Unlike my Studio Ghibli missteps, I have absolutely no confusion about what led me to miss out on the wild ride that is the Junji Ito catalogue. For one thing, my manga exploration never took me down a dark enough rabbit hole to be able to reach him until, well, now. Beyond that, Ito’s brand of scare is of a kind that kept me from straying too far past films like Ringu and Ju-on when that particular phase hit the states.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of all kinds of horror, from the super campy to the screw-you-out-of-sleep-level scary, and some of those can get downright gnarly in the when it comes to things like gore and overt misogyny, but J-horror has always taken it to a place just a touch farther than what I can stomach without some decent prep-work.
Varying cop-outs (mostly) aside, after stumbling upon one of Ito’s more memorable works via Tumblr meme, and subsequently being encouraged to delve further by some of my braver otaku friends, I decided to immerse myself in the twisted world of the likes of cannibalistic supermodels, middle school curses, and body horror the likes of which I’ve never asked for. Also, head’s up readers: I did my best not to include the worst of the worst here, but there really isn’t much pleasant art to be found for this genre, so… Apologies in advance?
After starting with The Enigma of the Amigara Fault, I had an inkling that any other works I got into would hinge on some mix of slow build creepy and the outright grotesque, but what I didn’t count on was how quickly I would become accustomed to those rhythms, or the exact impression the nastier bits would leave on me. Not even a third of the way through collection, Ito’s patterns were clear enough that, barring a completely off the rails story, I had no trouble correctly guessing at what terrible thing was in store for a given chapter’s unlucky cast. That said, I also didn’t seem to be able to stop barreling forward from one inevitably bleak saga to the next, either because I’m a closet masochist or (more likely), because I’d been drawn in past turning back.
Another thing that became glaringly apparent was that I almost always lost my appetite during any prolonged reading; no nausea mind you, just without a doubt no inclination whatsoever to eat anything while in the process of consuming the manga in question. It got to a point where the only instances where I got any kind of marginally enjoyable unease (you know, like a proper horror-junkie fix) was when Ito would root the terror in something completely average and without his usual ugly-in-the-extreme graphics.
Given just how precise and consistent these techniques and their outcomes were between each comic, I have to figure that these tactics were purposeful; captivating me into becoming accustomed to page after page of disgusting twists and the feeling of literally gut deep discomfort, only to have me set back on my heels by something insidiously benign. I can’t say that it was an entirely enjoyable experience but I have to give credit where credit’s due… Even with that Souichi kid. If nothing else, he made me laugh in between wanting to skip all meals for the foreseeable future.
No mixed feelings here, whatsoever. I didn’t like it. I was warned about the animation in advance, so I was prepared for the series to look like the final season of The Boondocks (for the uninitiated, bad and not even grazing my expectations), but that was almost nothing compared to how inexpertly the actual source material was handled. In almost every case, different arcs were shortened for the sake of time, leaving large swaths of plot and needed exposition in the garbage in favor of highlighting the most gory or “shocking” parts. All in all, it came off fairly amateurish and felt like one big missed opportunity, which is a real bummer considering some of the amazing work we’ve seen come out of anime creators in recent years.
Stories that Stuck
Again, this doofus had me in stitches, simply because he tried so hard to be a dark, creepy kid trope, only to come out an abject failure in almost everything he tried, and that was a nice switch-up from the usual tone of the manga’s tales of disastrous woe. I mean, picture a budding Voldemort, but with an older brother that always catches him in the act of plotting and drags him home by the ear before he can cause any lasting damage. Hilarious.
There’s a decent chance that I’m reading too much into this, but I found the themes outside of the supernatural horror to be the most interesting, and surprisingly well timed with the age we’re living in. As an omnipresent beauty that cyclically inspired desire and then murderous rejection, Tomie was a creepy but on the nose stand in for the notion that men are often more prepared for the idea of a woman than the real thing and all that comes with it. At least, that’s what I saw after hours of bingeing on black and white nightmares.
This one surprised me because, more than anything else, it was just sad. Seriously, there were no jumps or lasting scares, just the concept of wrestling with the idea that all of our loved ones will eventually fade away (in this instance, literally).
This was one of the only stories that genuinely freaked me out, although it wasn’t the primary antagonist, (a vengeful spirit driving women mad) but rather one of the victims that got to me. Something about a possessed and supernaturally desperate random losing her mind to the point of stalking grade-schoolers gave me the legitimate willies, and it’s stayed with me even through all my other readings.
Bottom line? If you haven’t read any Junji Ito and are a fan of solid storytelling with a never-ending side of gross, then get on it ASAP, you deviant you, because you won’t be disappointed. Even the slightest bit on the squeamish side? Run far and fast, my friend, this is not your party and it never will be. And whether or not you fall into either camp, don’t bother with the anime. The scariest thing about it is how damn catchy the is opening music, period.
Overall Rating: 3.5 Slug Girls out of 5, with points off for some predictability and an anime that somehow left a worse taste in my mouth than some of Ito’s more gruesome sketches.