Honestly, why are thrillers so popular? Life is already terrifying enough; with the always present threat of unpaid bills, a fluctuating economy, and the daily horror show that is the local news. Therefore, with a staggering amount of fear already present in our everyday existence, why seek a similar emotion in our entertainment? Why not choose to laugh rather than shriek?
Some might describe it as sensation-seeking, but rather than taking a dive out of a plane, it is experienced within the comfort of our own home. Thrillers are all about that rush, re-creating that fear of the unknown in a controlled and safe environment. The best storytellers slowly build tension, entangling the viewer in a web of mystery and intrigue. Unlike real life, movies also provide closure and relief.
Although thrillers are not as popular in anime as in the West, there have been a few notable releases over the years. Also, just to keep things interesting, Akira can sit this one out.
10. King of Thorn (Ibara no Ou)
- Release Date: October 9, 2009
With a strong Sci-Fi element, King of Thorn might strike a first-time viewer as oddly familiar; with a premise reminiscent of classic apocalyptic American movies. After a deadly epidemic greatly reduces the population, a high-risk operation is stitched together and put into action. Since a cure is currently not available, 160 infected people are placed in a long sleep to be awakened in the distant future, preferably when an antidote is available. Set in an ancient castle, seven survivors awaken to an alien world overrun with monsters. Terrified and alone, will they be able to uncover the truth about humanity's extinction?
Although survival horror movies are a dime a dozen in the West, anime rarely tackle this genre. Sure, a handful of notable series like When They Cry might have made a bit of a splash, but they were an exception and not a trend. Honestly, the fact that Ibara no Ou exists was enough to pique our interest. An adaptation of a highly acclaimed manga, Sunrise masterfully crafted a suspenseful thriller that excels at creating a claustrophobic atmosphere. The first two acts successfully build a sense of mystery, while delivering a few high octane action scenes for good measure.
If it was not for the lackluster ending and the run of the mill protagonist, King of Thorn could have ranked even higher. As mentioned in the intro, a great thriller requires a satisfying ending, if not necessarily a happy one. For some, this might be more miss than hit.
Ibara no Ou Trailer
9. Tekkon Kinkreet
- Release Date: December 23, 2006
Few anime movies received the hype that Tekkon Kinkreet earned upon its release, even winning the best film award at the 2006 Mainichi Film Awards. Developed by the prolific Studio 4°C, it tells the story of two polar opposite brothers, as they try to survive on the harsh streets of Treasure Town. Aptly named Black & White, these orphans spend their time dishing out their own form of justice, by delivering a good beating or two to any thug that dares to cross their path.
When a foreign company rolls onto their turf, with the goal of tearing down their home and building a huge amusement park instead, Black & White set out to put a stop to their capitalistic ways and save Treasure Town. Violent to his very core, Black must make use of his dark nature to overcome this unexpected intrusion, while the gentle White struggles to save his brother from himself.
Although the plot is nothing groundbreaking, the animation and characters more than make up for it. From a thrilling opening sequence that pays homage to Akira, to the vibrant city landscape; there is never a dull moment on screen.
Tekkon Kinkreet Trailer
8. Death Billiards
- Release Date: March 2, 2013
Perhaps overshadowed by the Death Parade, the follow-up series, the original 25 minute short still deserves to be remembered for what it accomplished.
Two men find themselves in a strange building, with no idea how they got there. After being greeted by a young woman, they are escorted to a bar and introduced to the bartender. Provided with not a single moment to gain their bearings, they are forced into a game of billiards, with the added bonus that their lives will be on the line. Throughout this insane match, we slowly learn more about these two players and how they ended up in this situation.
Although it might be nothing more than a proof of concept, Madhouse showed that 25 minutes is more than enough to create a complete, and dense, psychological thriller.
Death Billiards PV
7. Eden of the East Movie II: Paradise Lost (Higashi no Eden Movie II: Paradise Lost)
- Release Date: March 13, 2010
The final chapter in the Eden of the East series, Paradise Lost, had a lot to live up to. A misstep could have retroactively ruined the entire story and left fans of the original series desperately seeking a cure for their disappointment. Thankfully, Higashi no Eden ended on a high note.
Set three months after a sudden missile strike hit Japan that left nobody injured, Saki Morimi is saved by the naked Akira Takizawa, a good natured but strange young man suffering from amnesia and in possession of a cell phone stocked with 8 billion yen. Unknown to them, Takizawa's phone is not one of a kind. Unwittingly, they end up entangled in a game of death, with the fate of the world on the line. Paradise Lost brings to a close this epic tale of political sabotage, as the mysteries are finally revealed.
Although the original series suffered from some lethargic pacing, it did feature some fantastic world building and character development. Paradise Lost is the payoff that fans were waiting for.
Eden of the East Movie II: Paradise Lost Trailer
6. Steins;Gate: The Movie − Load Region of Déjà Vu (Steins;Gate Movie: Fuka Ryouiki no Déjà vu)
- Release Date: April 20, 2013
Steins;Gate had a huge impact on the anime industry and is considered one of the greatest series of all time. With a near perfect conclusion, the announcement of a follow-up movie, understandably, left a few wondering whether it might have been better to leave good enough alone. That fear only lasted until about one minute into the movie, as Load Region of Déjà Vu showed that this fictional universe had more to offer. At least one more series, anyway.
Shifting focus from Okabe to Kurisu, she arrives back in Akihabara to find her old eccentric friend suffering the side effects of his time traveling. Eventually, he disappears from existence, leaving Kurisu as the only one that actually remembers him. After being warned not to mess with time by Okabe, her options are to either abandon her friend or ignore his final request.
Every single decision made in Steins;Gate has weight to it and consequences. Filled with twists and turns, the franchise perfectly transitions from the small to the big screen and Kurisu is a fantastic protagonist, just as likeable as Okabe.
Steins;Gate the Movie: Load Region of Deja Vu - Official Trailer
5. Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie Part 1: Beginnings (Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica Movie 1: Hajimari no Monogatari)
- Release Date: October 6, 2012
Like the previous entry, Puella Magi Madoka Magica stands out as one of the key anime releases of the last decade. Cleverly subverting the expectations held for the magic girl genre, it took the characters and the audience on an entirely new journey. The light-hearted initial sequences, including a way-too-cute theme song, would not feel out of place in a random Sailor Moon episode. Once that familiarity gives way to comfort, the narrative takes an unexpected, and dark, turn into the unknown. From that point onward, anything can happen; resulting in one of the most thrilling experiences in anime history.
The first in a trilogy, and one of the two recap movies, Beginnings was an unnecessary but welcome addition to the franchise. Extending slightly on some plot points, and improving the visuals, the gripping story proves to be just as effective in a single two-hour movie. Although we still recommend the series over the two recap movies, the trilogy is still a fantastic and satisfying experience.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movies Part 1 & 2- Official Trailer
- Release Date: November 25, 2006
Directed by Satoshi Kon, the mastermind behind Tokyo Godfathers and Perfect Blue, Paprika is a fantastical adventure in the world of dreams and escapism. Compared to the more understated entries into his filmography, this 2006 release is filled to the brim with energy and delivers a free-spirited exploration of the human psyche. This does not mean that Paprika is a shallow production or one that focuses on pretty visuals above storytelling, as there is a considerable amount of depth to be discovered here.
The world-renowned Dr. Chiba has managed to develop an unbelievable machine that lets the user travel into someone's dreams, which she uses to unearth hidden traumatic experiences to help her patients recover. Creating a secret persona named Paprika, she believes that this new found technology can change the world for the better. Unfortunately, it is stolen and falls into the wrong hands, forcing Paprika to go on a mind-bending investigation to bring the culprit to justice.
Bending reality and illusion to new heights, Paprika offers a thrill ride like no other. The plot itself is straightforward, but the fluid depiction of the dreams effectively creates a sense of wonder and mystery around every single image.
3. Perfect Blue
- Release Date: February 28, 1998
If Paprika was not enough to convince you of Satoshi Kon's genius, here is another one of his movies for good measure! Perfect Blue is as close to a perfect psychological thriller as feasibly possible and remains one of the most influential animated movies of all time, serving as inspiration for directors like Darren Aronofsky. This haunting excursion into the mind of a fragile former idol, as she tries to overcome mental and physical dangers, is a worthwhile, if not uncomfortable, sit.
Coming off two successful years as part of J-pop idol group CHAM!, Mima Kirigoe decides it is time for a change. Announcing her retirement from the group and with a desire to pursue acting, a hopeful Mima begins the next chapter of her life believing that everything will work out. Unfortunately, her new career quickly starts to wear her down while an eccentric fan stalks her for leaving the group. To make matters worse, since her departure, CHAM! seem to be doing better than ever.
Unable to deal with her current reality, Mima descends into madness, as reality and fiction begin to blend.
Perfect Blue Trailer
2. Ghost in the Shell
- Release Date: November 18, 1995
Set in 2029, Ghost in the Shell envisions a future where cybernetics are so advanced that any part of the human body can be replaced. This technological wonder led to prolonged life and the development of AI, but also new forms of terrorism. Within Niihama City, these incidents are investigated by the Public Security Section 9, a government group consisting of humans and cyborgs working side by side. Major Motoko Kusanagi, who has full-body enhancements, is tasked with investigating the attacks of a hacker known as 'The Puppetmaster'.
Ghost in the Shell is worth watching for the thrilling action sequences, which still hold up today. As a movie, it deserves to be studied due to the way it blends blockbuster set pieces with artistic sequences, while effectively maintaining a consistent tone. It is worth discussing, and re-watching, for the philosophical questions that it dares to ask. What does it mean to be human? If the flesh is removed, should that person now be considered an object? It offers no easy answers, as there are none to give.
Ghost in the Shell's popularity is well documented, with a live-action Hollywood adaptation even being released in 2017, but it is one experience that audiences keep on re-visiting.
Ghost in the Shell Trailer
1. the Garden of Sinners Chapter 5: Paradox Paradigm (Kara no Kyoukai 5: Mujun Rasen)
- Release Date: August 16, 2008
Oh boy, where to even begin with Kara no Kyoukai! There are seven movies, an epilogue, and another two side stories to go through. Each one serves as part of a collective whole and the series should only be experienced in the right order. That does not mean that it will all make sense, especially for the first few entries, but to watch them in any other order would be an act of insanity. Not all of them are great (looking at you Boukyaku Rokuon!), but together, they achieve greatness. Paradox Paradigm is the best of the bunch.
To ask for an explanation of the story is akin to requesting a paragraph summary of the bible. It can be done, but what's the point? Still, here goes: Shiki Ryougi, a demon hunter, acquires a mystical power that allows her to see the death lines of a person. With Mikiya Kokutō, the series chronicles their adventures in an investigation agency which specializes in the supernatural.
The above is a very basic summary and fails to do the series justice. Yet, to give away any more would be to betray the one-of-a-kind narrative offered within Kara no Kyoukai. Be warned, heavy themes like suicide and rape are covered in great detail, so the content might be too much for some. For those who stick by the unconventional pacing and twisted subject matter, they are eventually treated to one of the most thrilling works in anime.
the Garden of sinners: Chapter 5 Preview
It is safe to say that there will never be a shortage of thrilling anime for us sensation-seekers to gleefully watch. They might be twisted, and they could very well reveal aspects of ourselves that might be better left hidden, but whenever one is released; we will be the first in line to watch.
Do you think there are any other thrillers that should have been included? Please let us know in the comment section below.