Lovecraft in Anime

by E.J. Hagadorn 8 months ago in literature

The tentacles are just the beginning.

Lovecraft in Anime

When people think of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, they often think of mind-bending imagery, and unearthly beasts with tentacles. When people think of anime, they often imagine the same thing.

If you’re expecting this to be a list of my favorite tentacle hentai, I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you. I couldn’t possibly choose a favorite.

Instead, what I’ve got here is a list of Lovecraftian references in anime; some that encompass an entire series, and some that take up a single episode. Some are subtle, some overt, but all are derived from the father of cosmic horror.

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!"

'The Big O'

The people of Paradigm City live in a world of confusion, 40 years after a cataclysm that gave everyone collective amnesia. Run by a corporate police state, class inequity in the city gives rise to conflicts, requiring the help of Roger Smith, a professional negotiator. Assisted by a cybernetic maid named Dorothy, and a mecha called Big O, Smith intervenes wherever trouble arises, as the people of his city struggle to recover their memories.

In Episode 7, Smith dives down to the submerged ruins of the old city. Superstitious fishermen are afraid to take their boats out, believing that a tribe of sinister sea-dwellers lives beneath the surface. Smith's investigation leads to a confrontation with an aquatic titan called Dagon. The plot of this episode is, of course, heavily derived from both Dagon and The Shadow Over Innsmouth. On top of that, the themes of amnesia, delving into the past, and the results of learning the truth, pervade much of this anime and Lovecraft's work.

Though it's not the only anime to mix mechas with Lovecraftian themes, The Big O stands out for its unique gritty animation, and film noir tone. Its soundtrack alone is thrilling, and it's definitely worth the watch.

'Haiyore! Nyaruko-san'

Mahiro Yasaka is an ordinary high school boy who one night is pursued by Night Gaunts, that hope to abduct him into an interplanetary slave trade. He is saved by Nyarlathotep, an ancient messenger from beyond the cosmos, who wears the body of a cute girl. Immediately taken with Mahiro, she promptly moves in with him, and attends his school, determined to protect him and have his babies. This Crawling Chaos is soon joined by Cthulhu and Hastur (dressed in yellow), who also invade Mahiro’s life, much to his chagrin. Mahiro must now try to maintain an ordinary high school life, while being constantly surrounded by a relentless fan service, sexual innuendos, and invading enemies from other planets.

I’m pretty sure this is how the Cthulhu Mythos would have looked if it had been created by Lewis Carroll instead of Lovecraft.

Based on the light novel series by Manta Aisora, this anime is a hit or miss. Those looking for a direct adaptation of Lovecraft will probably be insulted, but those who love anime (particularly the harem genre) will find this to be a convenient gateway to the Mythos. On the one hand you’ve got the cosmic horrors of Lovecraft, and on the other you’ve got the lighthearted antics of a harem anime. The result of the combining of these two extremes is a show that will make you either laugh or cringe, but never yawn.

'A Lull in the Sea'

In a world where human evolution began in the sea, a seaside village holds a strained coexistence, with a neighboring underwater village. The people of the sea survive by an amniotic membrane, that allows them to breathe. Those on land are descended from sea-dwellers who abandoned their home, and now both species must coexist, however begrudgingly.

Hikari Sakishima, son of the Sea Chief, and his three friends begin the new school year by transferring to a school on the land. As they navigate the complexities of adolescence, school life, and prejudice, they become more and more aware of the tensions that exist between the land and sea villages.

Amidst all this, Hikari's big sister Akari is revealed to be in a romantic relationship with a man on the land. This is highly taboo, because reproduction between the land and sea dwellers results in human children that can live on land, but not in the sea, thus tipping the scales of the population. Though probably not deliberate, this bears a striking resemblance to The Shadow Over Innsmouth, which involved reproduction between humans and the sea creatures. The story is said to have been an allegory for Lovecraft's own horror of miscegenation, or interracial coupling.

Lovecraftian references aside, A Lull in the Sea is a clever story that portrays a fascinating world. It covers the theme of racial prejudice with finesse, and it never overdoes it on the drama. Even if you're not part of the target audience, the fantasy elements of this anime are worth the watch.

'Mushishi'

In the mid-19th century of Japan, humanity lives alongside a population of otherworldly creatures, called Mushi. Ethereal and somewhat supernatural, they exist unseen, and unknown by humanity. Though no more evil than fungi or bacteria, when the Mushi come into contact with people, strange phenomena can occur, and the results are not often pleasant. Ginko is one of the few people in Japan able to see and interact with the Mushi. He travels from place to place studying the Mushi and aiding people who are affected by them.

Highly reminiscent of From Beyond, this anime is based on the manga series by Yuki Urushibara. While it's more of an anthology series than a story, its stunning artwork and ethereal music hold your attention from the first frame. Atmospheric, imaginative, and almost eerie, Mushishi is a must-watch for all fans of Lovecraft.

'Demonbane'

Based on the PS2 visual novel, this anime brings mechas into the world of Lovecraft. Kurou Daijuuji, a detective living in Arkham City, is hired to search for a legendary grimoire called the Necronomicon. Pursued by Herbert West, an agent of the nefarious Black Lodge, he finds it in the form of a young girl named Al Azif. The two form a magical pact, and pilot the mecha called Demonbane. Their unlikely friendship creates a formidable force, that could wipe out the Black Lodge for good. Thus begins a crusade that takes them through Innsmouth and R’lyeh and other Lovecraftian locales, as they struggle to recover Al Azif’s missing pages before the Black Lodge can use them for their secret plan: the C Project.

Over the years the original visual novel has spawned numerous sequels and prequels and a manga adaptation. The 2006 anime is chock-full of references that are delightful to spot, and the battles between the mechas make for some great visuals. With cameos from various Mythos characters and locales, Demonbane is the ultimate Lovecraftian anime.

'Princess Resurrection'

Hiro Hiyorimi goes to visit his sister, who has just taken a job as a maid, for a mysterious woman named Hime. After being killed in a freak accident, Hime brings Hiro back from the dead while reciting: “That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.”

That’s it. The rest of the anime is a fantastical and imaginative trip full of vampires, werewolves, phoenixes and magic, and it’s certainly worth a watch, but that one line is the only reference to Lovecraft, in all 26 episodes. If you look carefully, you can also see it in the opening sequence.

'The Ancient Magus' Bride'

This anime, based on the ongoing manga by Kore Yamazaki, begins with a frail and depressed teenage girl named Chise, who voluntarily sells herself in an underground slave auction. She is promptly purchased by Elias the Magus, who wishes to make her his apprentice… and one day his bride.

If that doesn’t frighten you off, then you’ll probably make it to episode four. Elias and Chise travel to the English village of Ulthar, the capitol of the Kingdom of Cats, to tackle a supernatural entity. Previously, an old man had killed dozens of cats for the sake of an experiment. Outraged, the cats of the village banded together, and tore him apart, leaving not so much as a shred. Sound familiar? Now his vengeful spirit is wreaking havoc in the village, and it’s up to Elias and Chise to aid the cats in disposing of him once and for all.

While this is only a single story arc in an otherwise non-Lovecraftian anime, the inclusion of Ulthar is a real treat. It’s true they alter the original story slightly, but the difference does not detract from one’s enjoyment. The magical world of the anime is such, that Ulthar fits right in.

If you can get past the awkward premise of The Ancient Magus' Bride, the characters, the world building, and the sheer imagination of the anime are worth checking out.

'Ghost Hound'

In a remote mountain village of Japan, the barriers between dreams, reality, and the spirit realm are heavily blurred. Three young boys, haunted by troublesome pasts and sleep disorders, develop the bizarre ability to travel outside of their bodies as they sleep, moving onto a plane of reality where otherworldly creatures populate the skies. As they delve deeper into this Unseen World, they discover that it has played a key role in their entire lives. The effect of dreams upon reality, and the difference between the two, pervades the daily lives of these boys with growing intensity, until it’s almost impossible to tell them apart. Meanwhile, strange things are afoot, as a secretive research facility and a suspicious local cult battle for dominance. As the boys struggle to cope with one discovery after another, they must use their newfound knowledge to turn the tide of the changing town in their favor.

Written by Mythos contributor Chiaki J. Konaka, everything about this anime is Lovecraftian. Heavily derived from the story From Beyond, the themes of dreams vs. reality, extra-dimensional beings and creepy cults pervade every episode. The only non-Lovecraftian thing about it is that it has a happy ending, but what's wrong with that? Ghost Hound is suspenseful, disturbing and captivating, and absolutely should not be missed.

literature
E.J. Hagadorn
E.J. Hagadorn
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E.J. Hagadorn

Author, traveler, and artist, I like to visit the places people write about, and write about the places I visit.

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