Junji Ito Collection – Episode 1

By: Vrai Kaiser January 5, 20180 Comments
A pale, grinning teen with candles tucked into his headband, swinging a hammer. caption: now you'll see some real horror.

What’s it About? An anthology series adapting the short stories of famed horror mangaka Junji Ito.

Being a horror fan and an anime fan can be a depressing affair. Perhaps because of the quirks inherent in animation or the limitations of a TV budget, the few horror anime that do get made often swing either into the realms of camp or settle for buckets of blood in lieu of atmosphere (which can be its own kind of fun, don’t get me wrong).

A pale, grinning teen with candles tucked into his headband, swinging a hammer. caption: now you'll see some real horror.

In that sense, Junji Ito is like water in the desert, and his talent for disturbing atmosphere and slow burns has rightfully cemented his status as a household name. The downside is that it means this adaptation comes with enormous expectations, and it’s arguably impossible to live up to what everyone wants—particularly in a format as inevitably uneven as an anthology. Still, I think this one is off to a pretty good start.

The decision to start off with self-absorbed and curse-obsessed teen Souichi is an unconventional one, particularly for viewers who might know Ito solely for his horror rather than his comedic chops. It certainly makes for a lowkey premiere, less likely to hold on to viewers unfamiliar with Ito’s work and potentially underwhelming to longtime fans excited to see big names like “The Enigma of Amigara Fault” or “Dissection Girl” brought to life.

An old man walking in the woods turning to see a head sticking out of the ground. caption: what the...

But it’s the weight of those expectations that make this premiere a subtly brilliant one–you only get to tell those famous stories once. This is only Shinobu Taashira’s second directorial outing (like Atsuko Ishizuka, she was previously tasked with elevating less-than-stellar source material through clever direction), but she’s no industry newcomer. She’s been working since the 1990s, and her resume as a key animator includes Hunter x Hunter (1999), the Rurouni Kenshin OVAs, and Revolutionary Girl Utena. That speaks to someone who knows the rhythm of anime production and that anthologies offer different structural possibilities than one cohesive story (what more exciting format for a sophomore director than one that’s not only allowed but basically expected to be uneven?).

There’s an obvious learning curve going on in this premiere. The art experiments with angles, filters, and how much to replicate Ito’s line-heavy style while still working in color. The art team is visibly struggling with the fact that animation, even Studio DEEN animation, has to move; and some of Junji Ito’s more subtly effective moments of horror are the product of carefully composed still frames.

Collection’s art team is working through how to reconcile that issue, and so they chose two stories with comparatively low stakes. It doesn’t matter if a scare in a Souichi story falls flat (that spider in particular doubtlessly looks better on the page), because they’re macabre comedies. And “Doll Funeral,” the ultra-short that ends the episode, largely relies on the rendering of still objects rather than a monster in motion.

a withered figure of a little girl in a blue dress with a long neck and grotesquely twisted skulllike face

Meanwhile, the comedic tone means more time to appreciate the sound design. Ito’s stories don’t necessarily need voice work and music, but they certainly add to the experience. Yuji Mitsuya is particularly entertaining as Souichi, deciding on a voice that’s somewhere between a paranoid septuagenarian and Mamoru Miyano’s most camp Death Note moments.

There are so many glints of cleverness in this premiere that I was left salivating over the potential ahead rather than worrying about the minor missteps of the premiere. At this point, my major concern is that sticking a comedic story right next to a horrific one can be a tough tonal ask when it comes to Ito’s stories, as the absurdity of a premise isn’t a given indicator of how he’ll handle it (between “a teen curses his fellow students and it works” and “we woke up and our daughter was a doll,” which would you have expected to be the ridiculous one?).

pale Souichi with a frozen, uncomfortable expression staring at a dead spider being held in front of his face

If you’re a horror fan, you owe it to yourself to at least try this out–though be warned that body horror and gore is 99% guaranteed. I’ve got a good feeling about where all this is going.

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