When Netflix announced an animated adaptation of beloved Japanese mangaka, Junji Ito’s work, fans were surprised and concerned. Ito’s works seem to be cursed. Animators can never quite potently grasp the visceral, grotesque and unsettling horror that Ito illustrates in his work. A maestro of existential anxieties, phobias, body horror and the fear of the unknown, Ito’s genre-defining and phenomenal work is uncanny and surreal. However, Junji Ito’s Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre fails to live up to the standards of Ito’s works.
When Netflix announced the series, Ito said in a trailer, “All the talented animators working on this series are putting in their best effort to animate my stories, so I cannot wait to see how they will take my characters and reimagine them in an eerie, new world.”
Studio Deen, headed by longtime collaborator Shinobu Tagashira has worked on adapting Ito’s works previously into the 12-episode 2018 animated series, The Junji Ito Collection. While the stories were creepy, it missed the violent and eerie nature of the original creation. Studio Dean returned to reanimate his works for the 2023 Netflix show and was a disappointment yet again.
While the nature of animation has certainly evolved, the curse of not being able to emulate Ito’s masterful craft still remains. With 20 horrific works of Ito being animated, the series has some of his most popular stories like Tomie, The Hanging Balloons, Souichi etc.
Murderous balloons descending from the sky to kill their lookalike humans. Children melting into ice cream and gorging on one another. Souichi’s creepy nail-eating habits. People lost in the sea remerging from the belly of an unknown creature. A mother seeking revenge on her lost lover by seemingly killing her boy. And the iconic Tomie. The Netflix series has some of Ito’s most brilliant works but appears lackluster since some things just cannot be adapted. It is awkward and uninspired and lacks the genuine effort on part of animators to throw in a dash of creative imagination.
While Ito’s original works continue to haunt readers long after they are past a story, the Netflix series is extremely unforgettable and flat- absolutely disappointing! It is somewhat of a disservice to Ito’s ingenious and audacious creations. It is time for the streamer (and other creators) to accept that some works just cannot be reproduced. Ito’s harrowing work is one of them.