It saddens me when a series I liked starts wilting.
I had a different opinion than most who started this series since I had come to this author’s short stories fresh. But, now that I’ve read quite a few more – and now that we’re in the halfway stretch – we’re starting to see some cracks in our creepy Ming Vase. From animation shortcuts to strange pacing choices, it appears that the Junji Ito Collection still has the content to be interesting but won’t be drawing in long-time Ito fans for much longer.
Episode 7: Used Record/Town with No Roads
Interesting things happen when Ito experiments with his stories. The last time he played with the horror parable we got the Lovecraft-esque staple, Long Dream, told very close to the original comic. This time, we have some parables of sorts, with very interesting turnouts.
Used Record is less visually frightening and more frightening in concept. It’s about a vinyl record (those things hipsters obsess over that give better sound quality) of a woman singing in what’s described as a “sudden, choked, disinterested” fashion that has these two girls totally enraptured. The owner of said record won’t let her friend make a copy of it, so said friend steals it. The theft ends in a brawl, which ends in a rock to the head of friend #1. Friend #2 does her best to hide the body and find a place to play the record. Here, she learns the disturbing truth about the record and what happens when you let obsession run your life.
This is one of those moments when the addition of sound really makes the difference. The episode went for a dark and moody operatic feel, despite the song later being called a “scat,” but it really upped the creepy vibe the story was aiming for. The fact that they once again rushed through the story is a shame but the experience is overall decent.
But I actually had to be told what our second story was a parable of. Town with No Roads starts with our main character, Saiko, having romantic dreams about a boy from her class. She accuses the boy of sneaking into her room to whisper his feelings in her ear and, lo and behold, his death in her dream proves to be his actual death IRL. Worse yet, she’s pretty sure her family is peeping into her room at night when she’s trying to sleep, despite her efforts to get some privacy. She decides to run away to her aunt where she discovers that her town appears to have no roads at all, and traffic just goes straight through everyone’s houses.
Welcome, kiddies to the parable of The Internet™. The show makes a pretty good attempt at getting across the lack of privacy the story was aiming for but there was some pacing issues that kinda threw it all off. Still, I enjoyed the creepy feel of it and would probably watch it again.
Episode 8: Honored Ancestors/The Circus is Coming To Town
And then, just when I give it praise, that infamous laziness of Studio Dean rears its horrific head; it’s a shame it happened in one of the author’s more mind-screwy stories.
Honored Ancestors comes from the short story My Dear Ancestors. The story itself focuses on Risa and her fiance just after she loses her memory from something sinister. We get a hint that something’s wrong right away when her fiance’s father crawls into the room on his back and seems to speak in voices coming from anywhere other than his mouth. Top it off with nightmares about a long, hairy caterpillar and you have a most unsettling story with one messed up twist I don’t dare spoil.
Now, someone who didn’t know what was coming could enjoy the story just fine; I got proof of someone who did. But I already knew the big twist, so I gotta focus on the overwhelming amount of animation shortcuts this episode took. It’s granted that the majority of the story is Risa and Shuichi talking, but I’ve seen shows that know how to at least frame that in an interesting fashion. But maybe they wanted to avoid animating faces and movement and the like because, each time they tried, it drifted unintentionally into the uncanny valley full speed.
But that drift kinda helped in The Circus is Coming to Town. Our unnamed protagonist is excited to see a circus in their backwater town and rushes with all due speed. He even spies the beautiful girl from school everyone knew worked for the circus, practicing her tightrope. Alas, all is not well for her or the troupe; the acts keep failing in gruesome fashions and our dear ringmaster doesn’t seem all that upset. That’s right, kids; it’s a circus horror where the clowns are innocent!
I actually really liked this story; it’s short, sweet and twisted. Ito doesn’t spare us on gruesome deaths and the animators don’t spare their gurgles and screams of agony. I loved the big twist at the end and the ambiguity of the ending as well, a wonderful experience after the sheer disappointment of the first story.
Episode 9: Painter/Blood Bubble Bushes
That’s right! It took us 9 episodes but we’ve finally gotten to Tomie!
Confession time? I had no idea who Tomie was until way earlier in the series when a buddy of mine introduced me and complained that she hadn’t shown up yet. And,upon reflection, I too wonder why it took us so long to reach one of Ito’s most infamous horror regulars. Her face is practically front and center on the show’s cover-art and opening, so it’s strange they waited this long to bring her up. Anyway, they picked a good one for her first appearance here.
Painter concerns an artist, Mori, who’s well known for his craft. Tomie tracks him down and manipulates him into losing his current model and using her as his next one. He makes his masterpiece and hopes it fulfills her wishes to forever preserve her beauty. She laughs at his attempt and remarks how he’s not a good artist after all, walking out of his life…maybe. This rejection apparently sends Mori from angry to obsessed to crazy within the span of a minute, unable to get the beautiful Tomie out of his mind. Then, when he hears a rival sculptor has managed to recreate her, there’s little stopping him from marching over and demanding to see what he was missing.
My description fails to really capture what makes a Tomie story so creepy, but any more would very much spoil what makes the character so amazing. That being said, I found Tomie’s appearance off upon seeing her. Considering Ito put quite a bit of time into making Tomie a unique and beautiful-looking woman – and how she looks correct in the opening – it’s disheartening to see her look wrong in the actual episode. Furthermore, the voice actress really couldn’t muster up the creepy-factor for her character, with a laugh that sounded forced and fake to a voice that lacked any hint of being scary. Add the quick-fire pacing issues on top of it and I found myself disappointed overall.
I went into Blood Bubble Bushes with this foul mood and left with a gag in my throat. Blood Bubble has some serious Children of the Corn vibes by starting with a couple in a broken-down car trying to find a phone inside a huge field. They run across Creepy Children who attack and attempt to drink their blood almost right away. I am stunned when the male in the couple calls this a prank and keeps going to a town that’s clearly abandoned, sans for one creepy man with red eyes. Turns out he can’t leave because he’s lost his lover, a woman who was so sure everything always left her in the end that her blood would leave her too. What nobody expected was that her blood would turn into a tree that grew the Plasma Fruit from the Sim’s games, or that the female in our couple would start growing some too.
My best guess is that this is Ito’s attempts at vampires. In concept, it works just fine, and the original artwork for the story is haunting, to say the least. I giggled at the Sims 3 connection I made but the sounds the show employed eventually left me feeling sick to my stomach. The animation still took some drastic shortcuts to avoid doing too many moving parts but, once again, I could watch it a second time if needed.
After all, I’ve been known to love me some Vamps.
Sadly though, this “meh” opinion is universal through these three episodes. What I saw was good in terms of story and adaptation but the execution is terribly lacking this time around. Stories are either spread thin or framed awfully, leaving us with this drive-by version of Junji Ito that wouldn’t impress too many people. I feel like what care we had in the first few episodes is missing and that will be a huge problem if it continues.