Junji Ito Collection
Episodes 1-3

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Junji Ito "Collection" ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Junji Ito "Collection" ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Junji Ito "Collection" ?

It turned out to be pretty appropriate that Junji Ito "Collection" kicked off with ‘Souichi's Convenient Curses’, a decidedly lighthearted tale of a kid who thinks he's brilliantly scary and interesting, but he's actually just weird and off-putting at best. It's perfectly reflective of the series itself so far, an anthology of various short stories by a master of horror manga that just can't seem to make its tales work in animated form. Sadly, the most glaring indictment possible for a horror series holds true here: Junji Ito "Collection" isn't scary. The reasons for this vary from chapter to chapter, but they mostly seem to fall into issues of poor adaptation.

The decided lack of spookiness in the Souichi story has already been addressed, but it's interesting that this episode is framed to be more comical than creepy. I can definitely see how this bit would play better as an unexpectedly amusing interlude between more traditionally scary chapters, but that just makes the choice to lead with it more tonally confusing. Souichi also features heavily in the Collection's opener, so we might see more from this kid before the series is through. Consequently, when that first episode cuts to “Hellish Doll Funeral”, which manages to evoke an effective horror mood in just a couple minutes, it makes the choice to focus on the more comedic main story feel like even more of a misstep.

The second episode opens with another lukewarm choice. “Fashion Model” features some interesting build-up, to say nothing of the terrifically freakish fashion model herself, but it still ends up mining more laughs than chills given the amateur film crew's reactions to the character. At least in this case, the mild comedy contributes to the off-putting nature of the whole situation, selling nervous laughter in the audience as they wonder just where this is all going. Unfortunately, the story suffers from a weak payoff with the final revelation that the model who looked and acted like a creepy monster turned out to be, well, a creepy monster. The horrific act that gives her away is also simply described by a secondary character, further betraying the real horror that the concept could have provided.

That story is only half an episode long however, and thankfully the second half, “Long Dreams”, finally delivers an effective story of appreciable length. To be fair, this story isn't exactly scary either, but it explores an interesting concept in that something terrifying to one person might actually be comforting to someone in a different situation. The simple hospital setting and reflective nature of the tale make it a good fit for the show's modest production values; if any part of Junji Ito "Collection" can be recommended on its own so far, “Long Dreams” stands out.

Things go back to more of a mid-grade for the majority of the third episode with “The Crossroads Pretty Boy”. The folkloric concept of asking passers-by at intersections for a love fortune only to end in bloody disappointment has potential, but this story is loaded with frustrating vagaries and a few more twists and turns than necessary. It's almost worth it to see the exploration of how our main character Ryuusuke tries to make up for his guilt, and the execution actually manages a couple creepy moments if not outright scares. But the story is frustratingly coy on the details of how the undead apparitions of these women came to be or what they want from Ryuusuke specifically, to say nothing of the needlessly open-ended conclusion. This one falls into the trap of horror tales that feel too much like unsatisfying shaggy-dog stories.

On the other hand, the short story that ends episode 3, “Slug Girl”, discards any pretense of high-concept psychological horror and goes straight for the gross-out shock value. It works great for what it is—a few minutes of revolting bizarreness where you absolutely can't predict how each phase of the titular girl's condition will turn out next—and it ends on a delightfully twisted visual concept. It certainly seems that the shorter stories in this collection are turning out better than the longer ones.

One of the biggest issues beyond adaptation choices so far are the series' production values. Admittedly, it would take a herculean effort for an anime to recreate the fine detail work of Ito's manga art, but the looser interpretations of this adaptation simply feel muddy and indistinct. There are some good shots, like the initial revelation of the monster-model's razor-sharp teeth or the depiction of the leftover husk of the man from “Long Dreams”, but the show generally looks average at best.

The show's unevenness marks the strengths and weaknesses of its anthology format. On the one hand, the tone of the stories selected so far have mostly been less Twilight Zone and more Are You Afraid of the Dark. But as mildly unsatisfying as they may turn out, there's always the chance that a surprising hit will be just around the corner. Junji Ito "Collection" can't be written off entirely despite its middling adaptation, but it's still frustrating when the question of whether the next chapter will be any good or not is more suspenseful than the nominally scary stories themselves.

Rating: C+

Junji Ito "Collection" is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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