Winter 2020 Anime: Official Info, Airdates & Trailers
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Over the last thirty years, manga-ka Junji Ito has cemented his place as a master of horror. Fans are enraptured by his depictions of body horror, societal collapse, and mortality, with each story more haunting than the last.
However, for a new generation of would-be fans, their first introduction to Ito’s work would have been the Junji Ito Collection anime, a series that is, not to be dramatic, one of my greatest disappointment for 2018. To right the wrong of that awful series, I’d like this article to be a re-introduction to an incredibly talented manga-ka and his spine-tingling tales.
Ito’s manga-ka career began at the age of twenty-four with a short story (one shot) and a call for submissions. In 1987 the newly published Gekka Halloween put out a call for submissions for an award, the Umezu Award. Ito grew up reading Kazuo Umezu’s work, claiming it to be the first he ever read, so he knew he had to give it a shot. No official winner was announced for the award, but for some reason Ito’s story has been considered the de-facto winner. Whether or not his winning was legitimate, Ito was offered a permanent spot on the magazine to continue his short story. And for the next thirteen years he did just that. This short story eventually grew into one of Ito’s most infamous characters: Tomie. Besides Tomie, Ito continued to work on several stand-alone short stories. These stories featured everyday people who happen upon strange and unusual circumstances, much to their misfortune. From a girl chased by someone who wants to steal her face to haunting balloons, Junji Ito’s short stories had no rhyme nor reason but managed to capture the imaginations of fans.
Ito’s first full-length story, Uzumaki, was published in 1998. Unlike Tomie whose stories are usually focused on different people interacting with different versions of Tomie, Uzumaki was his first series where all the stories are interlinked and feature a main character. The series was featured in a weekly manga magazine and released in the west in 2001 by Viz Media. The series garnered critical acclaim and was even nominated for the 2003 Eisner Award . In 2001, Ito released a second full length series, Gyo, and while it too received national and international praise, his following works after it did not reach the same height of popularity. In the last few years. Ito has focused his work on short stories.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of Ito’s influence is the number of adaptations his works have had. Time and time again other creators have tried to replicate the eeriness of Ito’s works to varying success. Tomie has spanned eight films (1998 – 2011), almost rivaling Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th film franchises! Other Ito films include Uzumaki (2000), The Hanging Balloons (2000) and Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack (2012). Uzumaki even spawned a game called the Uzumaki: Noroi Simulation by Bandai for the WonderSwan, however reviews suggest that the game did not live up to the manga’s legacy.
Perhaps the most ambitious adaptation of his works was the Junji Ito: Collection anime which aired earlier this year. The series features twelve episodes, with two short stories each as well as two OVAs dedicated to Tomie. My personal theory on why the anime failed is based on two ideas. First, many fans, particularly Western fans who were not familiar with Ito’s work, were confused by his type of horror. During the show’s airing I saw many comments complaining that the show wasn’t scary or gory, but Ito’s horror is based on creating a sense of unease within the viewer rather than simply shocking them with violence or jump scares. Second, the series had a low production value. Anything that wasn’t a close-up was drawn like a stick figure with some shading.
Over his thirty-year career, Ito has created two very memorable characters: Tomie and Souichi. As mentioned above, Tomie was Ito’s first character and between the early 80s and 2000, he has had three manga volumes full of short stories. Souichi appeared in the 90s, with a series of shorts under the title Souichi’s Journal of Delights. These stories reflect Ito’s career long fascination with feminine beauty and the idea of childhood.
Tomie follows the story of a young girl who seduces men around her, but instead of wanting their love, she wants them to murder her. The more gruesome the better. With each murder her disembodied parts turn into new versions of her. The series has garnered a cult following as fans try to pick the series apart to uncover Ito’s meaning. My personal interpretation is that Tomie is another warped representation of Ito’s views on feminine beauty and its relationship with society. His other works such as Dying Young, where women turn beautiful and subsequently die, mostly deal with the hubris of beauty. On the other hand, works such as Hair in the Attic, where a woman who attempts to cut her hair is then killed by it, are a quite literal representation of how woman suffer for the sake of their looks or can feel suffocated by them. Tomie takes this to a new extreme, as the embodiment of society’s obsession, as she continues to replicate, she brings more people into her version of beauty.
The depiction of the rascal child isn’t a new idea in Japanese media and you can see a clear example in Crayon Shin-Chan. But Souichi takes this to a whole new extreme. The titular character is a particularly devious eleven-year-old who uses dark magic to make life a living hell for his family and the people around him. And while you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking he’s the anti-Christ, Ito also includes small scenes showing his childish side, like misspelling words or crying from being embarrassed. As a character in the animation series, Souichi’s childish side was emphasized to the point that he was seen as an annoyance to audiences. But in the manga, Souichi is a far more defined character. He is the only of Ito’s characters to be morally ambiguous, representing both horror and innocence. Ito’s stories tend to focus on either children or teenagers, defining moments in their lives to show how their actions shape their destiny and that no one is safe from misfortune.
With thirty years worth of works, it’s hard to know where to get started. Here are my recommendations on which of Ito’s works suit beginners to the horror genre.
An extra tale at the end of Ito’s Gyo, Amigara Faults is one of my favorite horror one-shots. Countless human shaped holes appear on the side of the mountain after an earthquake and… well, I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. The short shows what Ito does best: leaving audiences with a haunting feeling, as they go through the story again and again in their minds!
Perhaps one of Ito’s more traditional ghost stories, in Ribs Woman girls who undergo rib removal surgery begin to hear a haunting tune. The story is the definition of creepy and showcases Ito’s detailed art style. Especially the eyes of characters which always look sleep deprived and traumatized.
A man cheats on his girlfriend with a fortune teller, with some very unfortunate consequences. Creepy, gory and a little gross, this series will prepare you for some of Ito’s more stomach churning tales.
If you’d rather take on a full series rather than a bunch of one-shots, Uzumaki is what you want to check out! A town is haunted by spirals and two teenagers are trying to investigate the cause. Uzumaki is the perfect coming of age story. I’m only kidding with that last part, but Uzumaki was actually my first introduction to Ito’s work at the age of fifteen, and from it I immediately fell in love with his work. The series maintains an eerie feeling throughout as the reader tries to guess what will happen next. Honestly, you can’t believe how many things are spirals!
From creepy children to even creepier adults, Junji Ito has built a career on terrifying audiences. His stories nag at our deepest insecurities and remain with us long after we put down the manga. His work over the last thirty years has certainly redefined the horror manga genre. It’s no surprise that he is considered, worldwide, a master of Japanese horror. I can only imagine what other spine-tingling tales we’ll see from him in the future.
Have another manga master of horror you’d like to see talked about? Let us know who it is in the comments!
Keep warm this winter season with the latest anime info at MANGA.TOKYO!
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