We’re back to the man that colors my nightmares. Because a good night sleep is boring.
Jokes aside, it’s time for the second round of Mini-Reviews for the Junji Ito Collection, whose reviews as of late have been colored between “Meh” and “fail.” I personally enjoy what I see of the series, even after reading the works its retelling, but such is the case with a show like this. When you have a strong cult-following for a niche market, the exceptions will be super high.
But enough of what everyone else thinks. My thoughts on these last three episodes were good, albeit with some nits you know I have to pick.
Episode 4: Shiver/ Marionette Mansion
We are already off to a great start. It’s a staple of horror for bugs to be in places they don’t belong.
Shiver, besides being Ito’s more recent book release, is the story of Yuji and his neighbor, Rhina. The poor girl has been sick most of her life but has recently come down with a strange illness that makes holes appear in her skin. However, only Yuji has been able to see these holes and the strange doctor that keeps visiting Rhina’s house. Yuji remembers that his grandfather died of a similar ailment, confirmed when he and his best friend, Hideo, read about in his grandfather’s journal. It all seemed to start with a piece of jade that looked like a bug chrysalis, one that’s somewhere in their yard right now.
What Shiver demonstrates is Ito’s ability to take a concept to terror-inducing extremes, and then take it a step farther. It’s bad enough to think about random holes appearing on your skin, making you feel oh so cold. It’s even worse when you add the fact that bugs like to fly in and out of said holes, as both the book and episode describes. This story had the grizzly imagery I love and the kind of horror that gets worse the more you think about it.
Moving right along, Marionette Mansion puts us somewhere where I’m already creeped out: puppets. Based on House of Marionettes, this tale concerns a traveling family of puppeteers. Main boy Haruhiko has never really made friends since they never stay in town for longer than a month. But things change when his father falls ill and the family is forced to stay in an apartment. Haruhiko’s brother, Yukihiko, expresses a desire not to be controlled by the puppets and runs away soon after. The father passes away and Haruhiko takes over for the family, only to get an invitation from his brother some years later. Yukihiko has made a name for himself in a large business… and has started to live his life, along with his family, as a puppet.
This is an odd story, but one that I liked in concept. Evil marionettes are another staple in classic horror – something about their uncanny eyes and the concept of being controlled – but now we have a creepy puppet as drawn by Ito himself, adding whole new levels of “nope” to the equation. Not as much gruesome artwork this time, at least in the show, but the story itself is solid.
Episode 5: The Ongoing Tale of Oshikiri Collection/ Cloth Teacher
Oh, I love it when psychological horror smacks directly into body horror – it’s the sweet spot for any horror fan. And we finally see why the character Souchi earned a place on this show in the first place.
Our first story is an almost panel to panel remake of Further Tales of Oshikiri. Our titular character notices that his house stands as a crossroads between alternate dimensions. Cool enough, but the first person he sees, the doppelganger of a female classmate, is downright terrified of him. Furthermore, the next night, another classmate doppelganger finds him but has become a horrible monster supposedly by Oshikiri’s hand. When his real classmate, Mio, vanishes inside the house for three days, it becomes time once and for all to figure out what his doppelganger has really been up to. But will he become lost in the other dimensions?
I absolutely adored this episode and the comic it started from. The idea of being trapped in several dimensions, with thousands of versions of you out to kill you, is some really delicious Nightmare Fuel, with the body-horror monsters being the cherry on top. However, I had to admit that the episode took away some of the shocks by being colorized. Black and white tends to make images pop a little more because of the deep shadows and dark contrasts, so the color in the show did soften the shock value of the monsters. But the story itself remains the star, putting it in the running for my favorite story so far.
Which was why I was a little worried when Souichi popped back up in the second story, Cloth Teacher. This time this insufferable supernatural-maker has created cloth-doll duplicates- rather disturbing ones – of his teachers that are running amuck and freaking everyone out. They cause special stress to the class’s resident smart guy/rule keeper, who soon becomes the target of more “curses” that are more funny than harmful. But things go from disturbing and funny to REALLY creepy and hilarious when Souichi loses control of his new dolls.
This insufferable, supernatural idiot made a very bad impression on watchers by being the very first story, not being very scary at all, and being horrifically voice-acted. The terrible voice-acting returns this time around, but now we have some imagery that is genuinely hard to look at and some good jokes. That being said, I still think the comedy series doesn’t really mesh well with the rest of the stories, so it only really gets a C from me.
Episode 6: Window Next Door and Gentle Goodbye
This one was also a mixed bag, but for entirely different reasons. And, for that, I don’t mind the tone difference at all. What I do mind is when corners are cut.
So, let’s get the ball rolling with the adaptation that made a lot of people mad, mainly the retelling of The Window Next Door. This is a solid concept overall: Hiroshi’s family moves into a nice, cheap little house, only to discover that their neighbor has only one window that’s facing their son’s room. What’s worse, the next door neighbor appears to be a monster of a woman, who just so happens to be infatuated with Hiroshi. That’s the point where it’s time to break out the nail-covered bat.
I loved the voice actress in this episode so much. The soundscape of the entire episode is good enough, but this VA was so creepy she had me clutching my couch. What was less creepy was, sadly, her face. It was bad – I noticed – but a look at the original comic shows that she came from stock much, much worse. That, and her lack of animation on her face made it clear that the artists were trying to cut corners; no one likes it when you skimp the details.
But where everyone says the anime failed I believe is a triumph, and that’s the ending. Did it abruptly cut off the ending of the original? Yes, but an ambiguous ending where we don’t know what happened and whether or not the main character lived scares me much more than seeing our hero walk away.
And then we take a turn for the slow and, honestly, beautiful with Gentle Goodbye. Poor Riko fears the death of her father more than anything and used to wake up at night crying after having dreams of his death. Now she’s all grown up and married to Makoto Tokura, but his parents and grandparents are cold and distant to her. She quickly discovers, however, that the family has a unique means of bringing their dead “back to life.” They create images of them that function and speak just like real people, but eventually fade away over time. But, if you think that’s awesome, just wait till you discover how many after-images are actually hanging around.
I was not scared during this episodes; I wasn’t supposed to be. Here, I was thoughtful, sad, and genuinely shocked by the twists. The idea of having a bit longer to say goodbye to loved ones, in a way where you know how much time you have left, is beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. The show did a good job of playing to the strong emotions of the piece, though I fear it may just be because Ito’s style was not required to make this one a success. It’s short and would benefit from more length, but still works in my eyes.
- Overall Thoughts
More gems in this one, well-told despite not quite replicating Ito’s style. But I’ve long since accepted how unlikely it is for anyone to replicate the man who gave us freaking Uzumaki, so I was satisfied with what I saw overall. We’re knee-deep in scary with a bit of wiggle room to play with the genre. Despite some less than savory reviews, I still think the series works as a sampler for the uninitiated.