Mind Screw ending of "Guess Who?".
  • Missed the Bus: The main character of "Night Bus" gets back on what he thinks is his bus at a rest stop...
    • "Red High Heel" has the main character miss the train.
  • Missing Mom: The main character's mother in "Thunderous Visitor" abruptly abandoned the family when he was a child. Much to his surprise, she calls him out of the blue during a massive thunderstorm. The call was an even bigger surprise to his father, who had actually murdered her
  • More Teeth than the Osmond Family: The four demonic laughing doctors in "The Noisy Hospital Room", who's faces are basically just giant, grinning mouths.
    • "The Handshake Man"
  • Mood Whiplash: All the series have a far more energetic and positive soundtrack in the credits than in the intro-song or in the episodes themselves. Season 4 was especially upbeat!
    • In-universe, we have "The Umbrella Goddess". The sun is rising, the mood is cheerful and the boy doesn't even notice the Goddess waiting right outside the door
  • Murderous Mannequin:
    • In "The Next Floor", a mannequin serves as the elevator girl of a hellevator in a department store. She drops the victim-of-the-day off at a floor where he's "left alone" forever, as per his wish.
    • In "— Drawings —", a boy with the power to draw monsters into existence sics a handful of mannequins on the watchman. It's implied they murder him.
  • Nightmare Face: Plenty of them!
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: The main character of "Tongue" is haunted for giving a dead cat a proper burial. The ghost is angry that he didn't find her body!
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Most of the time, we never really get an explanation for the weird stuff that happens. Hell, most of the stories don't even show what happens to the main characters after The Reveal!
    • We never find out exactly what the spirit in "Death Day" is, as it's invisible to everyone except Sachiko, who can see spirits. What we do find out is that it's NOT the ghost of the Kunitake family's mother, as they've thought for the past ten years since it always visited on the anniversary of her death, and smelled of her perfume.
    • It's never shown what takes away all the characters when the lights go out in "The Handkerchief Game
  • No Ending: The stories that don't have downright Downer Endings just sort of...stop.
  • Off with His Head!: Whatever is haunting the apartment in "Sewing Shears", as the top half of his head is missing.
  • Rapid Aging: One of the stories in season 2 involves a young man who suddenly turns into an old man while using a cursed toy dispenser.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: The episode Contradiction where a girl is called by her two friends who are trapped in a haunted hospital. Unfortunately her friends are both telling the truth about their dire circumstances.
  • Together in Death: The main character and his wife in "Flower Reading".
  • Trapped in Another World: Miki in "That Side Festival", Takuya and Miyako in "Don't Look Back".
  • Spooky Painting: A whole gallery of them in the episode "Paintings". It turns out that they trap people inside them.
  • Stealing the Credit: Haga finds a manuscript for a short story, and enters it into a Newcomer Writer contest under his name. The runners at least have the common sense to confirm the matter twice before accepting Haga as the real author, but once he cracks he's Dragged Off to Hell. Not like actually keeping the award was any less traumatizing, mind.
  • Space Whale Aesop:
    • "The Next Floor" - don't ever think bad things about your family, because some supernatural being is gonna take you on a trip down to hell and then leave you alone in a closed mall for the rest of eternity.
    • The later seasons basically all have the moral of "Don't do anything or go anywhere, because you got a good chance of being brutally murdered by ghosts or yokai".
  • Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl: Well DUH. The hair part even becomes a plot in "Hair".
    • Not a GHOST per se, but the long, stringy hair appears again in "In The Water", this time belonging to a monstrous fish woman
  • Taxidermy is Creepy: "Museum Of Taxidermy". It's especially creepy when the animal exhibits kill the visitors and staff and turn them into the actual exhibits!
  • The Tooth Hurts: "Grinding Teeth"
  • Thinks Like a Romance Novel: The protagonist of "Guess Who?"
  • Voice of the Legion: Whatever entity's possessing the doll in "Inside".
  • Wham Episode: The season 3 finale, which reveals that the little boy from the intro is really the old masked man from season 1 and 2.
  • You Dirty Rat!: The wife in "Rat" is scared of the rats living in the couples new apartment. She was right to be scared.
    You were right, Ken-chan. They really grew on me.

Alternative Title(s): Yami Shibai