13 Days of Halloween with The Owl in the Rafters: Day 1

Posted on Oct 19 2011

Bismarck Kamen, your favorite man in the owl mask is back, and here to welcome you to a fortnight of fear (minus one), a half-month of horror (almost), and a tetradeca of terror! Between today and all hallows eve, I’ll be reviewing one title a day of anime, manga, and film from Japan that fall into the broad and often misunderstood genre of horror. So turn off those lights, shut the door, pull your feet up off the ground, and throw a blanket over your head, because there’s no turning back!

At least that’s what I’d like to say, but I do feel the need to open up with some genre study first and foremost. It’s not just to sate my own appetite for semantic rambling, but because I believe there is a fairly wide gap in the basis and public perceptions of Japanese and Western horror. I’ll save any heavy theory for a little later on and just point out for now that the chief difference in Japanese and American horror is that more often than not, American horror seeks to make you jump out of your seat for a moment, where as Japanese horror will try to make you walk away from the film, show, or book just a little bit rattled. There will be a more appropriate time for going over this in depth later however. So I’ll just leave you to mull over that little comment and move us along.

For now, I’d like to introduce you to the first title in my 13 Days of Halloween line up: Kaidan Restaurant. (lit: “Strange Story Restaurant” but more commonly translated as “Thriller Restaurant”) Kaidan Restaurant was a children’s show aired on TV Asahi in 2009 and had just 23 episodes. Rather than being a hardcore horror series it is compiled a variety of different children’s ghost stories surrounding and on occasion played by a set cast of characters entangled in various supernatural occurrences and at times playing key roles in narrating secondhand stories, almost in the manner of a theater company. Appropriate to the show’s name, each episode presents the viewer with a “meal” made up of three short stories: an appetizer, a main dish, and a dessert.

The main characters are a group of elementary school kids: Ouzora Ako, a bespectacled girl who gets pulled into most of the ghost stories she hears about through sheer curiosity; Koumoto Shou, the blonde haired transfer student from London with a love of ghost stories; and Sakuma Reiko, class representative of Ako and Shou’s class at school, and a firm disbeliever in ghost stories. Other minor returning characters include Ako’s family and the kids’ various different classmates at school. Then of course there is the Ghastly Garcon, maitre’d of the Thriller Restaurant who introduces each episode, and his rotating cast of monster co-hosts.

The titular restaurant is in fact an actual abandoned European style mansion, formerly a restaurant, in the town the kids live in, and the subject of many a local ghost story. When Shou and Ako wander into the restaurant on the day they meet, Shou actually manages to capture ghostly apparitions on film. For a few episodes the kids continue to bump into strange happenings themselves, but from then on every time the three class mates hear of a new ghost story from someone else or from each other the story is then acted out with the kids taking up roles as the main characters of the ghost story. The stories themselves aren’t actually terribly scary, as is appropriate for a show aimed at a younger audience, but a few can be a little disturbing, if only in premise.

The voice acting is all respectably done with especial focus on Ako, who is voiced by Hiraishi Ryoko/ (probably only known in the US as the voice of Ayasaki Hayate of Hayate the Combat Butler) Also worth mentioning is Hirata Hiroaki’s performance as the voice of the Ghastly Garcon. Hirata is best known as the voice of Sanji in One Piece, Sha Gojyo in Saiyuki, Benny in Black Lagoon, Kaburagi Kotetsu aka Wild Tiger from Tiger & Bunny, and the official Japanese voice of all dubbed Johnny Depp roles.

All in all the show is nothing terribly magnificent in terms of art or animation quality, but the unique approach to children’s ghost stories and the broad range of short stories is really quite charming. In fact some of the character designs are actually somewhat bland or at least appropriately normal for the modern setting, with the one exception of Ako, the main character. She has a strangely unique and recognizable look about her hair and wardrobe that’s really very cute, which also neatly sums up my feelings about the show itself. It may not have been a perfect for all ages kind of show, but it took aim at a particular audience and hit the target dead center.

As I mentioned before, the stories themselves are not especially terrifying or unsettling in any way, and may only be enough to just shake up even younger kids. In spite of that I chose this particular show to kick off this Halloween countdown for a number of reasons. First I’ll confess is simply because I wanted to. This is a really cute show wedged between two niche audiences with a clever approach and I doubt I’d find any opportunity to review this show outside of the season or without an accompanying collection or horror stories. The show shares the kind of appeal American shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark, Goosebumps, and Tales From the Crypt once had over kids of the 90s. The second reason I chose Kaidan Restaurant to start with was that I felt this was an appropriate starting point for this collection of horror titles, considering that the titles that follow will escalate in intensity as we get closer to halloween.

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little taste of terror and are hungry for more, because I’ll be back tomorrow updating with another horror title every day from now until Halloween! *cue spooky laughter* *iris out* *cut to commercial*

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  • nerdwerld October 19, 2011 at 10:06 PM

    Sounds quirky, and if it is up the same alley as Goosebumps, and Tales of the Crypt count me in.

  • Gannon133 October 20, 2011 at 7:42 PM

    Nice little review of this anime. Sounds like Tezuka’s aspect of having a trope for all the stories if you catch my drift. As Nerdwerld said, kinda like Goosebumps here in the U.S. which scared me to a point as a kid back then.

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