Laughing Target

Spooky noises, haunted houses, possessions...all are part and parcel of the horror genre. One could argue that the field of horror films has never had much promise, and that the only original one in the 1990s was Scream, which simply took the premise and added a postmodern veneer. The Japanese never saw the advent of irony and sarcasm enter into the realm of terror flicks, however, and so it seems they all run together at times. Laughing Target is notable due to its creator, Rumiko Takahashi of Ranma, Urusei Yatsura, and Inuyasha fame. She released this video as part of a series called Rumic's World, a bunch of one-shot stories that let her break free of the confines of her continuing series. Laughing Target is also interesting to watch because it has a great deal of atmosphere; it reaches that level of spookiness that few scary movies attain. It still should be better, though, considering its author; too much cliché and wayward storytelling move this into the second tier of anime.

Yuzuru is a handsome archer, admired by his classmates and swooned over by the girls. Life with his girlfriend Satomi seems great--that is, until his fiancé Azusa comes on the scene. Years before, Yuzuru's father made a deal with a strange aunt that Yuzuru would marry her daughter Azusa so that their family line would continue. Now everybody's grown up, and old promises are easily forgotten...or are they? Azusa seems to be completely infatuated with Yuzuru, and she's not willing for anyone to come between them. She's also got a truly bizarre curse that creates little slimy slugs that devour those who get in her way. Azusa becomes far more than an unwanted visitor.

Released back in the 80s when OVA one-shots could still get decent budgets, Laughing Target is a nice looking show. I had forgotten what small nuances could do to make a scene more powerful. The subtle movement seen in Laughing Target gives it a certain amount of weight that a show of this type rarely has. Beyond the animation, which is otherwise unspectacular, the feel of this show is great. Some really creepy moments transcend the rest of the movie, in particular a shot that occurs just after the credits finish. The music was also nicely selected, adding to the mood without dating the piece.

If only it weren't so simplistic. We see everything coming a mile before the characters do in Laughing Target, and though dread is an old genre standby, we are never really surprised or given a good shock. Two of the more scary sequences happen around fan service moments, which signals a sign of poor planning (if not desperation). What's more, several intense sequences don't make sense where they are staged--there should be plenty of people around, but there aren't. It's one thing for a crazy psycho to attack you on a deserted street; it's another if every street is deserted and for no good reason. We're also not given a reason why Azusa has become one with this malevolent entity; she just is. Sometimes, ignorance is horrifying in and of itself, but here it's set up like a mystery that's unresolved. A puzzle that's missing pieces is nigh frustrating when it sits a few jigsaws short of completion. (I also don't think Takahashi's character designs lend themselves well to horror, but that's a personal beef I think few will have.)

Laughing Target is better than many horror films filled with blood and tentacles. Because it rises above the dreck, we hope for more, and wind up a tad disappointed. I think it's a fine rental, but not the top anime has to offer.

Laughing Target -- brief nudity, violence, some disturbing imagery -- B-