Recognised as a master of horror iconography, mangaka Junji Ito has been stunning readers around the world with a myriad of obscure and unusual stories for more than three decades. So, with over 100 tales of terror published since 1987 offering a metaphorical buffet of iconic source material, a Junji Ito anime series should be a home run, right?
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case when it comes to Crunchyroll’s 2018 horror anime, Junji Ito Collection. Animated by Studio Deen, who previously worked on a wide range of titles from BL classic Junjou Romantica to the iconic romance anime Vampire Knight, the Junji Ito Collection set out to adapt a selection of popular stories from several of Ito’s collections. Sadly, out of the 12 episodes and 24 segments, all of them managed to miss the mark.
After some time to ponder, I think I’ve got a good understanding of where the Junji Ito anime went wrong – and why we should’ve all waited for Adult Swim and Production I.G’s adaptation of Junji Ito’s Uzumaki. So, if you’d care to hop on my Gyo-style walking machine and take a trip through the pretty boy’s crossroads, I’d like to share my thoughts – split into chapters named after some of Ito’s stories, of course.
Fragments of horror: the poor pacing of the Junji Ito anime
The first and most noticeable bone I have to pick with the Junji Ito Collection anime is the pacing. The TV series consists of 12 episodes, with each episode split into two segments which either slice the roughly 20-minute runtime in half, or divide it between one main segment of around 18 minutes, and a second segment of around two minutes.
Considering many of Ito’s tales are quite short themselves, the tight runtimes may not sound problematic on paper. However, the stories rarely have time to breathe, with even the dialogue lines rear-ending each other, often leaving the episodes feeling rushed.
The restrictive runtimes also detract from one of the main elements that make Ito’s works so terrifying – the tension. Ito is, above all, a master of atmosphere. Many of his horrors are based on the perversion of the mundane and, as such, require a set-up that gives you an insight into that mundanity. Without this insight, we’re left with a hollow slideshow of horrors that almost completely misses the core of what makes the stories so scary.
The fear that crawls up your skin as you feel yourself creeping closer to seeing Miss Fuchi’s bloodied grin doesn’t feel anywhere near as impactful when the story beats charge on as though they’re making a mad dash towards the reveal. The same goes for anime character development, which is stripped back to near nonexistence, often leading us to have little emotions towards the victims of these horrors.
It does work in some areas, such as Hell Doll Funeral. However, more substantial tales like The Long Dream truly deserve a full episode and lose a lot of the foreboding atmosphere by being cut down.
Gathering: the unusual story selection of the Junji Ito anime
Upon its initial announcement in 2017, Studio Deen revealed that the anime series would be adapted from two of Ito’s manga collections – volume 11 of the Junji Ito Masterpiece Collection, and the single-volume Fragments of Horror anthology. At the time, Studio Deen didn’t specify which of the stories would be adapted, stating that the staff ‘wanted viewers to be surprised when the show aired’.
In some aspects, I was, indeed, very surprised by some of the stories included (and some that were left out). But, on the other hand, I was pessimistically unsurprised by the inclusion of some of Ito’s most famous characters. For better or worse, they weren’t going to miss the opportunity to put Souichi with a mouthful of nails or the iconic Tomie in the promotional material, right?
Nonetheless, I feel some of the choices were very poorly selected, especially when we loop back around to the pacing issues. As perhaps one of his most famous works, it almost feels like a sin to condense the colossal narrative of Tomie into three short episodes spread out across the animated series (out of order, might I add). On the other hand, passing on the potential to adapt iconic short stories such as Beehive or Headless Statues feels like an unusual oversight.
Face thief: the cursed frames of the Junji Ito anime
While the Junji Ito Collection anime is surprisingly ‘faithful’ to the original works, often providing a shot-for-shot recreation of the manga panels, it manages to rob the scenes of all personality. The simplified linework strips back the heavy shading iconic to Ito’s work, replacing it with bland palettes and blocky colouring that eliminates the ‘scrunginess’ (as my editor Tom called it) that makes his illustrations so unsettling.
The murky backgrounds, odd colour choices, and lack of detail in distant characters all add to a general feeling of low quality. And, while I don’t dislike this type of animation, and I understand it’s a byproduct of the current, fast-fashion-esque anime industry, I feel it’s a very poor choice here. The monumental task of adapting Ito’s work into an anime should have never been undertaken if the studio weren’t given the funding, time, and attention required to do it justice.
Dissection-chan: the light at the end of the back alley
There are plenty of other points I feel contribute to why Crunchyroll and Studio Deen’s Junji Ito anime was such a miss, but, when it comes down to it, the main thing missing is the soul. Each of Ito’s panels have such a sense of life and motion to them, and that’s something that is nearly completely absent in this adaptation.
However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Firstly, while I’d always recommend reading the manga over anything else, it’s clear that the anime has helped spread the Junji Ito virus to audiences that may have otherwise never caught it. The Junji Ito Collection also works as a perfect sounding board to showcase what makes the long-awaited Uzumaki anime so worth the wait (as long as it lives up to the stunning teaser trailer and recent preview, that is!).
And, finally, while the Junji Ito Collection can’t hold a candle to the stories it’s based on, it’s still bloody good fun. Whether you’re watching a girl turn into a snail or a fashion model devouring her competition, this series lives on as yet another ghost of Junji Ito’s long and twisted dream.
If you want to keep the spooks going while you wait for the Junji Ito Uzumaki release date, check out our list of the best horror series of all time. Or, for some live-action frights, head over to our list of the best horror movies or best body horror movies.