OP: 「七転八倒のブルース」 (Shichitenbattou no Blues) by The Pinballs
「双一の勝手な呪い / 地獄の人形葬」 (Souichi no Katte na Noroi / Jigoku no Ningyou Sou)
“Souichi`s Convenient Curses / Hellish Doll Funeral”
With Uzumaki, Gyo, and Tomie under his belt, Ito Junji is considered to be manga’s master of horror. Naturally, he’d regulate some of the high concept ideas he’d have as short stories. But are they all as great as his full-length works, or is he bound to have hit-or-miss stories under his anthology collections? From the first episode, it teeters more towards the latter.
A majority of the episode is focused on “Souichi’s Convenient Curses” to introduce us to the re-occurring character of Souichi, a vengeful kid who uses his ability to curse his classmates in order to punish them for petty reasons. It utilizes some dark humor to show us how ridiculous Souichi is in the logic behind why he’d hex someone, and the delusions of grandeur he has about being feared and respected by his student body who would say otherwise. While it’s faithful to the original story and the artwork is the most accurate we’ve seen of Ito’s style in anime form, the adaptation has a hard time with tone.
It can be chalked up to which story they began with, but any of the creepiness that Souichi could have exuded is diminished by how silly he is. A kid who you would want to avoid for looking creepy, lest you become a victim to his curses, should be a lot creepier, and there are moments where he does behave in an unsettling manner. But it doesn’t feel like he’s ever presented as a threatening figure outside of the opening scene of him driving nails through a voodoo doll. The remaining story works to assassinate his character by giving him an eccentric voice, going for relatively harmless curses, getting chased around his house with a spider, and his last humiliating act of getting caught in a trap while trying to chase around a classmate he loathes. By the time he opens the box where his frog died from being trapped for days, it feels like there should be a studio audience’s round of applause as a sax version of the main theme plays him off.
However, the last few minutes of the episode do much more to ring in the frightful potential of bringing Ito’s work to life through animation as the “Hellish Doll Funeral” segment was incredibly creepy and unsettling. A young girl being afflicted by a curse that turned her into a doll, and would eventually deteriorate into a monstrously wooden parasite from my nightmares is truly terrifying, and much like in Ito’s work, this segment does a good job at hanging onto that last lingering moment as we’re left with the image of that girl’s horrific transformation. It was an idea that would’ve been awesome if it was developed into a full-fledged story where they explained where the curse came from, if there was someone trying to reverse it, and if they find out that the people afflicted with it couldn’t do anything to stop the curse from overwhelming them as they transform into a wood blob.
Ito Junji Collection has potential to bring his work to life, and make some truly scary segments from his short stories. In the process though, there might be instances throughout the anime where we will get works that aren’t as scary either because of the humorous tone of the chapter or through direction choices that can undercut the unsettling imagery found in his stories. A big reason for the 50/50 take on this episode is because of the differences in tone and feeling between the adaptation of “Souichi’s Convenient Curses” that didn’t capture the creepiness of Ito’s art and characters, and the “Hellish Doll Funeral” adaptation that did. Hopefully, there will be more hits than misses, but for now, Ito Junji Collection should be an anime to give a try if last season’s horror fare left you feeling grim.
ED: 「互いの宇宙」 (Tagai no Uchuu) by Jyocho