What They Say:
Enter the twisted world of Junji Ito’s works of horror! Witness the most hair-raising stories from Junji Ito Masterpiece Collection and Fragments of Horror like you’ve never seen them before. For any fans who seek the thrill of shocking imagery and ill-fated characters, this whole show is made for you.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language in stereo while the English mix gets a 5.1 bump, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The series is very much heavily dialogue-based with mood music mixed in and some creepy sounds at times to drive the narrative a bit more. It’s a very simple mix so that the 5.1 side doesn’t get a lot to really work with and a lot of it is indistinguishable when you get down to it. The nature of the show is usually one or two characters at a time so it’s very center channel based but it can use the forward soundstage fairly well as needed for some of the creepier moments. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout but there’s little to stand out with here. We didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2018, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78;1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes are spread across two discs with a nine/three layout where the second disc also has the two OVA episodes. Animated by Studio Deen, the show has a pretty sadly standard horror animation style design where it’s pretty weak and doesn’t even really set the horror mood itself well because of the weakness. Colors are decent but the fluidity of movement is choppy and minimal at times and the designs while capturing some aspects of Ito’s original work, just don’t seem to translate well here. The encoding handles things well with colors coming across solidly and no visible macroblocking so it’s a pretty clean and problem-free project that will please fans who want to own it.
The menu design for this release goes for a simple approach with a static screen and really tries to set the mood right for it. It does largely succeed as we get what’s almost a black and white design with a black background some creepy white character artwork to the right, and the rest given over to the logo and the navigation. Both of those latter pieces have a spot of reddish-orange mixed into it to give it a pop of color that helps to provide some good contrast. There’s a lot of dead space for the menu but it’s appropriate while the navigation is simple but easy to move around both as the main menu and as the pop-up menu during playback.
The main extra beyond the bonus episodes/OVAs is the inclusion of the clean opening sequence.
With an extensive and interesting array of works to his name, Junji Ito is one of the definitive horror manga creators out there. Viz Media has brought out a lot of his works over the years and they sell very well because it is a very underrepresented market in North America both in manga and in comics in general. The announcement of an anthology series with Studio Deen animating seemed like a smart way to explore his works and it landed in the winter 2018 season after minimal and somewhat confusing promotion. The problem of no central narrative crept up into the marketing and then having a wide cast of characters but played by the same actors for many of them just came across as a bit odd. Not surprising, really, but you usually don’t get an actor taking on so many roles within a single show and that made the marketing a bit harder. Anthologies like this are rare enough one can imagine that there’s not a lot of experience in how to shop such a show. It also didn’t help in some ways that the creative wanted to keep which stories they were adapting secret as long as they could so fans could be surprised.
Each of the twelve episodes that were produced have two stories within them that adapt from two of Ito’s collections, namely his Masterpiece Collection series that has eleven volumes and the more recent Fragments of Horror. I am not a horror fan, though I watch a fair bit of it when it comes to what Hollywood produces for both TV and film. I’m not a big fan of what a lot of the 2000s produced with the horror-porn stuff where it was just ultraviolent. I like the slow build and unsettling things, the small reveals with the twists. And It’s works do that, but I’m not drawn much to horror manga. When anime does horror right, which it can and has done, it’s thrilling and exciting. I still hold up Shiki as one of the best series of this past decade with what it accomplishes. You can’t expect that with an anthology series though and this one proves to be very hard to connect with.
I’m loathe to go through story by story and talk about them because a lot of them are familiar versions of common stories and folklore brought anew. That’s part of the appeal of Japanese horror in that there are centuries and centuries of stories to mine from that have been refined over the years. But what doesn’t work so well is the fact that it is an anthology with no central bridge to kind of guide things through and that each episode is made up of two stories. I don’t know that it would work better if each story had more time – the two Tomie pieces feel better paced and fleshed out but that could just be the variety of it after watching the main series – but there’s just something off about the pacing that made it hard for me to really connect with. The combination of that with character designs that just don’t look great (yet are sadly all too common with horror shows) and what feels like a low budget come together to give us something that doesn’t feel like it got the love that it should.
As an anthology story with what amounts to twenty-five stories overall, it really comes down to how much you enjoy anime horror or how much of a Junji Ito fan you are. I know a lot of English-speaking fans of his had a hard time with this series because it didn’t feel like it got the love it deserved and I can understand that. There are some fun stories to be had, fun being creepy and disturbing, so general horror anime fans will find a good number of them here enjoyable. My not being a huge horror anime fan or an Ito fan made me connect less with this title because it is the kind of project where it just swaps everything out every episode and you went in new, so there was no deeper narrative to work which I think it needed. Funimation’s release is solid enough overall with a good looking set that captures the look of the source materials and a dub that captures the material well.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: May 28th, 2019
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.