Junji Ito is, by far, the best horror manga artist out there. With titles such as Tomie and Uzumaki that have become cult classics.
They have permeated their way into meme culture, Ito is a name you will undoubtedly hear when people discuss any kind of horror art.
When Netflix announced they would be producing 20 of his stories in an animated form, it was hard not to be excited about the prospect of seeing his stories taken to the big screen.
Whilst there had been plenty of screen adaptions of his stories before, they had always fallen flat, especially live-action versions, Ito’s unique style didn’t translate well to real people and practical effects, and whilst the stories were chilling, the visuals were lacklustre.
When we were shown the previews of Maniac, it was a breath of fresh air to see Ito’s unique style preserved, with the dark, muted colours his coloured manga used.
This was a faithful adaptation, and with the visuals no longer detracting from the spine-chilling horror of Ito’s writing, we would finally have the animated adaptation we were hoping for.
However, it was not to be.
Despite the gorgeous visuals, commendable music, and excellent sound design, one thing too often detracts from the immersion that horror relies so heavily upon to create fear.
Several times throughout the anime, 3D animation is used, whilst this is sometimes understandable, such as the parasitic corpses in The Thing That Drifted Ashore, it is used randomly throughout other stories- a single fountain in a shot, a car driving in front of a 2D background, a gravestone in the middle of a road.
Whilst there is no issue with a blend of 3D and 2D animation, the anime Chainsaw Man in particular has a wonderful use of 3D models in fight scenes that blend well with the 2D backgrounds, released only a few months before this.
The 3D models used contrast so heavily with the art style and appear so sporadically that it immediately draws you out of what you are watching and instead of inspiring fear, the same way these events do in the manga, you find yourself amused.
It begs the question as to why this was done. Fountains, fish and cars have been animated well in 2D for years- why execute it this poorly in 3D now? It draws you out of any mounting tension and the short length of the stories offers no opportunity to re-immerse yourself.
The stories themselves are an eclectic mix, but they are certainly not Ito’s best, Tomie and Soichi, his most famous characters by far sit alongside stories such as Tomb Town and The Story of the Mysterious Tunnel.
Instead of the Mysterious Tunnel, a story about people feeling a compulsive desire to walk into a tunnel on the outskirts of a town, some of whom are never found again, why not animate The Enigma of Amigara Fault, another story exploring compulsion, as well as being one of Ito’s best and most well-known stories, filled with the fridge horror that is characteristic of Ito’s writing.
It doesn’t help that the voice performances in these stories are not always up to scratch- Mari’s voice towards the end of the tunnel episode sounds as if it was recorded through a speaker rather than in a vocal booth, and several characters sound simply bored.
Despite this, however, there are several stories that still shine amongst the middling quality of the others. Library Vision features an outstanding performance by Sean Chiplock, who voices Goro, his voice lending itself wonderfully to the themes of obsession that plague his character.
Other standout works are Where The Sandman Lives, one of the shortest stories but the most effective, with a wonderful adaptation of Ito’s drawn body horror and the fear of the self.
Another story that benefits from this is Layers Of Terror, which, in combination with the impeccable and stomach-turning sound design creates a story that you can’t look away from, no matter how badly you want to.
However, the incredibly animated tearing of skin and flesh is immediately contrasted with the previously mentioned second story in the episode, The Thing That Drifted Ashore, which features the worst animation in the entire series.
Ultimately, whilst there are some wonderful episodes of faithfully adapted Ito stories, what makes this series good is not the animation medium.
Whilst there are moments where movement and sound enhance the stories that we had previously only seen in Manga, if you want to experience all of these stories, the best advice would be to simply pick up one of Ito’s horror anthologies, and miss out on the dated 3D models and laughable animation.