Image source: 【公式】アニメ「青鬼」 on Twitter

Previously, I thought the bizarre chibi adaptation of Aooni: The Blue Monster was one of the best adaptations of the popular freeware horror game. It turns out I was wrong. The latest film, Ao Oni: The Animation is the best and most terrifying iteration of the property thus far. It’s way better than anything else currently out there, even if its visuals are absolutely terrible. It just goes to show you: You can’t judge a book by its cover.

The movie begins with a group of boys on a “test of courage.” They realize their friend Kotarou is missing, and eventually go out to look for him. They find a bloodied kimono that belonged to Kotarou and scatter out into the deep woods. One of the boys gets separated from the group and finds what he believes to be the “Bellflower Monster,” which is the Ao Oni we’re familiar with seeing. It’s best to keep that in mind, as we’ll see it later throughout the movie as well.

The story shifts to a culture club that’s discussing the scary story to be used at an upcoming culture festival for school. The characters eventually get around to discussing the Ao Oni game in all its freeware glory. One of the club members had endeavored to get in touch with the creator himself, who reveals that the game may have written about the same “Bellflower Monster” that happened to come from the woods behind the school the students go to.

It’s decided that the culture club is going to investigate the story itself and speak with Ao Oni’s writer for a possible edge up on their competition so that they can make one whopper of a culture festival attraction. It already sounds like a bad idea from the onset, but it’s decided that several of the club’s members will see what the story’s all about.

There are other side threads developing alongside the main one, such as a student who’s clearly in love with his teacher and his disdain for another fellow student who’s supposedly banging every girl in the school. This becomes an important plot point later on, surprisingly enough. There’s also a trip thrown into turmoil when something unexpected happens to the Ao Oni game’s writer. After some alterations to the club’s initial plan, they end up exploring their school in the dark… and that’s when all the craziness starts.

What follows after this stage-setting is a torrent of twists and turns that push the film along at a good clip. There are several reasons to become invested, even if you know nothing about the game, the Ao Oni short-form anime, or the live-action film. There are some brutal, unexpected killings only about halfway into the movie, and plenty of callbacks to the game itself–including the musical chords that occur when Ao Oni makes its appearance. There’s also one decidedly grotesque transformation near the end of the movie that you won’t soon be able to forget.

Image source: maidigitv on YouTube

Unfortunately, there’s one glaring issue that you can’t really ignore. The CG animation is abhorrent, with characters resembling low-grade models in video games and bizarre expressions and almost noseless faces from character to character. If you watched the Berserk revival in 2016 and found that CG low quality, you’ll undoubtedly be frustrated with Ao Oni: The Animation.

Luckily, that doesn’t take away much from the film itself nor the gripping horror segments it imparts. You’ll be left scratching your head at the several twists throughout the hour-long film, but in a totally good way… especially when the demon itself makes its first appearance. 

I found Ao Oni: The Animation to be an excellent adaptation of a truly bizarre horror game, and despite my issues with its visual presentation, I came away truly impressed. It’s absolutely worth watching, even if you’re just a casual fan. 

Ao Oni: The Animation is available for streaming in Japanese with English subtitles at Crunchyroll

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