Junji Ito Collection
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 13 of
Junji Ito "Collection" ?
Junji Ito Collection was hardly the best anime to come out this year. In fact, you could make a strong case for it being the worst show of the Winter 2018 season. But its anthology format meant it still had a couple of winning episodes in its run, with the standout being ‘Painter’, a story about Ito's ambiguously undying girl Tomie. With that segment's strength in mind, I found myself looking forward to the series' OVA episode, which promised to be dedicated to more tales of this character. And I am happy to report that in contrast to the main show's track record, these bonus segments do not disappoint.
The first part of this lucky thirteenth outing for Junji Ito Collection ends up working as more of an origin story for Tomie than the painter story. True, it still doesn't give us an explanation for her starfish-style regenerating powers, and the case could be made that we don't actually need one. Rather, this ‘Collection 001’ chapter gives us an idea of how the legend of Tomie might have started, delivering the type of wild ride filled with jolts that the lukewarm TV run of the series really could have used. The segment actually knows how to play with our expectations of horror stories, bringing out the talent of the original author.
The opening seconds alone have an effective payoff, since even if we can guess that Tomie's going to walk right back in on the class mourning her recent death, it's carried out in a strong fashion. It's effective misdirection in terms of where the actual creepy parts of this scary story will come from. At first it's easy for us to guess that the teacher is the one who murdered Tomie and thus is extra-disturbed by her reappearance, and we can even figure that some sort of affair was involved. It leads us to question where the actual horror will come from if the stock surprises are given away so easily. So we're led to believe that there was another student involved in the murder and dismemberment of Tomie, then another is given away in a flashback, until we get to see the whole story play out, revealing that the entire class bore responsibility for Tomie's demise on some level. That's an effective twist even before we see how it all went down.
Ito's stories have a penchant for delightfully twisted visuals, but the ‘dissection’ scene of the teacher and boys ritualistically chopping up Tomie in their underwear, with her springing back to life screaming and writhing as they do so, is a step beyond even the craziest content of the series' heavier episodes. It's a monstrous origin story that's actually about humans being the truly monstrous ones, which is hardly new ground to tread, but the viscerality of that scene and its fallout elevates the piece much more than I was expecting. The only downside is that a large portion of the shocking gore is censored, which is odd given that this piece was specifically crafted for home video, overall subtracting from the scene's raw impact. Still, the story stands overall as one of the best Collection entries, making a strong case for how this show could work when it picks decent material and treats it well.
The second story functions as a nearly direct sequel to the first Tomie outing, picking up with a version of Tomie that spawned in a beach-side town to go about harassing an ill girl in a hospital. Whereas the Tomie seen in Part 1 was an almost passive avatar of implied frightening vengeance on her own killers, the girl here swings much closer to the antagonistic troll of a woman seen in Painter. Poor Yukino, the girl in the hospital, does little to earn Tomie's ire, wanting only to spend her days connecting with her friend Tadashi and trying to recover from a failing kidney.
Admittedly, as soon as it comes out that Yukino will need some sort of bodily transplant, the reveal of how this could involve Tomie should become obvious to the audience. However, that's all saved for the final payoff, and the rest of the story is more meandering as this refreshingly new evil Tomie gets up to her usual tricks. To be sure, the bitchy charisma she displayed back in ‘Painter’ works just as well here, but there's decidedly less intrigue to Tomie inserting herself into this teen love triangle presumably just for fun.
Thankfully, the story does pick up near the end. Tadashi's inevitable stabbing of Tomie is framed quite well despite its limited animation, with a seemingly deliberate resemblance to a sex act that conveys the tone effectively. The setup for getting Tomie's kidney transplanted into Yukino is perhaps too overcomplicated for its own good, with the teacher character from Part 1 brought back seemingly just for some cheeky continuity. But even as we can guess the obvious direction things are going, the result of Yukino with a Tomie in her tummy still delivers one of Ito's trademark outlandishly creepy visual punches. Even with the second half's diminishing quality from the first, this whole extra episode is a rare example of Junji Ito Collection at its unexpected best, and a confirmation that Tomie herself is one of Ito's strongest elements. “I think I've fallen in love with a monster,” indeed.
Junji Ito Collection is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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