I never thought I would ever live a long enough life to see anything by Junji Ito animated that wasn’t Gyo, and let’s be honest here, most of us like to pretend that Gyo never happened. When Junji Ito: Collection was announced in mid-2017, you can only imagine the range of emotions I went through, but most importantly, I lost my mind. However, I was quickly put into a place of weariness when I realized it was going to be a Studio Deen production. Studio Deen usually makes Tori nervous.
The first episode opens with “Souichi’s Convenient Curse”, and right away I was confused for a multitude of reasons. I guess I should say that Souichi himself is one of my least favorite Ito characters, so maybe there’s a bit of bias here, but I think this was a very weird choice to introduce to viewers, especially viewers who might be checking out Junji Ito’s work for the first time. This particular story that, while having some genuinely creepy moments, ends up being more of a dark comedy and almost all of Ito’s other stories are not. Maybe they’re trying to set up a false start here? That would certainly be interesting.
“Souichi’s Convenient Curse” stars our title character, a self-proclaimed occult expert, getting into his daily shenanigans with things like terrorizing his older sister with toads and dead spiders, causing fellow classmates to fight, and luring another classmate out into the woods to uh… scare him with a creepy costume that involves stilts. All the while, Souichi pretends to be a kind, smart, and well-liked person amongst his peers.
The episode is highly faithful to the source material, an almost shot for shot retelling of the manga chapter, however the art within the anime is almost lacking compared to Junji Ito’s actual art. I understand that his art is heavily stylized and nothing ever truly carries over from drawings to animation perfectly, but I had a hard time finding any one moment during the Souichi segment being able to say, “Ah, yes. That’s definitely Junji Ito’s work.” I think this is what has me the most disappointed so far with Collection. I could see the Souichi stories working much better as shorts dispersed throughout full length episodes instead of taking up the majority of one.
The last three minutes of the episode are dedicated to “Hellish Doll Funeral.”, based on Ito’s one-shot comic. We’re thrown immediately into the height of the story of two parents whose daughter Marie has succumbed to the mysterious “doll’s disease”, which slowly causes children to turn into doll versions of themselves. Marie’s parents realize they cannot bear the idea of throwing away their daughter, even though other parents have, under the assumption that she’ll remain a beautiful doll version of herself. However, within the next frame we see what truly happens to children who aren’t killed after catching the disease. Marie’s doll-self continues to grotesquely decay and her limbs elongate into a nasty, almost unrecognizable worm-like form. I found the shot of this to be spot on with what we see in the comic and made me shiver a bit with dread.
Most of the complaints that I saw about this segment were that it was too short. I never found that to be an issue for me simply because you can still manage to be scary and tell a self-contained story within a minimal amount of time (see Yamishibai). More people wanted a backstory to the disease among other things, and if my memory serves me correctly (which it almost never does), none of that was provided in the one-shot either.
I’m going to remain somewhat hopeful for the next episodes of Junji Ito Collection, especially if they continue in the way of “Hellish Doll Funeral.” They’ve remained very hush-hush about which stories we’re going to see, so at least I have one more thing to look forward to every week!