Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The "Ito Junji Collection"

Ito Junji is an undisputed master of horror. He is known primarily for body horror, as exemplified by his three most popular manga collections: Uzumaki, Gyo, and Tomie. But he has created many more aberrations and abominations, and international audiences have been fortunate enough to get to behold them in English-language anthologies like Fragments of Horror and Shiver. When the anime series "Ito Junji Collection" was first announced, fans like myself were obviously ecstatic. It's one thing to see these abhorrent, nightmarish images on print, it's another to see them moving and given voice.

Unfortunately, the 12-episode series (with each episode consisting of two stories) has ended up being a mixed bag, with several weak and unscary stories getting into the anthology in the place of some of Ito's stronger works. Some of the glaring omissions are the haunting "Hanging Blimp" and the silly but ultimately disturbing "Tomio: Red Turtleneck." Also, for a series based on some of the most otherworldly Lovecraftian horrors in modern literature, it has absurdly conventional opening and ending themes. It's as if the series doesn't quite know what to do with Ito's ouvre, which is a sad waste.

Still, there are gems in the collection that are definitely worth watching. I'd still recommend watching all 12 episodes, but in case you'd like to be selective, here are my rankings of and thoughts on the 24 stories.

24. "Hell Doll Funeral" (Episode 1.2)
Story: 2/5
Scare Meter: 2.5/5

It's not bad, and anyone who's scared of dolls to begin with won't find this pleasant, but it's too short to make much of an impact. Also, paired up as it is with an opener that's hardly any better, it's still almost totally unremarkable.

23. "Souichi's Convenient Curse" (Episode 1.1)
Story: 2.5/5
Scare Meter: 2/5



I get that they want to build up curse-wielding problem-child Souichi as the semi-regular that binds these nasties in a sort of shared universe, sure (he appears in a total of three shorts), but I would have wanted the series to start with something downright nasty and disturbing and THEN perhaps soften it a bit with Souichi's antics. It's a head-scratcher that almost had me giving up on the series right after this lame two-fer.

22. "Rumors" (Episode 12.2)
Story: 2.5/5
Scare Meter: 2/5

Oh look, it's Souichi again! In the last episode ever. The only thing that saves this almost-clunker is how it ends. No spoilers here, but it's rather glorious.

21. "The Circus Comes to Town" (Episode 8.2)
Story: 2.5/5
Scare Meter: 2.5/5

An interesting premise that nevertheless wastes the potential of the circus setting for genuine supernatural scares. It's a rather gruesome story, but neither exciting nor scary.

20. "Boy at the Crossroads" (Episode 3.1)
Story: 3/5
Scare Meter: 2.5/5



It's a rather interesting concept that takes its inspiration from various urban myths, but the scares from the "crossroads pretty boy" and the things in the mist could have been upped a notch.

19. "Cloth Teacher" (Episode 5.2)
Story: 3/5
Scare Meter: 2.5/5

What could have been a very frightening premise is given more comedic touches by the involvement of our favorite nail-biter (and I don't mean fingernails) Souichi, but it's not a bad approach. It isn't saying much, but this is certainly this character's most serviceable story in the series.

18. "Supernatural Transfer Student" (Episode 11.1)
Story: 3/5
Scare Meter: 2.5/5

It's like Chronicle by way of Ito Junji. The supernatural powers manifested here seem slightly out of place among the other episodes, but I wouldn't mind more stories involving the oddball Tsukano (certainly more than that other oddball).

17. "Town of No Roads" (Episode 7.2)
Story: 3/5
Scare Meter: 3/5



The transition from the first act to the longer second is a bit jarring, but once you get past that, you can appreciate the scary premise and the haunting visuals. The titular town is genuinely creepy.

16. "Honored Ancestors" (Episode 8.1)
Story: 3/5
Scare Meter: 3/5

Ito Junji is hardly known for subtlety, so it's a welcome surprise when he bothers to hide the gruesomeness of his monsters. And gruesome it truly is. Not really very scary, though.

15. "Shiver" (Episode 4.1)
Story: 3/5
Scare Meter: 3.5/5

It's a fine example of body horror (stay far away if you're trypophobic!), and it's even scarier in motion than on the page. But as far as plots go, Ito has much more engaging ones than this.

14. "Marionette Mansion" (Episode 4.2)
Story: 3.5/5
Scare Meter: 3/5



It's a strong plot with particularly wicked visuals (marionettes! strings!), but with a rather bewildering, almost risible premise. Still, when you're a fan of Ito Junji, you learn to appreciate all that weirdness.

13. "Slug Girl" (Episode 3.2)
Story: 2.5/5
Scare Meter: 4/5

Now THIS is the Ito brand of body horror at its most deliciously convoluted and disturbing. Rather reminiscent of Uzumaki in its use of the spiral motif. Who cares if there's no sensible plot? It's totally wicked.

12. "Used Record" (Episode 7.1)
Story: 4/5
Scare Meter: 3/5

It's a genuinely creepy premise and is actually one of the better stories in Ito's collections. But as far as adaptations go, this is one of the weaker ones. The episode is unable to capture the terror that is much more effectively elicited on paper.

11. "Scarecrow" (Episode 11.2)
Story: 4/5
Scare Meter: 3/5

A sad, melancholic story with a disturbing tone. Some of the images will really stay with you, just as you're struck by how heavy it is.

10. "Painter" (Episode 9.1)
Story: 4/5
Scare Meter: 3/5

It's everyone's favorite wicked immortal! Tomie is, as always, frustratingly and achingly beautiful and alien, and she stirs a lot of trouble in the life of a painter who wants to capture the true essence of her beauty. Be careful what you wish for.

9. "Greased" (Episode 10.1)
Story: 4/5
Scare Meter: 3.5/5

It's more disgusting and disturbing than scary, but boy is it disturbing! Body horror with significant emphasis on bodily fluids. On both the page and the screen, you can almost smell that oil. It's horridly suffocating.

8. "Blood-Bubble Bushes" (Episode 9.2)
Story: 4/5
Scare Meter: 4/5

This is one of the odder episodes. Creepy vampiric kids start if off on the right note, and it only gets darker and more bizarre from there.

7. "Smashed" (Episode 12.1)
Story: 4/5
Scare Meter: 4/5

Talk about odd! The premise is almost risible with its absurdity, but it's so undeniably enthralling and out-of-this-world that you can't help but be shaken with both mirth and revulsion when the big reveal is done.

6. "The Ongoing Tale of Oshikiri" (Episode 5.1)
Story: 4/5
Scare Meter: 4/5



This one's more Lovecraftian than many of the other episodes. Calculated and chilling. More than the actual monsters, it's the dark implications that make this unsettling.

5. "Gentle Goodbye" (Epiode 6.2)
Story: 4.5/5
Scare Meter: 3.5/5

It's definitely a superior, powerfully emotional piece interspersed with chilling imagery. One of the better adaptations, as it fully captures the emotional heft of the original.

4. "Window Next Door" (Episode 6.1)
Story: 3.5/5
Scare Meter: 4.5/5

It's shorter than most episodes, and nothing much happens, but...it just happens to be scariest out of all of the episodes! With a mind like Ito's, he doesn't need a lot of minutes to create a piece of true, unadulterated horror. Watch for that neighbor at the window next door!

3. "Fashion Model" (Episode 2.1)
Story: 3.5/5
Scare Meter: 4.5/5



Fuchi, perhaps Ito's most famous creation aside from Tomie, the mutant fish of Gyo, and the spiral creatures of Uzumaki, is even more terrifying in anime because SHE. IS. MOVING. Her laughter, her glares, and her crazy speed are amped up by strong animation and an appropriately unsettling voice.

2. "Bridge" (Episode 10.2)
Story: 4.5/5
Scare Meter: 4/5

Ghosts are nearly always scary, especially when there's so many of them and they're waiting very, very patiently. But on top of that, this one has a powerful story of love, devotion, and tragic loss. It's mesmerizing. 

1. "The Long Dream" (Episode 2.2)
Story: 5/5
Scare Meter: 3.5/5



Simply put: brilliant. The concept of dream-time is absolutely Lovecraftian and reminds me so much of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, one of my favorite Lovecraft stories. This episode makes me think that a Lovecraft film made by Junji Ito would be the ultimate combo in existential fear.

1 comment:

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