The Winter 2018 Anime Preview Guide Junji Ito Collection
How would you rate episode 1 of
Junji Ito "Collection" ?
What is this?
For years Junji Ito's surreal storytelling and nightmarish art have earned him a reputation as one of manga's masters of horror. Junji Ito "Collection" is an omnibus animation project that brings to the screen several of Ito's most famous stories and characters, including those of Tomie, a mysterious and beautiful girl that refuses to die, Souichi, a conniving young boy that deals in the occult, and Miss Fuchi, a gorgeous model who hides a monstrous secret. Junji Ito "Collection" streams on Crunchyroll, Fridays at 10:30 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
When you get right down to it, the process of adaptation is just making one choice after another in translation until you end up with something new. Every choice you make will inevitably result in something being lost and something being gained, even if that something is small and the two media are very similar like comics and animation. And each adaptive choice you commit to opens another branching series of choices that build on the one you've just settled on. It's an exponential excursion that might eventually take you far away from the feeling of the original work, even if your goal was to be as faithful as possible, because the difference in mediums can make even the most "exact" translation feel alien.
My point is that Junji Ito "Collection" seems like a series of unfortunate choices in service of supposed faithfulness so far. It's not unsalvageable, but this is definitely a bad start.
The first problem is the choice of introductory story. Even before checking the source material to be sure, I got the sneaking suspicion that "Souichi's Convenient Curses" was not meant to be scary; it's supposed to be one of Ito's prosaic comedies of misdirection, suited only for readers already familiar with his other work. You're constantly expecting some frightening twist to appear, but instead you get a knowingly dumb payoff to each morbid little build-up, reflecting super-loser Souichi's complete lack of impact on the world around him despite his puffed-up image of himself as a master of the occult. (The story shows its hand when Souchi tries to make himself sound important by accidentally using a word that means "average.") The contrast Ito finds between plunging the depths of brain-bending horror and finding the macabre in pointless little stories like these is part of what makes his work so charming; he can make gross subject matter humorous and things that shouldn't be scary at all existentially terrifying.
Anyway, my point is that maybe an anime adaptation should start with one of Ito's classic horror stories instead of his diversions into tongue-in-cheek shaggy dog comedy. By playing the horror tone straight in the art and trying to undercut it only with a more comedic musical score, the show is doing its best to translate the manga experience faithfully, but it just ends up with a mundane story that's neither funny nor scary, due to a lack of skilled direction or captivating animation. Even more strangely, the episode closes by cramming a more straightforward horror vignette into two minutes so it can't have any impact at all.
If future episodes pick their material more wisely and give it enough time to breathe without overstaying its welcome or getting the tone wrong, this could still be a nice creepy way to end your work-week, but Junji Ito "Collection" has not put its best foot forward.
Junji Ito "Collection" was very high on my “most anticipated” list this season. I've read everything the guy has in print in English and find his stories, whether they range from absurd to outright horrifying, to be some of the best horror manga has to offer. Unfortunately this opener does very little support that opinion. “Souichi's Convenient Curses” is like a bad case of chunibyo where some of the delusions are real.
Our protagonist Souichi is a complete loon in a cartoonish sense, believing he is romantically desirable, a genius, and all around better than all of his peers including his own family. For reasons that aren't made clear, he is able to curse other people and does so for arbitrary reasons, mostly wild scenarios he comes up with in his own head. In reality, he's not much more than a weirdo sitting on a high horse and judging everyone else but episode never makes Souichi's delusions seem menacing. The concept has enough meat to play with: having a guy so off his rocker than the most minor perceived slight could lead to an unfair, cruel demise is a potent one. Souichi never seems menacing though, I think the main problem is the audience spends too much time with him instead of through the eyes of one of his classmates.
A shift in perspective could have made all the difference. The episode also never adequately builds up any tension. It's usually undermined by Souichi's own cartoonishness or comical score. When Souichi is stuck up in a tree and it looks like the crazy landowner might do him in, the background music defeats any build up. It's then unsurprising when his brother comes to his rescue and the status quo is restored since the score showed its hand a few shots before.
The episode ends with a second, mini-episode that I wish would have gotten its own proper run-time. Instead of the three or so minutes showing a doll transform, imagine if we'd been introduced to the normal family, the script hinted that a coming-of-age sometimes goes wrong, and over the course of 20 minutes we watch their daughter slowly become the thing shown at the end. A slow and sombering approach to the inevitable can illicit its own kind of horror, if the staff will take some risks.
So far I'm unimpressed with Junji Ito "Collection" on the most basic level. I'm not even sure it's trying to be scary.
This anime adaptation is my first direct exposure to the works of Junji Ito, who is apparently quite renown as a horror manga-ka. Based on what I've heard about his works, I was expecting a diverse anthology of horror-themed short stories. While the two tales we get in this first episode are, indeed, quite diverse, only the second and vastly shorter one makes any significant horror impact. I have to wonder what was being aimed at with the other.
The first part, about a freaky teenager named Shoichi who is obsessed with curses and picking on his older sister with nasty critters (in that order), dominates the episode on runtime. He comes from such an ordinary family that you have to wonder how he ended up so twisted, but his background isn't the point here. All that matters is that he apparently gets a kick out of messing with people through curses and doesn't appreciate how creepy he is in the process. And that's it. The results of his curses are only mildly scary (we're talking at no more than a Goosebumps level here) and the whole thing ends without any real resolution. Shoichi doesn't get any real comeuppance, as his brother rescues him from the punishment that the landowner he was trespassing on was about to deal out, and even the animal trap, which I thought would lead to something nasty, didn't amount to anything. I suppose the toad he stored away dying and rotting on him was supposed to be that, but that was more ugly than scary. Overall, the one of that part is too light and flippant.
The second part, on the other hand, is vastly creepier despite being only about two minutes long. It involves a couple whose little girl turns into a doll – apparently not an uncommon occurrence in that setting. That's disturbing enough, but implication that parents who burn the dolls are burning their daughters alive and the exercise in body horror at the end of it is enough to give a decent chill, even if it also seems a little rushed. If the whole episode had been like that then this exercise might have amounted to something. Perhaps later installments will be more like that one.
The look of the series and animation style (which are surprisingly good for what the series is) are very different from probably any other anime title you'll see this season and the opener is probably among the stronger efforts of the season, too, so the production isn't a disaster. Still, if you check this one out, my advice is to watch the opener and then skip to the 20:25 mark.
To be honest, I'm not sure a successful adaptation of Junji Ito's manga is even possible. Ito's unique brand of horror relies extremely heavily on his specific art style, a heavily shaded and obsessively detailed look which results in great single panels, but which definitely doesn't lend itself to fluid animation. His work also tends to waver between horror and comedy in such a way that when his stories aren't successfully terrifying, they're utterly absurd. He finds horror in mundane concepts that don't lend themselves to convenient dramatic payoffs, and his lesser panels are often workmanly in a way that works much better for skimming than sustained viewing. On top of that, anime in general has a terrible track record with horror. Animation creates a sense of distance and safety that is extremely difficult to overcome, and shows that have successfully managed to be horrifying often do it in more existential or character-focused ways, like Shiki or Shinsekai Yori.
All that said, this Junji Ito "Collection" isn't just bad because it'd be hard to make a good Junji Ito show - it's bad because it's lazily constructed and terribly executed. This first episode's story of Souchi the curse-placer isn't even one of Ito's stronger narratives, and the episode progresses more or less as a shot-for-shot progression of Ito's original panels. There's extremely little animation to speak of, and Ito's often disturbing single panels lose their power through the anime's simplified character designs and straightforward shot framing. The usual pacing issues that crop up when adapting either horror or comedy show up in spades all throughout this episode; there's not a single twist that isn't built up and foreshadowed to the point of tedium, and not a quirky exchange that isn't rendered inert through its belabored execution. This episode's idea of smart visual embellishment is drowning everything in a green-grey sepia filter, and its idea of suspense or dramatic pacing is “what are those. Are they important.”
I did feel the show's overall murky color palette was a fair enough stand-in for Ito's oppressive shading, but that and the energetic opening song are pretty much all I can put in this adaptation's favor. Junji Ito's stories aren't all winners, but the man is a singular voice in horror, and his weird little tales deserve a better telling than this. Check out one of his excellent and widely distributed horror anthologies; leave this tepid adaptation be.
In order to be successfully scary, a story needs to incorporate both horror and terror – or things that are both physically frightening and psychologically frightening. Normally Junji Ito is able to do this in his manga, but somehow the anime adaptation of his short stories lost something in translation. It's not the art – the juxtaposition of perfectly normal-looking scenery and people with exaggerated images and/or grotesqueries remains intact and is in fact that most effective part of the episode. The problems come in with the addition of voices and the lengths of the two stories told over the course of the half-hour.
The first story, “Souichi's Convenient Curses,” takes up almost the full run time, while the second about some sort of doll curse is a bare two minutes. Both would have benefitted from either a more balanced distribution of minutes or a reversal – we're given barely any time to absorb the idea of a curse that turns children into ball-jointed dolls while spending way too much with obnoxious Souichi and his unexplained hatred for humanity. The second story in general has more potential to be scary anyway, as the idea of a monstrous transformation is at the core of many successful horror pieces, as is the idea of an ordinary object (a doll, in this case) becoming a thing of terror. Dolls frankly have more horror potential than angry sixth graders anyway, simply because they can look so much like people without actually being human.
The other issue is that Souichi's story doesn't really benefit from hearing his narration. In large part this is because it gives the whole tale a goofy feel – sure, there's something alarming about a middle schooler who keeps nails in his mouth, but his “unbalanced” voice doesn't make him seem any creepier. That his family doesn't know what to do with his poor behavior but also doesn't seem to do anything about it could have been effective, except that none of his curses are actually all that life-threatening, as we see when his classmate is largely unaffected by being left outside for a couple of days. Souichi's portion of the episode is more like a kid trying to write a horror story before they've quite gotten the hang of it.
It may very well be that Collection is simply holding back the good stories until later in its run. I certainly hope so, because right now it really isn't doing Junji Ito any favors.
Right off the bat, I should probably note that I'm a huge fan of the works of Junji Ito, and from the beginning I've been of two minds about Studio DEEN's celebratory adaptation of many of Ito's horror stories and characters. On the one hand, I was very excited to see his work reach an even larger audience, and there are certain stories, such as the many terrible adventures of Tomie, that I think really could turn out pretty well in animated form. On the other hand, so much of what makes Ito's work so frighteningly surreal rests in the strengths of his black-and-white sequential art, and I went in to this premiere skeptical that it could even work in colorized, animated form at all.
From the beginning of this first episode, which primarily adapts a story called, “Souichi's Convenient Curses”, it is clear that the problem of adapting Ito's singular style to animation hasn't been solved. The character designs are mostly accurate, and the episode itself is nearly a panel-for-panel translation of the original short manga, but everything just feels off. Ito's best work has a visceral, sticky quality to it that can feel simultaneously mundane and insanely bizarre, which gives his stories the uniquely off-putting flavor that has garnered him so much acclaim. I've always equated the experience of reading a good Junji Ito story to that of a documentary being made of someone's worst nightmares. Junji Ito is capable of drawing some truly abhorrent and disgusting stuff, but its horrifyingly alien quality is always rooted in a world that feels eerily banal. Characters speak very matter-of-factly about situations that are veering into Lovecraftian levels of body-horror, and most supernatural experiences are accepted as simple, undeniable fact to the people experiencing them.
This anime gets the banality of Ito's work, but fails to do justice to the horror of it. The artwork is simply too flat and washed out to inspire chills of any kind, and the clipped pace of many of the scenes robs some of the stronger images of their staying power. Junji Ito is a master of using every single panel of his work to allow his readers to linger on the most unsettling and terrifying images he can come up with, but when it's presented in such a rote, by-the-numbers manner, it loses all of that frightening potential. Souichi's off-putting visage has been exaggerated even further to a degree that is more cartoonish than anything, and his weasel-like voice belies any of his character's original menace. The Souichi stories all contain a fair amount of black humor, to be sure, but that humor is more of a by-product of seeing this genuinely disturbed boy take such glee in using the dark arts for his petty and childish pranks. This Souichi doesn't possess an ounce of youthful menace or weird intrigue; he's just a dweeb.
Simply put, this first episode of Junji Ito "Collection" isn't even remotely scary, and its black humor only occasionally hits the mark that its aiming for. The bouncy soundtrack is supposed to ironically contrast with Souichi's own miserable glee, but it really just contributes to the episode's struggles in capturing the original work's balance between comedy and dread. Anyone going in to the Junji Ito "Collection" looking for a chilling good time is more-likely-than-not to be disappointed in much of what this premiere has to offer.
There is a backup story here, called “Hellish Doll Funeral” that does give me hope. It's only a few minutes long, but it is more atmospheric and entertaining than anything “Souichi's Convenient Curses” delivered. In it's final moments, “Hellish Doll Funeral” lingers on a shot that almost communicates the original's strange, gross dread. I'm still not convinced that Junji Ito's works can be successfully adapted in this manner, but if the anime can aim to deliver material more like “Hellish Doll Funeral”, Junji Ito "Collection" might not be a total wash.
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