Anyone who knows me can say that two things are true: 1) I am a huge nerd, and 2) I don’t care who knows it. From trading card and video games to comics and animé, I have had a long history of nerdcraft.
As such, and to keep with the season, I have compiled a list of my favorite Halloween-themed episodes of various franchises. The episode itself may not have been specifically made nor aired on Halloween (especially for the animé), but the themes and vibe fit the tone of the season.
Please enjoy, and Happy Halloween!
Honorable Mention: “Faust VIII” — Shaman King (2004)
Shaman King has a very simple premise: the main characters use the spirits of the dead to fight each other in a tournament that determines the leader of the Shaman community. People have used animal spirits, samurai, even Bruce Lee parodies, to do battle for the sake of The Shaman Fight. Since the concept of ghosts, spirits, and reanimation are integral to the plot, how on Earth could you find something specifically worthy of making a Halloween list?
Enter Faust VIII — a necromancer and descendant of Johann Faust. He challenges protagonist Yoh Asakura by kidnapping his best friend and torturing him while sending hordes of animated skeletons to tire out his opponent. And by “torture”, I mean “insert his hand into the boy’s body and toy around with his internal organs for fun.” The only thing creepier than this was the reveal of his medium as the skeleton of his murdered wife. Yikes!
This episode missed the main list because the others are simply more memorable, but I mentioned it because Shaman King is a series I secretly love, and this two-part episode always seemed crazy to me.
5) “Evil Spirit of the Ring” — Yu-Gi-Oh! (2002)
Y’all remember Yu-Gi-Oh! Short kid with spiky, multicolored hair that transformed “magical girl” style into a slightly taller dude with more bass and even spikier multicolored hair. All for the sake of playing a trading card game. While there’s admittedly more to the series than that, it is most memorable for its protagonist Yugi Muto, its outlandish magical shenanigans, and the limitless ego of Seto Kaiba (which Eric Stuart knocks out of the park).
This episode involves the first two. During the Duelist Kingdom arc, Yugi and his friends are enjoying some down time when their classmate Bakura randomly shows up in the woods of the secluded tournament island. He then challenges Yugi to a friendly duel before the spirit of his Millenium Ring reveals itself and sucks everyone’s souls into their favorite cards. Yami (Dark) Yugi, the spirit of the Millenium Puzzle, awakens to save the day, but to do so he must use the cards inhabited by his friends.
What makes this episode work is how fun it is, in spite of its dark nature. As each of the main cast is summoned to the field, they are hilariously dressed as their favorite monsters. Every time they are sent to the graveyard, they are haunted by the Reaper of the Cards. Yami Yugi has to take down Yami Bakura before his friends die (or are permanently “lost in the Shadow Realm” for the kids).
4) “Brain Invaders” — Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2009)
What happens when you combine horror with Star Wars? You get the start of a beautiful turnaround for a series that started off tonally inconsistent. Taking place between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars: The Clone Wars had its ups and downs early on. But this episode was one of the first in the series to do something truly creepy.
En route to a medical frigate from the previous episode, Padawans Ahsoka Tano and Barriss Offee were unaware of the fact that Geonosian parasites from their last mission had infected some of their Clone troopers. What ensued next was a great, standalone story that dealt with the teenagers being forced to kill their comrades to save themselves, the extent of Anakin Skywalker’s attachment to his pupil, and how the Clones would behave were they not serving their Jedi commanders.
Thanks to the parasites, we also got to see a brief duel between the two young Jedi — one that would prove to be foreshadowing in the long run. With rampant death, dismemberment, and more, this was the closest Star Wars had to zombie horror — despite the previous episode’s literal bug zombies. This episode made you fear for the lives of the characters, even if you knew they’d be fine by the end of it all.
3) “The Puppetmaster” — Avatar: The Last Airbender (2007)
Avatar: The Last Airbender holds a special place in my heart. Following the adventures of Aang — a young, aerokinetic monk awoken from a century of cryogenic slumber — it is one of the most well-done stories I’ve encountered in my young life. Aang is joined by Katara and Sokka, the brother and sister who discovered him, as he attempts to master the four elements and end the Hundred Year War that began in his absence. Avatar is a series full of engaging characters, dynamic action, and epic music. From stories of war, grief, and genocide, to those of love, compassion, and redemption, this “kids’ show” has something for everyone.
When we arrive at “The Puppetmaster”, our heroes are deep in the heart of enemy territory before their failed invasion of the Fire Nation capital. While telling ghost stories, an old lady named Hama invites them to her inn. She feeds them, and later reveals that she is a surviving bender of the Southern Water Tribe — just like Katara, whom she decides to instruct. Hama’s style of waterbending is arcane, however. She pulls water from thin air, drains it from the surrounding fauna, and even utilizes the water in the human body to control people with a technique she dubs “bloodbending”.
When it is revealed she had been kidnapping — and bloodbending — local villagers, the Gaang tries to stop her, but her skill proves difficult to counter under the full moon. Katara has no choice but to use it herself — a feat that drives her to tears at the sheer horror. What makes me love this episode is the genuine character moments and how it furthers Katara’s character arc, as well as the overall horror elements the show masterfully implements.
2) “Secrets” — Young Justice (2011)
Young Justice combined the seriousness of Bruce Timm’s Justice League with the teen hero angle of the original Teen Titans cartoon. In this world, Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad, and other teen protégés operate covert missions for their Justice League mentors as they train to one day join themselves.
In “Secrets”, Miss Martian invites The Team to her and Superboy’s high school Halloween Dance! But, when Artemis is upset over Miss Martian and Superboy’s secret relationship, Zatanna suggests a “girls’ night out” in New York instead. Which works out great when Harm shows up with the Sword of Beowulf, and they are confronted with the mystery of Greta Hayes.
This episode has everything: Artemis and Zatanna have some sweet action sequences against Harm; Superboy, Miss Martian, and Kid Flash hilariously encounter a school dance full of Justice League superhero costumes; and Robin, Aqualad, and Red Arrow talk with Batman and Red Tornado about “the mole”. The dance B-plot has the bonus laugh of a Marvin the Martian homage as the young heroes play a prank on the class prankster.
The best part of the episode, however, is the reveal surrounding how Harm made his heart “pure” so he could wield the Sword. Spoiler alert: Bloody murder! With all this going on, how could this not be number 1?
1) “Night of the Chimera’s Cry” — Fullmetal Alchemist (2004)
If you’ve seen enough animé before 2010, you’re not surprised by this. Coming in at the top spot is the episode that broke every millennial animé nerd. Following the adventures of Edward and Alphonse Elric, Fullmetal Alchemist (and its reboot series, Brotherhood) is one of the most critically-acclaimed series of the last two decades. And this story is one of the ones to give it that reputation. Even if you’ve never seen it, you’ve likely heard about this episode.
Ed and Al meet Shou Tucker at the recommendation of Colonel Roy Mustang. Known as the Sewing-Life Alchemist, Tucker had gained notoriety for his research into chimeras — including transmuting one that could speak. Mustang suggested Ed and Al meet him to gain insight for their quest for the Philosopher’s Stone to restore their bodies that were lost (Al) or dismembered (Ed) while trying to resurrect their mother.
What makes this episode great — and heartbreaking — is Ed’s realization about how Tucker’s research became successful: Two years prior, he transmuted his wife into a chimera out of desperation. As Ed and Al looked in horror, Tucker had now done the same to his daughter and pet dog. “Big Brother Ed…,” she called out.