A brief primer on Junji Ito before we dive into the first episode of this anime anthology based on his manga: Ito is famous for being one of, if not the singularly most recognizable horror mangaka of all time. He has a handful of serialized works, but the bulk of his legacy is made of one-off, self-contained stories. Story-crafting is not his forte, nor is characterization. What Ito has mastered is the art of visual storytelling in a short medium. Even his critics laud him for his ability to convey a single morbid idea with unnervingly-crafted artistic delivery. In other words, he’s a concept guy who writes concept horror.
My pedigree with Ito is neither remarkable nor non-existent. Prior to writing this review, I’ve read his magnum opus, Uzumaki, most of the material around the character Tomie (one of Ito’s few recurring characters), and about twenty of his shorts. The advent of my appreciation for Ito came in the form of his short-story, “The Enigma at Amigara Fault,” which is the tale I’d most highly suggest if you only plan to read one, as it captures the core of Ito’s style and writing philosophy. If you do not find yourself intrigued by the time you turn that final page, it is unlikely that any of Ito’s other works will convince you.
(That is, unless the idea of a town being haunted by something as abstract as a spiral is tempting. Seriously. I’ll never look at that shape the same way again.)
It is with this history that I hesitantly approached the newly minted anime adaptation of his works, The Junji Ito Collection. Hesitantly, because I’ve long since dreaded the day some poor soul would try to direct an anime that tried to recreate Ito, as such a task seems fundamentally doomed to fail.
Unfortunately, the first episode isn’t too promising.
While technically called “Untitled” (yes, that’s the name of the episode), it is an adaptation of Ito’s story “Souichi’s Convenient Curse,” introducing the titular character, Souichi. I’ve admittedly never liked this character and believed his narratives to be some of the weakest Ito has to offer, which is saying something because, as we’ve discussed, Ito’s appeal does not lie in his narratives. Souichi is a high school boy who breaks the fourth wall, narrates his own life, and has inclinations towards blatant narcissism, childish cruelty, and the occult. He derives amusement from using various curses and voodoo rituals to harm others, all the while being ostracized from his family and peers.
…and that about sums up this first episode. The last few minutes are jarringly disconnected and tell a separate story about a disease or curse that turns people into dolls. Honestly, I found this to be more interesting than Souichi’s story, as it concludes with some staple Ito body-horror, which is noticeably absent in Souichi’s segment.
The animation is cost-effective in an abominable way, making me wonder why the studio bothered to animate it at all as most of it is still frames and cell animations with barely any mobility. There’s an edit where Souichi is holding up a spider—a spider that is literally cropped out of a Google image and pulled through the frames. This is borderline offensive. It would almost be better to have created a digitally-colored version of the manga while superimposing music and voices over top than to put the audience through such an audacious lack of creative motivation.
Regarding music and voices: They are lackluster. The music isn’t bad, though also not special in any way nor utilized to any interesting effect. The voice acting… exists. Souichi sounds exactly how he looks, so I’ll at least give him credit for that, but this doesn’t amount to much when I don’t want to hear him talk, least of all while he’s expositing his personality and the names of his family members directly at the camera.
I’ll watch another episode or two of the anime just to see if it explores any of the Ito stories I actually enjoy (such as “The Hanging Balloons” or “Army of One,” neither of which I’ll ever be able to forget), but if Souichi is a focal point for the show I might have to bow out.
Addendum: Here’s a video that discusses horror from an analytical perspective. The entire exposition is insightful, but Junji Ito plays a major role in the second act of the breakdown (I have added this sentence in post-production just so I could plug Super Eyepatch Wolf, because I love this dude.)
Violence: Most of the blood is featured in the opening cinematic, with not much shown in the actual episode. One guy comically tries to kill Souichi with an axe, but misses.
Language/Crude Humor: Three uses of “d**n,” one of “b***h,” and otherwise a generally rude and disrespectful attitude.
Sexual Content: The opening shows a side profile of a woman’s upper half, though it seems to be a mannequin, or mannequin-like, and thus sexless.
Drug/Alcohol Use: None.
Other Negative Themes: Souichi is a terrible, childish menace with sadistic inclinations. His deliberate ignorance of others and the world leads him to not only intentionally harm others but accidentally kill a toad as well. He terrorizes his sister by manipulating her fears, basks in the negative emotions of others, and enjoys spreading discord and hatred.
Positive Content: Souichi is proven to be in the wrong at least twice through the events of the narrative, thus showing that what we see in the show is only present because we see them the way Souichi does—through his immature, apathetic lens of the world. Souichi’s brother, despite having bad relations with him, looks out for Souichi when he gets in trouble.