Animation studios have learned nothing – regarding Ito Junji adaptations

When I was previewing what was coming up in terms of anime this year, I found two… surprises, you could say on the list. According to MyAnimeList, Ito Junji Maniac produced by Studio Deen, and Uzumaki produced by Production I.G. are slated to come out this year. If the title didn’t give it away, I’m personally not exactly thrilled at this development.

You see, Ito Junji’s works, in my opinion, are simply non-adaptable. Not for lack of interest, not for lack of technology, not for lack of creative minds, but because his works are not something that can be animated. The type of horror that Ito Junji writes, relies heavily on the media it was intended for – manga. The detailing in his art, the unsettling mood is something that has to be experienced with a physical copy. I distinctly recall reading Uzumaki first online in a scroll style site and being less then impressed. That changed when holding the volume(s) in my hands, and feeling the tension as on a page per page basis if I wanted to continue discovering what happened next.

I won’t speak for the royal we with this, but I think many fans of his works would agree. Fully considering these are far from the first attempts to adapt his works into animation. So before I dig my heels in even more about why Uzumaki and Ito Junji Maniac will most likely fail without major changes –

Let me save you from watching multiple bad anime adaptations, as I will sacrifice myself just this once for you all. I’m going to briefly review the previous attempts at animated adaptations of Ito Junji stories.

GYO! (2011)

This particular movie had the blessing, and curse of being the first attempt (to my knowledge) of an anime adaptation for Mr. Ito. Unfortunately, this film is a hodgepodge of really distinctly bad ideas sewn together with a squint-and-you-can-kinda-see-it inspiration from the source material. Which is a bit odd to admit since ufotable has a really stunning filmography now. It’s sad but between the bad CGI, needless changes to the original order of events, weird character additions and outright swapping of roles, just made for a very poor viewing experiance. It gets points for being the first, but with this as a precedent, the following will surprise no one.

Itou Junji Collection (2018)

This series aired back when I was a baby blogger, so I’ll just lift my impression from my original post:

“I was crushed that the “Ito Junji Collection” was sub-par at best. I kept watching hoping for some nightmare fuel that “Spiral” gave me and got none. Although I did end up calling my older brother out of concern about his vinyl collection. The series didn’t scare me in the slightest, and the way it wrapped up was just awkward. There were a million ways it could have done things differently and it didn’t” .

Rise, April 5th, 2018

I stand by that still. Also, I failed to include this initially, but this was produced by none other than – you guessed it – Studio Deen. You can see why I’m a bit cocky about my statement about the failing of the 2023 anime they’re making. But that is not all folks, because we have one more from our friends at Studio Deen and that’s:

Ito Junji Collection: Tomie (2018)

I don’t know what you’re expecting me to say, but it’s the same quality as the Ito Junji Collection. Personally, I found it to be overly gratuitous with the men’s fantasy of killing her. She’s no heroine, and some elements were censored but it still felt wrong, in the incorrect ways. The Tomie story I read was unsettling, and made me reconsider elements of my own life. It’s not unexpected the adaptation went this direction, but it certainly isn’t good.

But the main reason is that Studio Deen has learned absolutely nothing. At this point they just seemed to have gotten a bigger budget and a second chance. (Sarcastically – thanks Netflix.) A glance at the technical credits of Ito Junji Maniac show that the director/character designer, sound director and scriptwriter are all the same from their 2018 attempts to now the 2023 attempt. Considering that they’re re-hashing stories they’ve already adapted; Tomie, and Souichi – I’m not particularly holding my breath for the 18 stories to be adapted. Although I will have a good laugh if they just… re-animate the twelve stories from before, and only have eight truly ‘new’ stories. The only thing that’s been updated is the animation, from a preview trailer looks better, but there’s something trite about the whole thing.

… I’m not knocking a sight unseen, but this animation really doesn’t show much aside from some spooky ideas. The only things I saw animated were the blinking and mouth movements of Tomie, and it’s clear it was stylistic not practical animation. It really just felt like a smattering of ideas of spooky, but nothing truly felt ‘Ito Junji’ about it. Like I get the mandala is suppose to be similar to Uzumaki but they’re genuinely two different art choices. Similarly, the second trailer which again is Tomie based – it’s certainly interesting how they managed to show the backs of the characters and a singular close up of Tomie’s face instead of something more substantial? Something that really kicks us in the teeth showing us that this was going to get good, or at least interesting?

Don’t think I’ve forgotten about Uzamaki by Production I.G. I’m coming for them now.

I have a very cautious hope for this series. The first preview looks very appealing. Personally, I like it quite a bit more then any other previous iteration. The black and white animation is a strong choice – a lot of stylistic integrity from the original manga. I love the choice of going with a jazz backing track over anything else since I think that fits the ~ViBeS~ of Ito better. I also in general am a sucker for jazz. It’s also promising that there’s been a large amount of time being invested in these series.

Calling it a lot of time invested is the gentle way of putting it. Uzumaki has been in a bit of a production hell, allegedly due to the pandemic, but I’m a little suspicious overall. Of course I always want, above all else, the health and safety of the animation team to be prioritized. I also, certainly wouldn’t want a rushed product either, that was the curse of the Ito Junji Collection after all.

Yet, I’m still a bit concerned and perplexed with this series’ timeline. In fact, it hasn’t been concretely announced that it’s even airing this year. That’s speculation. This one might look better in theory, but a snippet is just that – a snippet. They’re going to share the best of what they have at the moment without getting too far ahead of themselves. It’s not off the table that the opening scene, first episode is the best we get and then it’s downhill from there. Anime is full of titles that have a sparkling first episode only to be a complete let down by episode two. And again, going back to my second paragraph – Mr. Ito’s works aren’t the most suitable for adaptations, and looking back don’t have a great track record either.

But that’s all just my thoughts. I’m incredibly curious to know what others’ think, especially with Ito Junji Maniac being on January 19th. Are you hype despite the history? Was GYO! secretly the best adaptation of them all? Let me know you thoughts and impressions below!


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s