Junji Itou Maniac: Better Luck Next Time

Junji Itou is a name that many members of the literary world, including avid readers and ‘enthusiasts of the weird’, are unfamiliar with. It is a tragedy that household personas such as the Kafkas and Lovecrafts often overshadow relatively lesser-known authors, in our case, mangakas (manga authors), thus depriving them of a brand new and inextricably unique genre of the eerie.

That being said, in the vast expanse of the anime community, an ever-expanding and permeating culture in the 21st century, Itou unquestionably stands out as the Godfather of horror manga. What he brought to the table with the likes of Uzumaki and Tomie were so revolutionary in the realm of horror that I humbly believe that we should have a eponymous word for works mirroring his as well, perhaps calling them Itouesque.

Yet, unfortunately, akin to many such stories which shine through the monochromatic medium of manga, the respective anime adaptations gloriously fail to deliver. Itou’s work has had two anime adaptations till now with an Uzumaki adaptation in the works (the most promising one as of yet), namely, Junji Itou Collection and Junji Itou Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre. I recently skimmed through a few episodes of the latter, which is a new release, and it is safe to say that calling it a ‘good effort’ would be an overstatement.

Given that the first adaptation was received so poorly, one can assume that the second one must have improved at least some aspects of the same, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. The pacing remains quite weird with poor dynamics in shifting from one scene to the next, and sometimes, abruptly ends the story without a conclusion of any sort. Granted that Itou’s work rarely ties up all the threads, the selection of the short stories itself could have been done better, because some are intrinsically more suited for being animated while others were just poor to begin with (for example, the first episode, titled ‘The strange Hikizuri siblings’).

Stories such as Four x Four Walls (Episode 4) are part of a collection with recurring characters with standalone plots, and the way they were ultimately structured content-wise was unsatisfactory. Furthermore, it is no question that not all manga are suited for adaptation, but, while I did like the animation style, a lack of fluid motion and production value leaves much to be desired.

All that being said, I would still say that this series is worth a watch, especially for those who want an introduction to Junji Itou before dabbling into the far better manga counterparts. The soundtrack as well as the voice actors do a commendable job at maintaining the eerie atmosphere, and personally speaking, the pages of this mangaka’s world of horror and mystery coming alive is always a very welcome surprise.

PS. Some good short story compilations to begin with are Smashed and Fragments of Horror.

– Partho Sen (SYBSc)

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