“Where are your friends? Still sleeping?”
“Yes, but they’ll get up soon. They’ll be hungry. They wake up when they’re hungry.”
Sitting here with nothin’ to do
Sitting here thinkin’ only of you
But you’ll never get out of there
She’ll never get out of there
The Ramones, Chainsaw
Welcome to the World of Shoujo Horror
Despite (or because of) the unyielding horrors of the real world, horror as a genre and art form is enjoying a resurgence. Junji Ito is one of the most popular manga authors in America and his art is being sold on t-shirts at major retailers. Fans eagerly await video games that retread familiar motifs (Resident Evil Village) and those that experiment (Kitty Horrorshow). Streaming services like Shudder have assembled new and old horror films for house-bound viewers. The biggest anime/manga series in Japan right now, Demon Slayer, is a blood-soaked tale of demonic possession. Artists like Trevor Henderson and Emily Carroll have garnered followings in art and illustration. At a glance it may seem like this intermingling of Japanese and American horror movie motifs with manga-literate millennial artists is a relatively new phenomenon. And yet, as is often the case, this is not the first time these flavors have mingled.
During the 1980s, Japan had a voracious hunger for horror media. Consumers flush with cash were going to movie theaters and video rental stores while publications such as Uchusen and Starlog covered the latest news and current releases. In turn, anime and manga began lifting motifs from horror films. One publication embodied a convergence of all of the above: Monthly Halloween.
Monthly Halloween’s first issue made the proclamation,「もうハッピーにあきちゃった人にも！！」”For those who are tired of happiness!” Perhaps it was a declaration of rebellion against the aggressively bubbly-faced products marketed to young women at the time. Suehiro Maruo once said his stories didn’t sell during the 1980s because a prosperous Japan only wanted happy stories1, but that wasn’t the case for Monthly Halloween. The magazine, which ran from 1986 to 1995, featured the works of Junji Ito, Kazuo Umezzu, Ochazukenori, Kanako Inuki, and many more.
Aimed at a high school girl audience, Month Halloween’s covers were replete with cute young women in horror-themed scenes or posed next to various ghouls and ghosts, sometimes evocative of specific films like Phenomena, or using motifs from traditional Japanese ghost stories. One such cover, for the December 1992 issue, featured a Deadly Spawn-esque creature built by Studio Koganemushi, the puppetry house behind Ultra P and Gojiban. Even Heisei Godzilla era effects artist and V-Zone contributor Shinichi Wakasa designed covers for Halloween.
Monthly Halloween represented a shift away from the 1980s Japanese consumerist society, it dealt with the macabre and the intangible but was still very much a byproduct of Japan’s wealth and consumerism. Horror was pervasive during this time thanks to movie theaters, videos, manga, magazines, and a foundation of ghosts and monsters being popular subjects in ukiyo-e art and folklore. This meant horror had crossover appeal in a way like few other genres at the time. Publications aimed at male otaku such as Metal Kids and Lemon People lifted tropes from American zombie flicks as much as shoujo publications such as Monthly Halloween, while tokusatsu magazines like Starlog and Uchusen poured over photos of Rob Bottin2 and Tom Savini3 hard at work. Monthly Halloween even acted as a curator of horror media to its readers, recommending western films such as El Topo and Street Trash alongside Japanese classics like Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan.
Naturally, anime, manga, and video games were directly lifting motifs from Friday the 13th or The Thing in some subtle and not so subtle ways, but Monthly Halloween took the direct route and adapted several horror films as manga. These films included Return of the Living Dead, Re-Animator, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Day of the Dead. The magazine also adapted the Kiyoshi Kurosawa movie Sweet Home in the February 1989 issue, though it’s unclear if this was the only Japanese horror film to get an adaption. Due to the lack of any thorough index of all stories that ran in Monthly Halloween, I can’t say with certainty that this is a complete list of film adaptations.
Pretty Slasher Survivor Nancy: Nightmare on Elm Street
Published in the June 1986 issue of Monthly Halloween, the manga adaptation of Nightmare on Elm Street by So-ko AGI (that’s how the cover romanized 亜木蒼子, anyways) predated the first official Nightmare comic listed on Wikipedia (Steve Gerber’s Freddy Krueger’s A Nightmare on Elm Street for Marvel) by three years. Despite being considered one of the quintessential American horror films, Nightmare on Elm Street had motifs that fit quite comfortably within the shoujo horror subgenre.
A cast of school-age characters, revolving around a central heroine whose friends are picked off while adults remain ignorant of the threat. Such story beats and young heroines were present in the Kazuo Umezzu manga from the 1960s, urban legends passed around schools like the toilet spirit Hanako, not to mention portions of Monthly Halloween where readers submit photos and stories of their own ghostly encounters. Nancy herself as a young, good-looking schoolgirl, fits the mold of shoujo horror and regular shoujo manga protagonists. Nancy is basically a western mirror held to the doomed heroines of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House.
There’s a simplistic but effective approach to So-ko’s art, which feels more influenced by the Year 24 Group4 than 1980s contemporaries, with characters’ deep eyes and cursive “L” shaped noses. The manga incarnation of Freddy looks more elvish with his pointed ears, but he’s still unmistakably Wes Craven’s boogeyman. Some aesthetic changes aside, this adaption was a fairly faithful adaptation of the film and retained the main story beats, but as is the case with any kind of adaptation, some changes had to be made to fit a new format.
One common trait you’ll see through these adaptations is the reduction (but not complete erasure–we’ll get to that later) of sex and nudity, but not gore. In Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase’s essay, “Shōjo” Spirits in Horror Manga” she observed that while nudity and sex are far from being absent in the many stories that ran in Monthly Halloween, they’re decidedly toned down compared to stories from contemporary publications like Lemon People5. While this adaptation keeps the bathtub scene, the voyeuristic shot of Nancy nodding off in the bathtub as Freddy’s glove creeps between her legs is swapped out with a shot of Freddy’s glove emerging from the water, and a page tall panel showing Nancy sinking to impossible depths within her own bathtub. For all intents and purposes, the scene plays out exactly the same in the film and the manga, but the film utilizes a male gaze perspective that leads with sexual assault symbolism. Monthly Halloween doesn’t reduce the threat of Freddy, but it does de-emphasize the sexual imagery for its school-aged audience. It’s worth mentioning that a big fountain of blood erupting from a bed was perfectly okay, though.
While a good chunk of the first two acts were recreated for this adaptation, the ending was decidedly truncated. The “gotcha” at the very end, with Freddy’s hand emerging from the front door, is preserved but Nancy’s Home Alone-esque scheme to fight Freddy in the real world gets dropped and the final confrontation between the two simply reduced to Nancy praying to God while clutching a crucifix, which banishes the somnambulist slasher. While it’s impossible to know the exact reason for this change, it does have some historical provenance in Japanese horror. Many classical Japanese ghost stories had moralizing elements tied back to Buddhism or Shinto. You might be familiar with the Kaneto Shindo film Onibaba, a loose adaptation of a parable meant to spread Buddhism. The scene of Nancy praying might have been a thematic callback to some of those older Japanese tales of the supernatural.
Or, more simply, perhaps the artist was just running out of pages and had to wrap things up in a hurry.
Return of the Living Dead: The Teen/Middle-aged Battalion of the Undead
Japan has had a long fascination with zombie media, dating at least back to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (released in Japan as Zombie). That film spawned lavish laserdisc releases from Emotion, garage kits, and even video games that used the film to teach English. Osamu Tezuka referenced the film in Don Dracula. So, it’s no surprise that Japan was more than eager to embrace Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead (known in Japan as Battalion) and was heavily promoted in Japan, with large ads and previews appearing in tokusatsu magazines, analytical write-ups in Metal Kids, and late-night television ads. This manga adaptation by Mari Eran (摩梨絵蘭) appeared in the March 1986 issue of Monthly Halloween, fairly early in the magazine’s run.
For a film about being aggressively ugly and dirty, Mari Eran gave the cast of ROTLD a kawaii-ification that actually kinda worked with the comedic tone of the film, despite being aesthetically alien. Rather than the contorted grimaces you’d see on characters drawn by Umezzu or Hideshi Hino, the characters had big toothy grins and cartoony bugout eyes like you’d see in more humorous works. While the characters were recognizable from their film counterparts, the grittiness was toned down and Mari Eran wasn’t too concerned with preserving the likenesses of the actors. I mentioned earlier that the sexual aspects of horror manga in Halloween were often toned down, though Battalion is the exception, with Linnea Quigley’s famous graveyard striptease kept intact. Some other aspects of the film did get axed (we don’t get to see the split dogs!), while other aspects are wholly original, like Tina getting killed off first rather than being a Final Girl. This adaptation ends on a cliffhanger with Trash’s zombification and the survivors heading to the crematorium, possibly an intentional choice to get readers interested in seeing the film in theaters.
In many ways ROTLD was a comic book movie in the sense that its aesthetics were very rooted in the horror comics of the 1950s such as Tales from the Crypt; so intentional was that aesthetic that William Stout’s concept art directly referenced EC Comics. But in this case, we have an adaptation divorced from that aesthetic tradition, from a country that still loved the film’s black humor and killer soundtrack.
While Japanese box office numbers are hard to find, Return of the Living Dead was undeniably a hit and its reverberations are felt to this day in Japanese pop culture. “Obatarrian” (「オバタリアン」) is a colloquial term for a crass middle age or older woman in Japan, popularized by the manga of the same name by Katsuhiko Hotta (those of you that played Yakuza 0 may remember the character of Etsuko known as “The Obatarrian”). The term is itself a portmanteau of obaasan (granny, old lady, or aunty) and Battalion. Notice how Hotta’s manga writes the title in a font nearly identical to what was used for ROTLD’s Japanese posters. Obatarrion is also used as the name of a demon in Shin Megami Tensei on the Super Famicom, despite not being a name purely from pop culture rather than a demon from myth like other SMT demons, and while the game describes it as an undead middle-aged woman, Kazuma Kaneko was definitely taking design cues from ROTLD.
Re-Animator & Day of the Dead: Choke on them, West-sensei!
Some say that Re-Animator and Day of the Dead were released in Japan to capitalize on the success of Evil Dead. There is certainly a similarity between the Japanese titles of the three films: 死霊のはらわた (Evil Dead), 死霊のえじき (Day of the Dead), and ZOMBIO 死霊のしたたり (Re-Animator). It’s undeniable that these films rode a wave of zombie films during the 80s, but it’s more than just their Japanese titles that tied Day of the Dead and Re-Animator together, as both were adapted for Monthly Halloween by Yutaka Abe.
Yutaka Abe is the only artist behind these adaptations with a fairly prolific background, having created many shojo and horror manga while also a frequent collaborator with Detective Conan creator Gosho Aoyama. Day of the Dead was featured in the May 1986 issue of Monthly Halloween and suffered the most in regards to all of the character redesigns mentioned in this article. Bub was suitably zombie-ish, but Rhodes looked more like the asshole rival in a shounen sports manga while Sarah was more waifish high school girl than hardened survivor. Abe also added scenes of Sarah and Bub having a moment together in which Bub showed no desire to attack her, perhaps in a bid to add some additional sympathy, a la Frankenstein’s Monster. Inability to faithfully draw Joseph Pilato’s likeness aside, Abe retained Romero’s gory climax in a film that was particularly bleak and ugly but apparently considered suitable for marketing to Japanese high school girls. Abe’s work must have been well received by Monthly Halloween’s editors because he was brought back to adapt Re-Animator for the March and April 1987 issues of Monthly Japan.
Out of all the adaptations covered here, Re-Animator must have been given special attention by the editors as it was the only one to span multiple issues and the only one with a color splash page. With many of Abe’s comics set in schools, I wonder if that accounted for the unusually youthful appearance of his characters. Even Dr. Hill looked like a mean school principal in the adaptation. Much like Day of the Dead, Barbara Crampton looked more delicate and youthful in this version, though Abe did preserve the intense aura of Jeffrey Combs (albeit looking a bit more square-jawed).
The Re-Animator adaptation toned down the nudity in the story and we got a tamer version of cinema’s most famous depiction of attempted oral rape with a decapitated head, but now with characters fully clothed. The alteration of the cat scene was another example of a scene being more or less intact for the story, but adjusting tone and focus to better suit the audience. In the original film, Herbert West revives a dead cat and the ensuing attack played out like a gory Three Stooges routine. The manga didn’t have to compromise with a cheaply made cat puppet, so it was able to play the scene straight rather than horrifically absurd. Perhaps Abe made a judgment call that the horror of the scene would be more impactful to a school-age audience with a pet at home.
Yutaka Abe’s contributions were the only adaptations collected outside of Monthly Halloween, with his Re-Animator and Day of the Dead comics appearing in volumes 1 and 2 of Triangle High School. Unfortunately, digging up information on Mari Eran or Agi So-ko has proven extremely difficult, and their adaptations exist only within the cheap newsprint pages of Monthly Halloween.
“Even after the flesh perishes, one can live in the hearts of others…”
Monthly Halloween ran for just shy of a decade and ended publication in 1995. By then, the Tsutomu Miyazaki murders had increased public scrutiny of horror media and the Japanese economy was in rough shape; either of these could have had an impact on the magazine. Even though the magazine ran for nine years, all of the adaptations described above appeared in the first two years of its life. It’s possible Monthly Halloween was capitalizing off of popular films in its infancy to help pull in new readers, or it saw the rise of horror on home video as something to capitalize on rather than compete with, not unlike Anime V or Globian, anime magazines focused on capitalizing on the rise of the OVA.
Monthly Halloween was not the last horror manga anthology and it spawned a slew of imitators such as Horror House from Tairiku Shobo, Susperia from Akita Shoten, and True Story Horror comics from Taoyuan Shobo. The end of Monthly Halloween did not mean the end of horror or even shoujo horror specifically (though I’d say that particular niche is still woefully underrepresented in the west). Much like Junji Ito’s Tomie, you can’t keep a love of horror down for good, it just keeps getting back up.
One of the earliest manga I ever read in English was Narumi Kakinouchi and Toshiki Hirano’s Vampire Princess Miyu, first released in Japan in 1988 and published as floppy comics in the U.S. by Antarctic Press in 1995. I was already reading plenty of comics by that point and was more than familiar with horror movies. But horror comics, drawn by women, and written for women was a concept alien to me. Vampire Princess Miyu took basic components that I was already familiar with, re-arranged in such a way to create a revelatory work of brooding gothic horror that didn’t get any coverage in the pages of Wizard Magazine. Monthly Halloween, and these adaptations therein, also represent a re-working of familiar elements outside of the mainstream to create their own unique spin on horror.
“Shoujo horror” may seem like an overly specific niche, but the stories published in Monthly Halloween contain multitudes; whether it’s the perspective of the characters, the tone, or art styles. Day of the Dead, Re-Animator, and Return of the Living Dead are simply “zombie movies” on paper, but each presents its own unique identity, all of which were re-born within the context of shoujo horror manga. Monthly Halloween, and these adaptations, represent an effort to mold fiction typically meant for a male zeitgeist to fit a different thematic and aesthetic tradition.
Thanks to Dr. Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase for her valuable help with this article.
- Hiromi Tsuchiya Dollase, “Shōjo” Spirits in Horror Manga, U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal, No. 38 (2010), pp. 59-80
- Trick or Treat
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- Dreamland Japan, p. 159
- Special effects artist on The Thing, Robocop, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
- Special effects artist on Friday the 13th, Dawn of the Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
- A term used to refer to authors that helped shape shoujo manga during the 60s and 70s such as Moto Hagio and Riyoko Ikeda.
- Ochazukenori was a prolific contributor to both Monthly Halloween and Lemon People, and while his stories for both outlets have similar themes, the Monthly Halloween stories opt for less sexualized elements.