Scattered Thoughts – Ito Junji: Collection and how to fail at horror

     It’s no secret that this season’s biggest horror anime isn’t that great. It’s really a shame because manga of Junji Ito usually is very entertaining. On the other hand, the outcome was to be expected to some extent – a previous attempt to adapt Ito’s manga also failed horribly. Then maybe Ito’s works aren’t suited to be animated? Looking even more broadly, are horror stories capable of evoking that specific emotion in an animated form? At least to this question I have an answer, and that is yes. So let’s look at what Collection did wrong, comparing it to some better representatives of the genre.

     ///EDIT: last night Super Eyepatch Wolf uploaded a video about Collection, and it’s not unexpectedly right to the point. I’m not sure I can add much to the discussion, but this piece is already written, so oh well. I guess I need to execute my ideas immediately…///

     I think there’re two main ways to make an appealing horror story. The first one is a simple engaging storytelling. No matter if it’s a novel, a manga or an anime, if you get invested into the characters, anything weird that starts happening will be able to affect you. The second way utilizes the fact that anime is a visual medium. Going for queer shots, weird colors or strange shapes is a perfect way to cause unsettlement. Well, there sort of also is a third way – trying to confuse and shock the viewer. It ties with the other two, as you can make some unexpected twists and turns in the story and also add some jump-scares or something like that. I don’t think it’s as effective in the long run but it also can be a legitimate way of terrifying the audience. So yeah, away with the theory, let’s see how that works in practice.

     One of the most basic (and too overused) theme of horror stories is of course vampires. At one point everything that could be said about them was seemingly said countless times and authors started trying to give new and new twists and turns to keep everything fresh. You know, sparkles and stuff. In this context a series about vampires that behave in a classic way already feels like something different from the norm. That alone doesn’t necessarily grant success but Shiki managed to achieve that. It doesn’t have a cult following but I think the majority of people that tried it will tell you that the show is worth a watch. Why? Horror in Shiki works mainly because of the story. Enter a peaceful town where suddenly there arrives a family of fairly eccentric people. Everything would be alright but at the same time some sort of deadly epidemic starts, and, well, you know the drill. The townspeople spend quite a bit of time trying to understand what is happening but once they do basically a survival battle begins. The great thing about Shiki is that you get to experience how both sides of the conflict see it, and it’s not just two guys having a show-off. You see interconnecting stories of multiple townspeople and how their actions have consequences to everyone. Of course the logical sentiment for the viewers would be to side with the humans but sometimes humans may even become so ruthless that the vampire side begins to look like they are the real victims. It’s a sad story about people who try to survive not knowing whether tomorrow may bring their dearest person to the other side. Why Shiki isn’t more talked about? Character designs might be one reason. Such a varied array of ridiculous and absolutely stupid anime hairstyles is amazing. It definitely needs time to warm up to it but in the end I guess it’s ok – as a stylistic choice it brings more personality and uniqueness.

     Moving on, I don’t think I can avoid Mononoke, and not only because it’s one of my favorite anime (as you can see from the lovely face on the banner of the blog). It’s not a pure horror show per se but probably everyone would agree that there’re far less suitable shows to watch during Halloween. Mononoke came into being when the last arc of Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror was successful enough to get a spin-off, and incredibly imaginative director Kenji Nakamura fully took advantage of the opportunity. Mononoke consists of several unrelated arcs that are connected only by the main character Kusuriuri (that is Medicine Seller) who travels around and exorcises spirits (mononoke). From the very first seconds the show makes a brave artistic statement that it isn’t going to be like anything else you’ve seen and that naturally places it in my category of stories that rely on visuals. You are welcomed by a myriad of colors that somehow manage not to clash and almost Masaaki Yuasa-like (though a bit more rigidly animated) characters. By the way, it’s not a coincidence – both Yuasa and Nakamura worked on Kemonozume. Add some very unhuman looking mononoke and surprisingly well masked 3D movement in buildings and you’ll have an incredible experience. As strong as the visuals are, the stories aren’t any worse, examining themes like abortion, fear, desire and various others. Well, I could talk about Mononoke non-stop for a very long time, but the point is that with unique visual elements you can easily charm the viewer.

     And after examining some satisfactory shows let’s turn our attention to the cause of this write-up – Ito Junji: Collection. And, well, the view is pretty bleak. The show tells two separate stories each week but with a few exceptions it’s quite easy to generalize. The episodic format automatically makes caring about the characters nearly impossible. 12 minutes to tell a story leaves almost no place for memorable personalities and apart from two (Tomie and, alas, Souichi) everyone else can be easily forgotten in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. Then surely the visuals are able to compensate for that? Well…

     The problem with the cookie cutter characters is something that came directly from Ito’s manga and there’s nothing to be done about it. Still, Ito’s artstyle should leave no one unaffected. The former dental technician knows human anatomy very well and manages to introduce various body horror scenarios or just generally creepy things. The black and white manga panels in Ito’s works achieve the perfect balance between atmospheric light and dark, his detailed drawings make a very vivid imagery. To be frank, body horror seems to be far more easier to achieve than psychological horror in both Shiki and Mononoke, right? Collection in this department is abysmal. I don’t know anything about the production circumstances of the show but the end result in my point of view clearly shows a lot of disrespect from Studio Deen towards Junji Ito. The adaptation is incredibly uninspired. Sure, sometimes it’s best to stick to the source material as close as possible but when you end up with only slightly moving (FPS is a tragedy) manga panels (lips flapping, sometimes people walking), there’s a problem. Underusing strengths of the medium doesn’t end there. Collection chose to have a very dark and muted color pallet and that to some extent tries to create a similar mood that the manga has. Well, it doesn’t work. Colors divide attention to separate parts of the screen and doesn’t allow to achieve such cohesiveness as only white and black can. Usual lack of details also doesn’t help.

     I don’t know if it’s a coincidence but both anime I chose to contrast Collection share the same composer, and that is Yasuharu Takanashi. He isn’t particularly well-known (though he has Naruto and Fairy Tail in his resume) but from time to time I happen to stumble on a great soundtrack, and time and time again he proves to be the author. Takanashi is worth appreciation and a separate post but for now I want to stress only his ability to create tension. To create effective suspense you need to use all means available, and Takanashi’s aery slowly weaving melodies are perfect for that. To go off on a tangent, vocals for Takanashi’s projects are usually provided by REMI, a singer who also worked under Yuki Kajiura for the SAO soundtrack, and is also a part of Sound Horizon, yep, the same that’s responsible for the OPs of Attack on Titan. The point is that Collection can’t boast of any such depth. The best we got probably was that weird song in episode 7, but generally I feel that Yuki Hayashi could be doing so much more. I guess he’s more suitable to compose for action packed shows like Haikyuu or Boku no Hero Academia though he did very well in the more subtle parts of Death Parade. On the other hand, how can you create memorable melodies when there’s virtually no thematic connection between separate episodes and therefore there’s no need to have reappearing musical themes? I don’t know, maybe I’m inattentive but the soundtrack of Collection just passes me by without any impact.

     So there you have it – Collection is inherently weak at providing decent characters but when you have a multitude of stories, some of them are very likely to affect you only it’s a minority in this case. Yet, it’s the lacking visual aspect of the show that kills it for me. Even if there are some shocking (or outright disgusting, but that’s not necessarily entertaining) moments, Collection fails at my main criteria that a good horror anime should have. Conversely both Shiki and Mononoke are able to tell compelling stories using memorable visuals – even MAL rankings in this case tell the truth – at this point Collection sits with 6,3 (and as we know, on MAL anything below 7 is probably not good) while Shiki has 7,9 and Mononoke achieved 8,5.

"Junji Ito in his Junji Seato drawing on his Junji Sheeto
(no one can Junji Beato his Junji Neato works)
about to Junji Eato some Junji Meato". Thanks, reddit!


     The question then is whether Collection should exist at all. As it is now, definitely not. I guess it was inevitable that such an acclaimed mangaka as Junji Ito one day will find his way into anime but so far the results are pitiful. I already wrote about Gyo and that adaptation had some similar problems to Collection. Still, even CG sharks don’t look as bad as what Collection offers. I’m afraid at this point the industry isn’t ready for Ito regardless of the quality of the original material. I don’t think a usual adaptation, even with a huge budget provided, can achieve a good result. To capture the essence of Ito an anime should ditch all the conventions and go full experimental (for example use only  black and white). Such a studio as Shaft or Trigger may pull something off, even if their styles and interest spheres are completely out of tune with what Ito provides. Some young director one day might make a reasonable adaptation but now I’m afraid we just need to forget Souichi’s butt and wait for a better tomorrow.

     Have you already dropped Collection? Or did you make the right choice not to watch the show before it even started? And generally, what do you think needs to be done in order to create some decent horror anime more frequently?

Leave a comment


  1. I have not seen Collection, but it was interesting reading your thoughts, especially seeing how you compared it to other things. Even the gif you used for Shiki still sends chills up my spine…
    What you’re saying about Collection kind of reminds me of Yamishibai – an interesting horror with 5min. each episode. Yamishibai’s plot and characters are typically trashy too, but they’re entertaining

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oops, not done replying yet. But Yamishibai is entertaining to me because of a fun art style and how the anime seems to ridicules itself. I wonder if Collection would be a fun experience too if it was 5 min. per episode and doesn’t take itself so seriously? That would surely set it apart from the original manga works though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Glad you enjoyed the post!
        Yeah, it would definitely be interesting to see such a rendition of Ito’s works. Sometimes it’s precisely the shortness of the stories in Collection that leaves me unsatisfied but if not taken seriously… Well, it might work. Some of the shorter stories would undoubtedly benefit from the style and form of Yamishibai.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Collection really needs to work on its story telling. It presents ideas but because we don’t care about the characters in the scenarios (we literally just met them and they have almost no character) and because we don’t see the consequences of any of the scenarios (because the story ends and we move to a new one) there’s just no impact to any of it. And I agree, I can’t remember anything about the music in it at all.
    I quite like some horror in anime. Shiki and Another both build up pretty good atmosphere and Higurashi is one I really enjoy the story of. However, the bigger issue with horror anime is there aren’t that many and a lot of the stories that are horror rely on buckets of blood and gruesome actions to ‘scare’ rather than spending time building up decent characters and narrative.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think we’re supposed to imagine the consequences and in this way make everything scarier. Usually if Ito bothers to elaborate a story after a climax, it inevitably leads to the destruction of the world and the surviving characters stuck in some undetermined situation that can go either way. Ito’s way of working is to present an idea and leave it for the readers/viewers to complete. Not necessarily a bad thing, but as you said – caring about random dudes is already pretty difficult.
      True, there’re very few not that gruesome horror anime. It’s certainly a niche and I hope somebody will recognize that sooner or later. On the other hand there’re some stories like Aku no Hana, Shinsekai Yori or Monster that kind of have that psychological horror element but don’t rely on it too much and also use other means to move the plot.
      Maybe all the anime fans could make a petition or something to encourage making more horror anime?..

      Liked by 1 person

      • There are quite a few good psychological anime out there as you said and some of them are really well done. While not actually horror, it makes for a good substitute and is probably a little more thought provoking than the average monster movie anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

        • True. But a substitute (as brilliant as it may be) still remains a substitute. I think a decent pure horror stories would gather enough audience to survive.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. This is excellently written and you point all of the reasons why the series fails quite wonderfully. It really broke my heart because this was a series I was really anticipating, like many folks. I also am starting to believe that Ito-san’s works are better suited for the written medium versus the animated one. Maybe it can work as a live action if it’s well-developed?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks!
      The end result is really unfortunate. I still have some faith in these 2 OVA episodes about Tomie. She was one of the better parts in the series.
      Agree, at this point manga is probably the best way to experience Ito’s stories.
      About live action, it could definitely work. Unlimited movement and decent practical effects could do wonders. I’m not sure if you’re aware but there already are quite a few live action films adapting Ito’s manga. There’s Uzumaki adaptation and several about Tomie. Sadly my knowledge about them ends with the fact that they exist so I can’t say anything more about them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, I did not know there were a couple live-action adaptations! I’ve only recently been introduced to/started watching live-action adaptations, so I probably don’t know about a lot of them. But thanks for letting me know! I will have to look them up. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well, as a rule of thumb live action adaptions aren’t that appreciated by the community but I hope you’ll find some enjoyment. At least the potential is certainly there.

          Liked by 1 person

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