Friday, March 30, 2018

"Junji Ito Collection" ~ On Curation and Classics

Like every other grimdark weeb in the world, I was excited beyond words for the release of Junji Ito Collection. The anthology series promised 12 episodes pulling from the horror master's stand-alone works, put together by long-time fans who knew how to strike the balance between authenticity and optimization.

And, as a complete piece, it was fantastic. We got well-known stories like Slug Girl and a look-in from Tomie. We had the opportunity to see the fantastic Long Dreams finally presented as the equally tense and introspective piece it was in its original manga form. We also got unexpected adaptations like Gentle Goodbye.

But there were a few genuinely odd-feeling choices throughout the series. And what we can -- or should -- make of them is difficult to decide, seeing as we aren't completely sure who curated the short stories to be featured.

Souichi the Leading Man

Possibly one of the oddest-feeling decisions was to make Souichi -- the creepy grade-schooler of Ito's Souichi's Diary of Curses sub-series -- the keystone of the show. Granted, it's not a huge keystone. However, Souichi notably stars in three stories in the series, showing up in the first half of the premiere, the last half of the finale, and in the middle of the cour.

Now, he's not a bad character. He's not even a character I'd consider unrepresentative of Ito's works. Ito himself has a balanced blend of gore, absurdity, and occasional juvenile silliness. So the grade-school freak does fit right in. But to guide a viewer in and out of Ito's world, he does seem slightly misrepresentative. The series isn't weak, but it's not his strongest. And for that, the first episode felt a little more "back foot" than it might have otherwise.

I hesitate to say it's "not right" to, though. Because, well, I don't know. Anime veteran Yuji Mitsuya voices the character, but we also see big hitters like Hikaru Midorikawa and Romi Park showing up either as one-shot characters or staying in the series's "stable." So star power is more a series-wide element than anything to do with character importance.

Tomie: Too Much for TV?

Tomie, Ito's deadly and viral beauty, would seem to be the far better choice for a "keystone" character. After all, she's the most commercially known. She's the most famous of his works (with the potential exception of the memetic Enigma of Amigara Fault or Uzumaki). And she's voiced by Rie Suegara, a relatively new but already successful voice actress. So why not her?

Well, it looks as though Tomie almost was more prevalent... but it was a bit too much even for Junji Ito Collection.

[Warning: animated gore and nudity.]

Two unused Tomie shorts -- based on the first and second stories -- will be coming to the series's DVD release. Tomie's first manga outing is a brutal one, with her classmates dividing up her dead body so that all are equally complicit in her death.

(Interestingly, clips from the anime adaptation of the first story err toward Ito's early art style by way of character design, at least for Tomie.)

So could there have been plans to have Tomie be the leading lady? Early trailers teased her (by her absence... if that makes sense) as an important part of the anthology. Or perhaps the goal was always to tease the "too much for TV" episodes and drop them to DVD. There's no way of knowing with just basic information.

The Deciding Factor

Some have lauded Junji Ito Collection as perfect; others have called it "disappointing garbage." For me, it's mostly what I wanted, with a few questionable choices concerning curation. Except they might not be questionable. I'm still not comfortable saying that.

Because I don't know who curated the stories.

Diamond Daydreams screenwriter Kaoru Sawada was on series composition, with Monster and Yukikaze key animator Shinobu Tagashira directing. Tagashira is a self-professed Ito fan since her high school years, and also supplied the character designs adapting his distinctive art to a more mobile format.

If Sawada or Tagashira chose the stories -- which is likely -- then I feel comfortable questioning some of the choices. Why put Souichi front and center? Were shorts chosen based upon their importance to fans, how well they would work in an animated format, or both?

None of the stories chosen actually suffered from being in an animated format, which leads me to believe Sawada and/or Tagashira were behind curation. Lesser-known but still appreciated stories like Smashed and Used Record actually benefit from being animated: the former for the extremes of motion and art, and the latter as we actually get to hear Paula Bell's haunting "song from beyond the grave."

So what makes me hesitate? Well... frankly, I don't know whether Junji Ito himself had a hand in the choice.

An example. I love Devilman, and that's not just Stockholm Syndrome from editing two Devilman-related localizations. I really do enjoy it. But I consider Mazinger Z to be Go Nagai's "magnum opus." Nagai disagrees; he gives Devilman that title. And you know what? He's the creator. He gets to.

So while I consider Tomie to be Ito's strongest popular recurring character (the hapless Mimi is less popular but still delightful) and his more introspective shorts to be his strongest stand-alones, he may well disagree with me. Hell. He once wrote a comic about buying a novelty poo. What do I know.

I can say that, regardless of whether your fave got in or whether you consider the choices made to be strong ones, the stories depicted are largely ones that benefit from being in this format. There were stories I would have swapped in here and there, sure, but without knowing who was at the helm of curation, I can't know how expert my opinion is. But I don't believe there are any pieces in the series that just shouldn't have been animated at all.

... well, except for Greased. That shit's nasty.

Help me pay my bills by watching Junji Ito Collection on Crunchyroll.

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