Reviewby Faye Hopper,
Junji Ito "Collection"
Junji Ito Collection explores the work of manga's most infamous and revered horror artist, the man who made human-shaped holes in rocks and spirals terrifying. From exhibitions of Ito's most famous characters, such as the vengeful Tomie, the twisted and petty Souichi, and Miss Fuchi, giving credence to the old saying ‘if looks could kill’, to adaptations of his most famous stories, such as the slow reveals of The Long Dream and the classic scares of The Window Next Door, Junji Ito Collection shows all the terrifying ideas Junji Ito has to offer. Take a look—if you dare.
How do you make Junji Ito boring? Is it even possible? Well, in case you are one of the few who ever pondered such a question, congratulations! You have an answer. It's called Junji Ito "Collection", and it is pure unadulterated tedium.
But how? For one, it's notorious how badly this show mangles some of Ito's most iconic images (Miss Fuchi rising out of the water in Rumors is actually hilarious), but that's only part of the problem. Of course this show can't match Ito's level of illustrative quality, you'd need Katsuhiro Otomo circa-1989 resources to ever pull that off. Good direction, good execution, good craft can compensate for a production that's lacking in its aesthetic departments (Trigun and the 1997 Berserk come to mind as great examples of how to do just that, also as adaptations of similarly beloved and artistically rich manga). And the show even shows signs of understanding this, with a very good score and solid sound design that are essential to great horror on film. The problem is the pacing, which kills everything. It's utter agony, due to it being a copy-paste translation of manga sources that were intensely conscious of pacing. Ito stories are divided between the mundane and the surreal, and the intersection thereof, and in Junji Ito "Collection" the mundane is dragged out to the point where any potential horror is completely lost. When the macabre arrives, the contrast isn't terrifying so much as it is entirely unremarkable. You shouldn't be able to make removing your slug-turned daughter's head from a salt bath anything but ghastly, but in Junji Ito "Collection" it's just boring.
The selection of which stories to adapt is likewise baffling. The point of this show, as far as I can gather, is to be a Junji Ito sampler platter, displaying all the unique and diverse kinds of stories he has to offer, highlighting some of his greatest hits, and showing off some of his most iconic characters. A noble goal to be sure, and some of this curation is thoughtful (starting off with the parodic hijinks of Souichi seems misguided at first, until you realize that the show ends on Rumors), but most of it is decidedly not. From adapting stories that are far beyond the means of the production (Honored Ancestors has to be seen to be believed) to shoving stories together regardless of their disparate tones (why are Souichi's Convenient Curse and Hell Doll in the same episode?), the bad decisions spiral down into every facet of Junji Ito "Collection".
Thankfully the dub is a solid silver lining to this stormcloud. Monica Rial is great as a sadistic Tomie, and other Funimation veterans such as Mike McFarland, Coleen Clinkenbeard and Aaron Dismuke acquit themselves admirably in their one-off rolls. Similar to the score, however, the Japanese audio track has an intensity and melodramatic energy that could compensate for animation deficiencies, if any other part of this show could rise to meet its exuberance.
The only time Junji Ito "Collection" becomes interesting is when the strength of the material speaks for itself regardless of execution. Junji Ito's appeal is almost entirely in his artistry and mastery of horror craft, so most of the time you're left with plodding imitations of his masterpieces, but not always. Marionette Mansion is a well-plotted, striking horror vignette whose demented twists-and-turns do carry you along despite lacking in execution; most of the Souichi stories also shine as exemplars of Ito's underrated and unique sense of humor, and Gentle Goodbye is a genuinely touching and thoughtful exploration of the ways we cope with grief and loss. Mind you, I hadn't read these stories before I saw them adapted. They were surprises, and their various plot turns engaged me with their surprise element. If I had read those stories, I imagine I would be even more bored and frustrated (as I was with The Ongoing Tale of Oshikiri, featuring the eponymous boy with the transdimensional house), because I would have already experienced the superior versions, where the execution actually complemented the core ideas rather than getting in the way of their expression.
The real insult to injury is that the Tomie OVAs are an improvement. Okay, they're not a major improvement, but at least they're carefully directed and conscious of pacing, and occasionally they even retain the power to unnerve. The music is synced to the action of the scene and not just draped over the top of it like a wet band-aid. If the show had been operating at this level all along, I can totally see it being a pleasant surprise despite the limited means of its production. But sadly, it wasn't to be.
That's the terrible thing about Junji Ito "Collection": There is so much potential for Junji Ito in adaptation, even in a budget Junji Ito adaptation. The opening theme exhibits this with its manic energy, inventive transitions, and neat cinematography. The afterimage of a slow zoom-out from Souichi and his evil grin as the singer screams 'Isolation dope!' will linger with me just as Ito's most iconic panels do. But nothing else from this show will, other than ennui and deep disappointment. The phrase ‘adapt or die’ is tossed around a lot and I usually find it too hyperbolic in most cases, but here it fits. This show is like watching the death of many stories that were so rich in life and invention, now zombified in motion for all to see. It might be interesting for some curious fans to analyze, but it mostly just left me feeling sad. Ito deserves better than this.
Overall (dub) : D
Overall (sub) : D
Story : B
Animation : D
Art : D
Music : A
+ Sound design and score are strong, the strengths of Ito's storytelling sometimes speaks for itself, OVAs are okay
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