This Week in Anime
Buggin' Out With Aragne: Sign of Vermilion

by Steve Jones & Nicholas Dupree,

Saku Sakumoto's passion project Aragne: Sign of Vermilion is a 75-minute ride filled with horror trope under the sun. Serial killers, abandoned factories, psychotic breakdowns, and more bugs than Gnat Attack. If this insect cocktail sounds atrocious, well, Steve is going to do his best to sell you on it!

This movie is streaming on HIDIVE

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @NickyEnchilada @vestenet


Steve
Nick, I'm sitting here, having a good long think about the amount of giant bug anime we've had to watch for this column. I don't know when it began. 7 Seeds, maybe? That had big bugs in its premiere. Then Cagaster? About people turning into giant bugs for some reason. Gibiate? Not exclusively about giant bugs, but there were certain bug-like features to the monsters. Am I forgetting any? Also why is this our lot?
Nick
Well Steve, it is Halloween season, and since it's too early to talk about the new Higurashi anime, we're left with scarce few options. So of course editorial thrust Aragne: Sign of Vermillion on us and let me just say:
The way I look at it, at least they didn't tell us to watch that Island of Giant Insects movie. That's one bug bullet dodged (although I fear that merely mentioning it here is going to get some infernal gears turning at ANN HQ).
Editor's Note: The monkey paw's finger curled.
So if that intro wasn't obvious enough, I don't think either of us has much positive to say about this movie. But this particular production is a very unique beast; essentially a solo effort by Director/Writer/Composer Saku Sakamoto for a crowdfunded budget of just under $18,000. And since this is such a personal project I want to preface that any criticisms we have of it are solely with the work itself, and not anything against the man behind it. I don't know him and I genuinely admire the ambition to make a feature length film almost on your own with such a shoestring budget.
Honestly, that was absolutely vital context for me going into this film, and I'm glad I looked it up prior to starting it. If you, dear reader, are at all interested in Aragne, you should go into with that mindset too. It's a low budget passion project with all the necessary visual shortcuts that requires. But you don't get to see a whole lot of those out in the wild with this level of distribution, so Aragne is fairly unique in that regard.
With that disclaimer out of the way: This movie is dog shit and I hated watching it.
And on that note, I have to confess that I actually kinda dug this movie lol.
Ok Steve, explain yourself. Quick.
Okay, first—because this is a quirk of conversation that will otherwise be lost in the column format—we posted both those statements at the exact same moment, and it was beautiful.
You're stalling.
Second, it's weird low budget horror flick made by one guy, with a nonsensically obtuse plot and labyrinthinely conflicting thematic aims. It's a big ugly mess and I haven't seen anything even resembling it before. It's a singular pretentious failure. Of course I like it.
You're on your own there. I love overly ambitious messes and horror a whooooooole bunch, but this movie was genuinely an ordeal. When I say I hated watching it, I mean the act of looking at it was actively difficult at times.
See, one of the ways the movie makes up for its low budget and limited animation is by CONSTANTLY shaking the frame to imitate handheld camera footage, and slathering on fake lens flares and effects over nearly every scene.

I don't have a gif of it but there are multiple scenes in this film that gave me motion sickness, and I sat through Hand Shakers with a stable stomach.
Oh yeah no way in hell am I going to disagree with you there. The shaky cam is the single worst vice of modern filmmaking, and Aragne may as well have installed its camera on top of a Hitachi Magic Wand. Please, directors, I'm fucking begging you. Hold the frame steady. Let me see what's on screen. That's all I ask. Thank you. I yield my time.
Worst part is when they do lock down the shot you're left with the...let's say unique character models.
The CG models all look like haunted, expressionless porcelain dolls, and it rules.
You're on your own there. I got very tired, very quickly, from having to look at Angela Anaconda's big sister.
Something about the aesthetic and the necessarily low-frame animation contribute to a "survival horror video game with a godawful English dub" energy that I'm affectionately nostalgic towards. It doesn't look good, but it certainly stands out. Also, thankfully, the characters look a little more natural whenever they're traditionally animated. So it's not 75 full minutes of being stalked by your grandma's doll cabinet.
I just think if you're making a movie about spooky bug monsters, those monsters shouldn't be measurably less scary than any medium shot of a regular human.
Naw, Nick, you see, it's like, dude, they're puppets. It's like, symbolic and shit, duuuude. rips bong
Glass houses, lady. Glass houses.
Also, to circle back to my role as the only card-carrying member of the Aragne Defense Task Force, the movie can indulge in some pretty cool and spooky imagery when we're not looking at glassy-eyed anime girls.

Oh sure, and in fact there are a few isolated moments of scene that manage to overcome the visual issues long enough to be genuinely tense horror. Even if the larger narrative amounts to nothing, this movie isn't 100% awful.
But whenever I think about Aragne all I'm going to remember is shit like this
What's the matter? Never seen a brain bug before? Or as we in the industry like to call them, Brugs.

Didn't think I'd get to use Gibiate images two weeks in a row, so thanks(?) for that, Aragne.
This is your brain on bad bug anime. Just say no, kids.

But ok, we've both established our feelings on the visuals. Let's get into the real meat: Steve, please explain the plot of this film to me and the audience. I dare you.
I knew this was coming yet I was still really hoping you wouldn't bring it up. Okay, so, Rin is living in a rundown industrial apartment building that would make David Lynch's hair stand up even higher. There's a serial killer on the loose, and Rin is having Bug Visions that may or may not be related to either that or her medication. Concerned, she consults the bug section of the library and runs into an expert.


Er, "expert."
Now now, you're skipping over the part where it's rumored that the serial killer is actually a dissident from a cult. That's very important to remember (Note: It is not).

Oh yeah she also befriends and/or stalks this middle school girl for reasons that aren't fully elucidated until the final five minutes. So that's fun.
Ahahahahaaaaa we'll get to that.
But first: more bugs.
Before the bugs, however, she runs into the serial killer! And it turns out it was all a huge misunderstanding. He wasn't killing anybody, he was just prowling the streets looking for another pan pizza to slice. Easy mistake to make.

He really needs to clean the tomato sauce off that more often tho. Gonna rust that blade real quick.
Oh and at some point Rin runs into a weirdo from the Bug Hunt cult who gives her a magic necklace to make up for tossing out her antipsychotic meds. This part turns out to be SUPER important even though the guy dies like 30 seconds later.
So then our intrepid hero does some research and links both the contorted bodies of the victims and these ominous vermillion moth sightings to the waste disposal facilities of the factory that stood where her apartment building currently stands. And now things are starting to add up. Finally, we're getting to the bottom of this horro—

Wait what's that black squiggly stuff?
Uh oh, looks like somebody got their ghost story in this scientific monster movie! Hope you're ready for absolutely nothing to make sense for the rest of the movie!
So the serial killer is a good guy! He's killing people before they can turn into "dead soul soldiers," which happens when their spirit bugs leave their bodies and they...die... but different. He kills them so they don't die like that. I think? I'm not gonna lie, I've read his speech up there about a dozen times during my prep work for this column, and I still can't make heads or tails (or thoraxes) of it. Anyway, he gets smooshed by a car 30 seconds later.
Then Rin runs away, except somehow she ends up in this one apartment where it seems like the bugs were living, and then she meets...well at first I thought it was the ghost of the girl she was stalking but no, it's a different black-haired, dead-eyed middle schooler. 3 guesses what this girl's favorite DDR track is!
Rin, sadly, won't be doing much dancing, dancing, or revolutionizing, because she lands on top of a pile of corpses. Then she has to stack them up into a different pile of corpses in order to escape. Like you do.
Y'know maybe you were right about that survival horror video game angle. I could see having to do that in one of the bad Silent Hill games.
It's hilariously macabre. Just the right amount of absurd and edgy to garnish this wholly ridiculous experience. Also, if you thought this movie didn't have more out-of-nowhere revelations up its sleeve, we have not even begun to spiral into sheer delirium.

Did you guess "Nazi-adjacent human experimentation" would be in the mix here? I didn't!
You say human experimentation, I say important research into the science of SHAFT anime characters.
And turns out, that's how you make an unkillable super soldier. Which definitely explains a lot about Senjougahara.
Don't worry, a different, good(?) magic bug shows up to save her from the evil bug zombie. The day is saved!
To stress the insanity of what happens here: said magic bug appears out of nowhere (presumably, somehow, sent by Bug Cult Man from beyond the grave), flies into the mouth of the creature, and blows it up. None of this is explained. It rules.
Also the day ISN'T saved because after falling down a pit for the 4th time in this movie, Rin runs into the REAL villain of this story: A random lady with a baby stroller we saw once 60 minutes ago who...I think has been feeding corpses to the bugs? Or something? This is where I gave up.
She just keeps showing up throughout the movie, so you assume she's going to be important somehow. And she is. But good luck trying to figure out who she is or why she knows about the secret Nazi bug lab. Anyway, she locks Rin in this machine and that's why we get the Brain Bug scene, so we should all be thanking her, whoever she is.


btw, this is what 2030 will look like at the rate society is going. Makes you think.
See I thought that's what happened to, but no. Because Rin's DEAD at the end of the scene when stroller lady shows up. And then the brain bug scene happens and THEN Rin reverses time to come back to life and becomes Bug God. Why? Fuck you, that's why. We've got 8 minutes left to wrap this up.

The film at this point (and honestly much further back than this point) transitions from anything resembling a plot into a purely sensory and symbolic experience. There's no point in trying to figure out what's "actually" happening because it's all nonsensical nightmare logic. And I like that! I like pretentious garbage that gets way in over its head. Aragne's thematic ambitions are not executed well AT ALL, but damn it, it's trying.
I get that, but the combination of plot twists piling up like an accident on the I-95 and the total sensory assault that is this movie's cinematography just turned into sewage runoff in my brain. Like hey turns out Rin as a child threw her best friend down the stairs and then...pretended to be her? Maybe?

That's the "twist." Rin isn't Rin; she's Rin! It's something that might've landed harder with better foreshadowing, but there isn't, so it doesn't. And subsequently you're tempted to read the movie as a symbolic expression of guilt and repentance from Rin as she tries to work through her trauma. I cannot really square, say, the Brugs in a way that makes sense, but I'm certainly still tempted to try!

Like, the best I've come up with is that the evil pram lady probably represents Rin's mom.
I can make a lot of leeway for broken plots in the name of making a point thematically or for characters. But this climax makes 0 sense and is totally inscrutable because then Bug God Rin trades places with her comatose counterpart.And we know this is literal because Other Rin wakes up in a hospital in Bug World from the part of the movie where Rin had the brain bug vision. The End.

My therapist: Bug World isn't real. It can't hurt you.
Bug World:

Actually that pretty much sums up Aragne: Sign of Vermillion.
Imagine. A world where bugs come out of the ground like plants. And all the water is replaced by moth's. This is Bug World. It's real
The bugs flying alongside the WW2 fighter planes in the beginning had some real "Hideo Kojima Death Stranding Trailer" energy too. Another reason why I dug it.
We are just not gonna see eye to eye on this. While I've sat through worse things that were longer than this, Aragne is generally one of the most unpleasant, unrewarding viewing experiences I can remember having. I closed the video legitimately feeling like this.
I dunno, it just hits different. The worst experiences I've had for this column have been shows that are just nothing, and Aragne is very much something. Maybe too much something for a single person to put together into a cohesive piece of art, but its gothic insect horror just clicked with me in spite of its faults.

And if I'm grading it on the most generous curve possible, i.e. compared to all the other Big Bug anime we've watched, Aragne is the runaway winner.
I just cannot recommend this when there's so much other stuff you could watch. Like hey, that Made in Abyss movie's still available for screening right? Do that instead. The piss machine will still be less questionable than this.
And if you're broken like me and predisposed towards interesting and offbeat passion projects, no matter the ultimate quality, maybe you'll find Aragne a baffling and rewarding experience. Or maybe my brain has finally been replaced with a giant bug. Either way, I had a good time, and that's no lie.
Wait a second...I think I know what's happening. THEY GOT TO STEVE.
Hahaha...you know...maybe we SHOULD check out The Island of Giant Insects next. See what all the buzzzzzz is about. What do you say, Nick?

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