Tuesday 27 March 2018

Anime REVIEW: Junji Ito Collection

Junji Ito Collection
Junji Ito Collection is available in streaming form on Crunchyroll

Junji Ito is a name synonymous with horror manga. Often heralded as the "master of horror manga", the artist has produced countless works stories that depict both the grotesque and the supernatural – many of which have been adapted into feature films Among the more notable offerings are Uzumaki, Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack as well as the Tomie series. Ito was even set to be a collaborator on Guillermo Del Toro/Hideo Kojima's ill-fated Silent Hills, perhaps a further sign of the respect his work commands. So when Studio DEEN announced they would be animating a selection of his stories into the Junji Ito Collection anthology series, naturally hype and expectations were rather high. Not only did this present an opportunity to finally see these stories in motion, but also introduce newcomers to the twisted works of Junji Ito.

The ModelSlug Girl

As an anthology series, the Junji ito Collection encompasses 24 select stories from Ito's Masterpiece Collection and Fragments of Horror collections, spreading them across a total of 12 episodes. The world of Junji Ito is a cruel place, with many of these stories' characters falling victim to curses or malevolent forces often through pure circumstance, usually leading to despair and/or repulsive instances of body horror.

The Ongoing Take of Oshikiri CollectionTomie

Even though the very nature of anthology format the show can only be properly judged on a week by week basis, it's fair to say that the Junji Ito Collection didn't get off to a very good start. Rather that diving in with the stories that were either what existing fans wanted to see or could successfully hook newcomers, the series opens on a rather flat note with "Souichi's Convenient Curses" – a dark humour comedy featuring one of Ito's recurring characters, the nail-chewing Souichi Tsuji. The second story, “Hellish Doll Funeral” is barely a story at all - instead a two minute outing about a girl cursed to gradually become a rotting wooden doll. The episodes have a certainly charm to them but definitely weren’t the strongest way to start off the series, but given that Souichi appears a further two times in the series its clear that the makers might have had some bias toward the material they were adapting.

Thankfully things begin to pick up in the second episode’s instalments, and the running time between the two stories becomes more evenly spread for the rest of the run. But something still feels off, and this comes down to the way in which these stories have been adapted. Though on the one hand Studio Deen should be praised for their close adherence to the style of Ito’s original artwork, the end product somehow leaves a lot to be desired. The animation is stilted and lifeless, leaving many to assume that the series didn’t have much of budget behind it. The colours are dull and lifeless, which often echo the bleakness of the narrative but don’t give the show much visual impact. These things are huge factors in the ultimate failings of the horror element, which fails to have any resounding impact outside of select key visuals. Static visuals which were arguably more effective in print.

GreasedThe Painter

However it should be emphasised that the Junji Ito Collection's failings are by no fault of the material present, all of which work to far better effect in their original comic form. When comparing the source material to the anime adaptation it becomes all the more evident where Ito's mastery of the genre comes from – specifically the use of page layout and striking black and white illustrations. The animated versions have neither of these things, instead simply going through the motions of the story without any of the flare to give it the same impact. As someone who was only aware of Ito purely by reputation before this series aired, I don't feel there's any personal bias in me saying that manga versions I've since discovered are vastly superior to their animated counterparts.

Thankfully, when you're adapting such well-loved material there's bound to be a few hits even when the show is ultimately lacking. True to Ito's reputation the body horror featured in some of these stories is stomach churning, with the likes of "Snail Girl", “Window Next Door” and “The Ongoing Take of Oshikiri Collection” standing out with some striking imagery. “Greased” (manga name “Glyceride”) deserves special mention for being perhaps the only episode that does work better animated, turning a particularly scene into something that is truly vomit-inducing. "Painter" is also more than enough to see why the Tomie series has become so well-loved, and the sole story in the series proper that includes monstrous succubus. It has however been confirmed that the show's two forthcoming OVAs will also be Tomie adaptations, which suggests there may be more to come along the lines of one of the Collection's standout episodes.

ScarecrowWindow Next Door

The sad thing is that there is great material behind the Junji Ito Collection – you only have to look as far as source material or Ito's reputation as a whole to see that. And in another world this could have been a really memorable show, but for whatever reason it isn't. Ito's works just don't lend themselves to the sluggish, washed out visuals the series commands, and the end result is a dull, lifeless copy that barely has a fraction of the original’s finesse. Anime adaptations can often do wonderful things, but it seems these stories are definitely best left on paper.


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