Die-hard fans of the mangaka might be slightly underwhelmed by how his work has been adapted, but Junji Ito Maniac still contains a good helping of memorably nasty horror.
This review of the Netflix anime anthology Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre Season 1 is spoiler-free.
Some horror creators have a knack for imagery and concepts that make the average viewer worry for their sanity. How often, for instance, have you read a Stephen King book and thought, “Who would even think of that?” Junji Ito, the Japanese mangaka, is the same way. Some of his best work is also his most confounding, in the sense that you can’t see how any right-minded person would ever come up with it. Luckily – or not, I suppose, depending on your sensibilities – some of that best work is adapted in the new Netflix anime anthology, Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre.
Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre Review and Plot Summary
The twelve-episode series, which comprises 20 stories from Ito’s collected works, gives color and voice to increasingly twisted tales, some of them featuring familiar concepts and characters. The work remains recognizable if, in this form, somewhat detached from its original incarnation, as though you’re watching a cover band take on songs you love. The ideas are there, but the execution – Ito gave permission for his work to be adapted but didn’t contribute to the series beyond that – sometimes leaves a little to be desired.
The basic idea, though, is straightforward enough: Here are some people, bad things are going to happen to them. You might recognize some of the people. You might find it hard to stomach some of the things. Some episodes tell a single story, while others contain two. There’s no narrative continuity, but the art and animation styles remain relatively consistent, and consistently underwhelming unless something awful is happening, though admittedly something awful is usually happening. There isn’t really a unifying theme to the curation, but there are certain commonalities, particularly in sibling relationships, and a perverse fascination for heads, especially if they’re grotesquely enlarged or missing entirely.
You wouldn’t tell this was Ito’s work at a glance, but after five minutes you’d know for certain. Again, it comes down to that uniquely weird and horrifying imagination, that sense that nobody else could have possibly envisioned something so grim. I wasn’t entirely sold on the episodes that combine two stories, though, because sometimes it’s best to let even the most horrifying ideas breathe and develop. Ten minutes scarcely feels like enough time to tell any story, and some episodes suffer for their brevity.
The inclusions are also sometimes mystifying. Admittedly some will stay with you for their imagery or devilish concept, but others pass by almost unnoticed, and several hardly feel worth the effort of adapting in the first place. None are bad in the sense of not working on any level, but a few don’t thrill or frighten. The highlights are so nasty that they demote average offerings to actual annoyances.
Is Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre good?
You could say quite justifiably that this is an Ito collection best suited to those unfamiliar with the mangaka’s work. The elements – such as the opening credits song, the use of color, and some of the curation – are less likely to really annoy someone who isn’t entering with any expectations. Those well-versed in their Ito lore will find annoyances that make Maniac the latest in a long line of slightly mishandled adaptations that don’t quite feel right.
But don’t get the wrong idea. Fans of the macabre will, as the title suggests, find some lasting imagery here, some stories that will absolutely rattle around inside their brain for a while after watching. You’ll ask, several times, who could possibly come up with this, and that, I suppose, is exactly what you’re looking for.
You can stream the Netflix anime anthology Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre Season 1 exclusively on Netflix.