Junji Ito Collection
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Junji Ito "Collection" ?
One advantage of Junji Ito Collection is that its rare successful stories have more impact due to its lackluster batting average. This is especially true for the first half of this episode, ‘Painter’, which has the task of adapting one of Ito's most famous characters into anime format. The undying girl Tomie was a hit when presented in Ito's original manga, who went on to feature in numerous films and her own TV series. The character is practically a franchise in her own right, so this story was one that even this water-treading anime must have known it couldn't afford to screw up.
If you aren't 100% sure what you're getting into when this episode starts, the first couple minutes are filled with solid misdirections. The idea of a painter finding unusual inspiration is pretty par for the course of Ito's manifold motivations, and there's even some awkward forced conflict as the mysterious new girl chases the artist Mori's previous model out. Only when she introduced herself as Tomie did I realize that I was in for a bigger episode than usual.
Tomie's seeming self-awareness of her own importance lends this piece the ‘big deal’ air it needs to break out after so much mediocrity in Junji Ito Collection. Even if you don't realize that she's a major recurring character in Ito's work, the self-aggrandizement that surrounds her is immediately compelling. Her captivating confidence and killer ojou-sama laugh make her as interesting to the viewers as she is to the mystified painter in the story. Admittedly, her lofty opinion of herself isn't far off from the infamous Souichi's attitude, but her supernatural cards aren't all out on the table to start with, so there's more intrigue surrounding her story.
It also helps that the artistic elements are much more effective in this episode. When Mori's friend produces a freaky picture of Tomie to clue us into her mystery, the visual actually looks appropriately creepy. Beneath all that spooky buildup is also an interesting story about artistic ambition and what drives creators who seek to surpass their limits at dangerous costs. It's a genuinely fascinating tale about our perception and reaction to beauty. It's also possible that the success of this story may simply be bolstered by how much it feels like a captivating piece to a much bigger story, compared to the abrupt conclusions of previous episodes. The final visual that reveals how Tomie's immortality works succeeds at answering our earlier questions while raising different ones that effectively hammer in the horror. It's a success this series desperately needed. Tomie will apparently be starring in additional OVAs for this show afterwards, and while my reaction to Junji ito Collection has been mixed overall, this segment had me wanting more.
So I came into the other half of this episode, with the bizarre title of Blood-Bubble Bushes, with measured expectations following probably the best segment the show had yet delivered. Fortunately, this second half wasn't a letdown. The basic premise was playing with the most basic of horror building blocks, as a couple experiences car trouble that leaves them stranded in a strange place surrounded by creepy children. Even so, the malevolent momentum of the whole episode keeps going with one hell of a reveal about just how malevolent these kids could be.
This story does slow to more of a lull afterwards, though. It's another one of those segments with a lot that needs to be set up and explained, from the vampire kids to a lone man in a mysterious village and a woman who's strangely disappeared. It only really gets going once the trademark Ito visuals kick in, in this case the sort of thing you can only guess at based on the bizarre specificity of the title. This concept stands apart from the creepy gross-outs of previous weeks is that the arboreal gore effect conveys more bizarre beauty than anything. It's such a unique concept that this segment can almost coast on it without worrying about more detailed particulars. The segment actually flies by, as the creepy revelations escalate once we know about the blood-bushes. The pacing and reveals are all done well enough that some moments are almost truly scary! While Junji Ito Collection's scattered strengths have traded on atmosphere and weird ideas for the most part, the potential to actually creep the audience out for once is a welcome addition this week. The implications of this story's ending are just understandable enough to be a solid scary twist.
It's possible that the successes I saw in Blood-Bubble Bushes came from it coasting off the goodwill of Tomie's Painter story. But the fact that this show didn't let me down in the second half after such a strong foot forward is commendable. Thankfully, as an adaptation of one of Ito's more appreciated creations, this episode can be recommended for that first part alone.
Junji Ito Collection is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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