#1 The selection
I have been a long-time fan of Junji Ito’s works and have been trying to get a hold of his short stories, which only recently started getting re-released in English. When I heard the Junji Ito Collection was coming out, that was a pretty hype moment for me.
However, this presented the question of what stories would be included in this collection and I do have to voice my disappointment in this regard. The series is off to a very weak start with the awkward and poorly-paced Souichi’s Convenient Curse. A story that is a generic horror plot about a boy cursing his classmates with old-timey rituals. It’s overlong, lacks any kind of scares, and just kind of ends without anything ever actually happening or changing. The first episode then crams in Hell Doll Funeral, which is maybe a minute long and gets no time to build-up a story or atmosphere before throwing a scary image on screen and calling it a day.
The anime does feature more renowned stories like Fashion Model and Window Next Door, but they are sparser than I would have liked. At the same time, I can’t fathom how they managed to make a compilation series of Junji Ito’s works and somehow failed to include the Enigma of Amigara Vault or The Hanging Balloons. By far the man’s most famous and recognizable works in terms of short stories.
I will admit I was pretty happy to see Smashed in there though.
#2 TV format
I think the Junji Ito Collection would have thrived much better if it was released as an ONA without set timeslots.
As it stands, each episode is cut up between two different stories that together have to fill a regular TV slot, which makes it feel like stories were chosen based on what they could fit together rather than their qualities or what fans would have liked to see. I feel it would have been nicer if each episode was a standalone story that got as much time as it needed. This would be especially ideal if it meant we could get more stories adapted, instead of whatever Studio DEEN could fit into a regular 12-episode TV cour.
Alternatively, at a stretch, I would even say it would have been better if they only did a single story per TV episode and added in anime-original content to expand on the characters a bit more. Some stories feel rushed and characterization has always been a weak point in Ito’s writing, so I feel a chance was missed here either way.
#3 Upsettingly poor visuals
Without a doubt, Junji Ito is one of the best artists of our time. His work is beautiful in its hideousness and his manga is perhaps the only literary work that has managed to do cosmic horror well within the medium. It’s not easy to legitimately scare people with an illustration, yet Ito manages it so well each and every time, whether it’s for a short story exploring a new concept or some of his longer works.
This makes it all the more upsetting that his fantastic stories were brought to animation looking like the picture above. The colors are washed-out and the entire presentation feels flat and boring. Key moments like the reveal of monsters or the big scare moments are robbed of all their impact, lazily-traced and often so static they might as well have just scanned a page of the manga and put it in there.
A lot of the gore and filth that is so horrifically put unto paper in Ito’s manga looks fake and lacking in the anime, even though it now has color and movement. Meanwhile, Ito’s iconic monsters are rendered ineffective by lazy animation and cheesy voice-acting.
#4 Disposable characters
This isn’t a flaw of the adaptation in particular, but really an ongoing problem with Ito’s short stories in general. Characters are really just a driving force for Ito to build-up some monster or explore a horror concept. They are simplistic victims and little more.
Ito’s “characters” are interchangeable and most of them look very similar, which is a side-effect of his more realistic artstyle. Little to no time goes towards developing them or giving the audience a reason to care about their well-being. Marionette Mansion ends up being a good example: the main character is reunited with a childhood crush and we get maybe 2 conversations before she is attacked by that story’s villain. It doesn’t even establish if they are just friends or if they are dating.
Storylines like Gentle Goodbye reveal that Ito is capable of writing actual characters, and I really wish he would do more of that. His horror is so much more effective when it targets characters that have actual effort put into them.
#5 Town Without Streets
Fuck Town Without Streets.
I have never liked this story. It jumps between various ideas that only feel tangentially related, starting off with a story of a “Jack the Ripper” before transitioning to the tale of a girl whose entire family spies on her through holes and openings in her room. She gets fed up and leaves to go live with an aunt, who turns out to live in a city of convoluted streets where nobody has privacy at all. It has a token Ito monster included, a forgettable villain, and it’s overlong to top it all of.
Adding to all of that, this adaptation has censored it beyond all sense. Nudity was very central to the story and the theme of privacy, but a nudist character has now been censored to just wear a bra and panties, and fairly modest ones at that.
Not only did they have to include the only Ito story I can’t stand, they also managed to bodge its entire point with censorship. Just great.