Twisted horror

Icon Juni Ito's surreal tales are recreated in a new animation series that will make you reflect

A scene from the Hanging Balloon episode.

No matter if you are a fan of manga or how familiar you are with Juni Ito's past work, you must have at least seen his artwork somewhere over the years whether it's on a poster or a print on a T-shirt. As his works are cult phenomena worldwide, one of the biggest streaming platforms is now shining a light on them.

Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales Of The Macabre is a 12-episode animated anthology series of various bizarre, disturbing and twisted tales based on the works of the infamous horror manga artist himself. Ito has been writing stories for decades at this point, and he's accumulated a vast body of work, and so far, I have yet to discover a single story large or small that hasn't only fascinated and horrified me but also had me cackling with demonic glee. Each episode is about 25 minutes, and some encompass two stories within one, which means we basically get about 20 different stories by the legendary artist.

First of all, I like the anime style in this show and although it is not as graphic and intense as the manga version of Ito, it still looks impressive. I like how mutilated a lot of the stories are when it comes to colours. The drabness somehow makes the stories bleak and foreboding, which is an excellent thing to feel when watching horror. Not only is this animation for people who enjoy a really twisted mind and sadistic sense of humour, but it's also for people who respect a wildly original storyteller. When you've been watching a lot of Western films and television for many years, it could start to seem very tiring and familiar or easy to get cynical and have this "I've been there and done that" kind of attitude. But as a fan of horror and mystery stories, going into Junji Ito Maniac is like a breath of fresh air. There are new ideas and an endless ocean of new storytelling experiences that you may have never seen before. In each episode, you will find enough ideas to fuel an entire franchise from Blumhouse or A24 movies.

However, I won't claim that every single episode of this series is created equal. Sometimes you'll have an amazing one combined with a lacklustre one, all in a 25-minute episode. The soundtrack for instance sometimes feels quite odd, like an upbeat and fun intro song, which doesn't necessarily blend with the creepy vibes of the show. Nor does the polyphony-type track for the closing credits. The mood of these songs not only contrast, but the series itself does not feel horror, so it made me wonder what the showrunners actually wanted to do with this series. And for those who aren't familiar with Ito's style, you may find these stories a bit half-baked with abrupt beginnings or endings. Many of these are bite-sized experiences and as such, there's not an awful lot of depth to them to be analytically extracted. They've come from the selection of his manga, and the majority of the strength comes from the unsettling visuals as opposed to anything majorly character-led or story-driven.

(Photos © NETFLIX)

Most episodes in Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales Of The Macabre are not connected, but those end segments kind of bridge together. Many involve a person or a group of people discovering something sinister and supernatural somewhere before falling victim to it. There are some episodes which have a comedic effect, but generally speaking, it's a fairly serious show. There are quite a few episodes that I found interesting such as Episode 1, The Strange Hikizuri Siblings. That might have been the funniest premise because it captures very familiar dysfunctional family dynamics that just about anybody can enjoy. The Story Of The Mysterious Tunnel is about a group of friends who enter a mysterious tunnel.

A strong contender for the most disturbing of all the episodes is Hanging Balloon, where you basically have large balloons that resemble people's heads that float up to you with a noose that will try to kill you. If you decide to do anything to harm the balloon, like one guy shooting a crossbow, the person that resembles the face on the balloon withers away and dies. So basically, all of Japan is under lockdown. Now as I was watching it, I was terrified and amazed by the concept. It's just so bleak and dystopian.

However, it can be very challenging to do an emotional reset after watching a lot of these stories. While it is not as bad as when you go to a film festival and you're having to watch 20 unrelated short films in a row, you're constantly having to do that emotional reset. Either the episodes aren't as good, or you may need some time to reflect on the story you just saw.

I don't recommend people binge the whole thing all at once. Perhaps watch an episode or two. Leave it alone for a while then come back to it. That way I believe it will have a more emotional impact. Also, do yourself a favour and watch it in Japanese with subtitles as you're just not getting the full experience with Thai or English dubs.

  • Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales Of The Macabre
  • Voiced by Takahiro Sakura, Romi Park, Hisako Kanemoto, Yoko Hikasa
  • Created by Junji Ito
  • Now streaming on Netflix

Do you like the content of this article?