Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Demon Prince Enma
Kapaeru gets a message from his long-time email friend Sat-chan requesting they meet face-to-face. Unwilling to reveal to her his true appearance, he drags a reluctant Enma into impersonating him. When it turns out that Sat-chan is having domestic problems, Kapaeru goes to help, Enma in tow, only to discover something very sinister afoot. Meanwhile Yuki begins to act strangely, eventually disappearing altogether, and Detective Abashiri and lady reporter Yuri find themselves transported to a haunted mansion, joined by an abducted high-school teacher and two college-girl hikers who wandered into the wrong house. Initially unsure of what to make of their surroundings, it soon becomes obvious that something is intent on killing them all...using the darkness in their own hearts. With the house changing with every step they take and their ugliest secrets waiting to ambush them at every turn, events are poised to get vicious before they get better.
If Demon Prince Enma's greatest problem was that it wasn't as scary as it obviously thought it was, that ends with this volume. These two episodes constitute one story in two acts. The first act, which comprises half of episode 3, sets the stage for the second, establishing the underlying plot and demonstrating with brutal force the lengths to which the series will go. It's a tense, nasty piece of work in its own right—one whose heart lies in the sweet but tragic friendship between Kapaeru and Sat-chan—but it's only the opening act for the stripped down, straightforward haunted-house chiller that is the closing chapter. Rather poor reputation aside, haunted-house stories are nothing to be sniffed at, and Enma's creators have obviously seen their fair share of them. They have the good sense to base their most terrifying sequences around established characters (Abashiri and Yuri, whose big chase scene is absolutely hair-raising), using the others as either demon fodder or character foils. The "darkness of the heart" aspect provides viewers with a window into the characters, exposing their darkest depths and revealing unexpected facets of established characters' personalities. Keeping Enma out of the picture for the majority of the running-time keeps the plot simple and the victims' plight gut-wrenchingly hopeless, while Yuki's situation complicates things nicely and proves that yes, endearing personality aside, she is pure demon.
And yet, for all the care given over to the human (and demonic) aspects of the horror—especially the masks of terror, hate and demonic insanity that warp characters' usually attractive faces—director Mamoru Kanbe knows that the star of any haunted-house story isn't the people or the ghoulies, but the house itself. Not surprising given that the artistic focus of episodes past—and the opening half of episode three—has been eerie atmosphere via infinitesimally detailed and intelligently utilized settings. The house, for its part, is a masterpiece of featureless indoor wastelands, a sterile, empty mansion and yet also a living entity that changes its passages, openings and rooms with malevolent intent. The vaguely unrealistic 3D rendering of the house's passageways and rooms—showcased during several elaborate tracking shots—works for rather than against it, lending the mansion an unnatural look that complements its supernatural air. The overall result is claustrophobic dread in a fiendish, ever-morphing maze; a maze in which each door is as likely to hide another empty room as a gruesome personalized nightmare.
It's an effect that's only amplified by the oppressive silence that dominates the soundtrack, interrupted only occasionally by creepy, discordant drum-and-whistle tension-building and jittery guitars. It isn't flashy (like the art is) but, like the animation, which is more concerned with facial expressions and short bursts of action than high-budget showboating, it is essential to the deliberate, calibrated sense of unease that the series builds its terror on.
After the elaborate winding of the nail-biting suspense to a pulse-pounding crescendo for the climax, the show's coda comes as a bitter disappointment. In its final precious minutes, the series' calculated ruthlessness devolves into a cheap logic-defying "Ha, gotcha!" mean-spiritedness that will be painfully familiar to anyone who has watched The Twilight Zone or read too much crappy horror. It's a sad end to an excellent horror tale, but thankfully one that only slightly sours the hour and a half of delicious nastiness that precedes it.
Extras, besides the usual packed print booklet, include four short interviews—with Setsuji Sato (Kapaeru), Maria Yamamoto (Sat-chan), Cho AKA Yuuichi Nagashima (Chapeauji), and Sanae Kobayashi (Yuri)—all of which are of only mild interest.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Cruel, stripped-down horror that exploits existing characters and jettisons cumbersome mythological trimmings.
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