Junji Ito Collection
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Junji Ito "Collection" ?
There I go, wishing on a monkey's paw with Junji Ito Collection. After last week's uncommonly solid episode, this week returns to the show's more familiar roots of unfortunate attempts at horror. Was the previous episode just a fluke or a case of better fits for adaptation being selected while this outing goes for less impressive material? Evidence suggests the failings are wide-ranging.
The first story, ‘The Ongoing Tale of Oshikiri Collection’, actually lulls us into a false sense of security with a decent cold opening. There's an air of effective mystery as our title character grapples with a confusing apparition of a girl in his house, and the artistic elements are pretty strong, even recreating Junji Ito's distinct shading within the animation. Sadly, the animation quality quickly nosedives after the intro, and we're stuck with a much cheaper-looking production for the remainder of the story's run.
One element that Junji Ito Collection could take better advantage of is the variable format of the stories in its anthology. Not knowing whether a story will be a few minutes, half an episode, or most of the episode would allow them to play with pacing and expectations to decent effect. It's evident when watching this Oshikiri outing that we have no idea where this plot is going, and the open-ended nature means it could end on any number of abrupt twists. It would still need a solid sense of pacing and direction though, which chapter is lacking in its atmosphere and scares.
That lack of proper pacing has plagued this adaptation for the most part, and this story is no exception. The revelations of the grotesque monsters Oshikiri encounters in his home aren't meted out with any effective tension or horrific reveals. They mostly come off as silly punchlines, so light chuckles are the best the story can hope for. Otherwise, it mostly prompts a response of ‘meh’. The incredibly clunky and cheesy animation definitely doesn't help either. These monster designs might have been more detailed and effectively creepy in Ito's original manga, but here they're quite mushy and indistinct.
Another detractor is the lack of details leading into the story, which really hurts the premise this time. Ito's stories are predicated on out-there setups that the involved characters accept at face value, but in this case, there are simply too many questions regarding how Oshikiri even ended up in his trans-dimensional living situation, and why he doesn't simply leave, given how harrowing it's shown to be on the regular. It throws the audience out of the story, which is fatal for a horror series that's supposed to engross and engage you.
The final twist of the evil Oshikiri's plan for a height-increasing mutagen is at least genuinely funny. The final confrontation is a decent nail-biter, even if the surprise of our hero's victory is a bit amateur-hour. While it manages to end on a well-executed twist cliffhanger in a memorable shot, this story simply isn't ambitious enough overall, and the quality of its art can't keep up with even its modest goals.
But even if you thought Oshikiri's story was middling, you'll be begging to have it back once the second half of this episode brings us the anticipated return of Souichi! ‘Cloth Teacher’ takes us back to the cursing kid's elementary school days, which really just raises further questions about him. Not so much over his cursing abilities, which just seem like an element of Ito's storytelling at this point. But given how badly Souichi's antics have turned out for him, you have to wonder why he's even kept up with this occult stuff for this long.
I guess it helps him that the bystanders of the Souichi-verse seem unnaturally slow to catch on, even by horror-story standards. The cloth-puppet teacher doppelganger gag seems obvious to us, but everyone else regards the bizarre animated doll with mere suspicion more than anything else. Their slow understanding mirrors the glacial pacing of the story itself, seeming to drag on much longer than its half-episode length and only reminding me that the Souichi stories don't work because of how protracted and unengaging they are. At least the voice acting on Cloth-sensei is kind of funny.
That moderate amount of amusement isn't enough to save what otherwise passes for a lame-ass Looney Tunes bit. It's bizarre coming off the excellent execution of episode 4 or even the decent atmospheric concept of the preceding bit into a payoff where a kid with a beard and a puppet teacher chase each other around and yell a lot. Oh, we also get multiple looks at Souichi's bare bottom, in a rather astute metaphor for the whole experience. Between the misfire of the opening segment and the absolute flop of the second Souichi section, we don't have to worry about Junji Ito Collection clawing its way up from the bottom of the barrel any time soon.
Junji Ito Collection is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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