Angels of Death Episode 2: When It Feels Like You Are Watching A Play Through Rather Than An Anime

While the first episode of Angels of Death was intriguing in its atmosphere, episode 2 kind of just walks us through a level with mediocre results.

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Continuing on directly from the end of episode 1, episode 2 ends with Zack refusing to kill Rachel because of the bored look on her face but promises to kill her if she can show him a better look. Then changes his mind and promises to do so if she helps him leave the building (though apparently he entered it voluntarily because he was told he could kill people). It is all a bit convoluted and unexplained and the mysterious announcements have kind of disappeared and in exchange we have Rachel finding notes from an unnamed giggler who won’t show up until the end of the episode.

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What this means is we spend most of this episode listening to Rachel make some sort of observation about the world, Zack react, usually over the top angrily with a snarl in his voice, Rachel calmly explain something, and then they go to look at the next thing. It’s all very much like watching someone play a really dull point and click adventure and all of the tension and atmosphere that was kind of promised in episode one has evaporated entirely. Which of course isn’t helped along by Zack who rotates between dumb, loud and violent, or suspicious depending on which roll of the dive the writers decided to go with for his next reaction.

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We even get a ‘cut scene’ style sequence when he goes on a rampage destroying the grave stones. I’m sure someone thought that music and laughter gave it some kind of edgy tone but mostly it was just a cringe worthy sequence in amongst what was a pretty boring episode.

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Calamity of a Zombie Girl Review: Were They Even Trying?

I don’t keep it much of a secret that I really enjoy bad horror and yet every now and then something comes along that is so lame, so incredibly poorly executed, and just has so little effort put into it that even with a receptive audience it manages to bore and be completely and totally pointless to watch. That is the real Calamity of a Zombie Girl. It isn’t that it is generic horror, it is that it is incredibly by the numbers, dull, uninspired, and ultimately a completely flat viewing experience.

However, let’s take this review step by step. I went into this with no prior knowledge, it was just another title that had popped up on Crunchyroll while I was away that I intended to catch up on. Finding out it was an ONA and a single movie seemed like it could be fun rather than another series to follow, so I went in expecting the usual lame set-up, the group of canon-fodder friends, and then some zombie hi-jinks. Which in a way I guess I did get but there’s definitely an issue of quality here.

By the way, there are spoilers below but I don’t think it matters given how predictable the show is.

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Visually, this is really ordinary. Okay, it is actually on the lower end of quality in general, though it doesn’t have so many glaring discrepancies that you could actually say it was dreadful. Still, it looks like something from at least a decade ago, if not older. Couple that with the opening credits where the sound-track from a generic black and white horror film will blare at you while you stare at incredibly dull and poor quality colour splotches with floating names and the general appearance and sound of this just isn’t going to meet the expectations of the day. While horror regularly gets away with slightly less than cutting edge visuals and sound, I think even the least discerning viewer is going to want better than what is on offer here.

The story itself if probably the only reasonable part of this, provided you judge it by standard B Grade horror standards. Group of friends break into a storeroom looking for a rumoured treasure when one of them steals something from inside a mummy (as you do). The mummy and the mummy’s companion maid both wake up and are determined to get the stolen item back and thus begins a night of a deadly zombie rampage. Because they are zombies, not mummies. They just happened to be mummified zombies for reasons that will get explained though still don’t really add a lot to the plot so you may as well just go with that part. Throw in a teacher who is also involved in the theft and has his own agenda and you’ve got your basic horror plot all laid out and you won’t get too many surprises along the way. If they’d just done a better job of executing it there is no reason why this shouldn’t have worked.

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Alas, the characters are all from start to finish dreadful. While canon-fodder characters are generally made to either be pathetic or unlikable so that the audience doesn’t get too choked up when they die ingloriously (in fact I think they design horrible characters on purpose so that there is actually a sense of joy when they finally get knocked off), the characters here are too inconsistent, too uninteresting, and ultimately nothing is done to make us want to care about a single one of them (whether to feel sorry for or happy for them when they die).

Abe is described by plenty of other characters as arrogant or egotistical but little of that comes across. His character defining moment was bargaining for his life by essentially throwing his companions under a bus right before he got crushed by an exploding wall and then a toilet was thrown at him causing his head to turn to mush just for good measure. This definitely reminded me of the lawyer on the toilet seat in Jurassic Park only much less interesting. See, the lawyer had actually served a bit of a plot point up to here and we knew a bit about him, and while he was a lawyer and did abandon Lex and Tim, he was a person with goals and a personality. Abe is a guy who breaks into a storeroom after an internet site tells him there is treasure, drinks a lot, feels up a girl and uses something he saw about her a reason to threaten her, and then ultimately becomes a complete coward in the face of death. Abe is a caricature of a human and not once does the audience feel anything but disgust toward him. However it is so heavy handed in its delivery that we can’t even get that moment of happiness at seeing his demise because all I was thinking about as he hit the wall the first time was that something more was going to happen to him, and then they threw a toilet at him.

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The other characters are all much the same. I don’t even remember the name of the guy whose only purpose seems to be to have picked the lock, but on seeing a pretty girl he immediately tells the school groundskeeper about the entire break in and who was involved, never once considering that he was firstly admitting to a crime and secondly selling out every one of his friends. It was such a stupid scene and his death was equally stupid and drawn out.

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Kung-fu girl involved herself in a long and pointless fight and had plenty of opportunities to get away, but continued to pointlessly fight. What made this worse was the audience knew the whole time that the zombie girl could have turned the tables but just kind of played along, making the entire sequence just dull. Then we got the extreme end where zombie girl loses her temper and literally swings the other girl around like a rag-doll, conveniently tearing her clothes and exposing her breasts before she is smashed into the ground and thrown off a cliff.

And so things continue in an utterly uninteresting way right to the end where we get yet another smack down between two zombies.

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All and all, this one is filled with gore, brain and ear eating, full nudity for the female cast (and just brainlessness for the male cast members), violence for the sake of it, and very little to recommend it because despite having everything in it that it needs to be a standard bad horror, it actually isn’t entertaining in the slightest.

In case you hadn’t noticed,  I really didn’t much like this one. But if you happened to put yourself through it, I’d love to know your thoughts so leave me a comment below.


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Karandi James

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Tokyo Ghoul:Re Series Review: This Franchise Demonstrates How Not To Adapt Something

Given I stopped doing episode reviews after episode 4, it should be fairly clear that this anime didn’t really do much for me. And normally I would just drop it and call it a day, but I decided to finish watching it. Mostly because the madness of creating an anime season that follows on from the manga but not the previous anime season just struck me as being a particularly harsh slap in the face for anime fans.

Review:

Let’s get the biggest point out of the way and then I can get on with reviewing this somewhat troubled narrative on its own merit, or lack of it, rather than the perceived slight of being literally dropped into the middle of a mess without any attempt to bridge where anime viewers were left after the previous season and where this began. I actually do get that a lot of anime exists just to sell manga or for fans of the source material. That’s all fine. But I have to wonder if even fans of the manga are happy by how this played out. It isn’t as though they can watch the anime from start to finish and get a coherent story. Instead they’ll get an introduction, a trainwreck of original material and then a jarring leap back to the source. Without heavy reliance on the source there is genuinely no way to follow this leap because characters aren’t where they were and half of them are either unknown or poorly introduced. As someone who never read the manga, I can assure you it is incomprehensible without at least some reading on various wikis and fan sites.

And that is not okay.

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Who is entertained by this? Anime viewers can’t possibly be because this franchise has no rewatch on its own without using the manga as a bridge. Manga fans may as well just read the manga because at least the story might be cohesive rather than what this presented. This is possibly the worst decision they could have made. A full reboot would have been better. A filler original series to somehow skew events back in line with the manga might have satisfied. Honestly, a ten minute character narration explaining events from point A to B would have been something.

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But no. That kind of courtesy is apparently not given when there is a clear expectation by producers that people will watch this franchise regardless of what dribble they drop on them. And given I watched it all the way through, I can’t say they were wrong. And yet, I know on hearing the announcement that Re was getting a second season, my only thought was that I was done. I have no desire to revisit this franchise. Not even the first season which I actually quite liked. And that lack of desire for more comes from the issues in this story on its own rather than from the annoyance that they did nothing to soften the jarring change in narrative for anime fans.

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Standing on its own, Tokyo Ghoul Re is riddled with issues. The central conceit that Haise has no memories of who he is and somehow this is a journey to find himself is poorly executed at best. With a visible transference of hair colour to indicate his current mental state (something that doesn’t play well given Kaneki’s hair went white due to trauma and that is a believable phenomenon whereas hair changing back from white sure isn’t) essentially everything about this struggle is blunt forced into the story bringing the current action sequence to a screeching halt while Haise/Kaneki play around in mental la-la land.

While it might be argued this mirrors Kaneki’s original transformation with Rize acting as a guide, this lacks any of the finesse or poignancy of that encounter. Superficially it is much the same and yet it is inelegant and, to be perfectly honest, quite dull to watch play out.

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Equally, the new characters introduced under Haise’s care are incredibly flat and one dimensional. They barely get screen time and when they do it is to the detriment of the story. And while some new bit players isn’t the worst thing Tokyo Ghoul drops on its audience, it seems it doesn’t realise that nobody cares about these characters building to what is set up as a tragic moment during its final episode that falls flat because to be perfectly frank I was more than happy to see that particular character bite the dust. I only wondered why more hadn’t joined him.

They are clutter and distractions from the older cast members who really just make cameo appearances. Arima gets talked about a lot but barely appears on screen. Touka shows up briefly and Haise gets all teary, but nothing ever comes out of this sequence. He then just moves on. Tsukiyama spends the majority of his time being crazy for reasons unclear to anime only viewers, and then his fate makes up the majority of the final battle sequence and I’m still not sure why anything about that plot line mattered.

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Basically, this entry into the franchise lacks any kind of central theme or driving force. Done better, Haise’s identity might have carried the episodes, but it really didn’t have anywhere near enough power to do that in its current state. And there’s literally nothing else. They go out. They investigate ghouls. They fight. Occasionally a ghoul investigator gets killed (or lots do) and everyone acts all outraged. There are some large scale fights with even more ridiculous antics going on than earlier seasons and none of them look very good.

I guess if you are a really big fan of this franchise there might be something here to cling to, but I didn’t find it. I watched the final scenes play out and breathed a sigh of relief that I was done. So clearly I’m not recommending it.


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Angels of Death Episode 1: Here’s This Season’s Edgy Show

Rachel has woken up in a strange building without much in the way of memories. After talking to a type-writer she gets into the elevator just as she hears an announcement that calls the girl in the basement a sacrifice. After that, things get weird.

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There’s something inherently creepy about hospitals, basements, and isolation and Angels of Death capitalises on all of these elements to set up what could be quite an interesting story. The problem being that so far the two encounters Rachel has had with other characters has them being comically over the top in their psychotic natures to the point where any tension that may have been constructed by the setting and some of the interesting visual choices is more or less instantly shattered.

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That isn’t to say that there might not be some fun to be had with this series. But for something labelled as psychological horror I’d kind of want a little bit more than the cackling scythe wielding guy seems to offer or the duplicitous doctor that doesn’t do such a great job of keeping his crazy in check.

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Still, with a setting this interesting, I’m willing to give the show a little more time to set up its story and to see where this intends to go. There was a lot of chatter about this one prior to the season and while I have attempted to avoid spoilers I must admit I’m a little curious. However, judging this episode on its own, it is fairly average. Great setting and establishment of atmosphere, fairly ordinary to poor characterisation so far.

What do you think of this first episode of Angels of Death?


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Karandi James

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Shiki Series Review

This is a re-post. All reviews from the 2nd of July until the 7th of July will be reruns. New episode and series reviews will resume on the 8th of July.

Overview:

Shiki is a horror (?) anime that came out in 2010. It is set in a small isolated village called Sotoba where life goes on the same way everyday despite the number of characters that seem dissatisfied with their everyday life. The story begins with the disappearance of Megumi, a girl who is desperate to leave the village and to shine in a big city one day. We soon learn of the events leading up to her disappearance and follow the villagers as they slowly become aware of the danger surrounding them.


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Review:

There seem to be three views on Shiki that I have commonly encountered:

  • It’s boring and nothing happens.
  • It reignites classic horror.
  • It’s a great character piece that then throws itself under a bus for a gore filled ending.

The problem is you can’t actually disagree with any of these positions as you can see the reasoning for each. I loved Shiki. I fell in love with the characters and the community and the way the individual struggles play out even while the horror slowly consumes the village. I feel there’s a lot we can take from this in terms of the way we all get too involved in our own individual problems and lose sight of the bigger picture, much to our detriment and the detriment of the world at large.

So here is my attempt at reviewing Shiki; examining the good and the bad and ultimately my reason why I would strongly recommend this as at least a once watch.

Characters:

Shiki has a really large cast. You have the elderly villagers who either sit gossiping at the bus stop or go about their jobs. You have the children and teens trudging to school or pursuing their individual dreams. You have the police, the council, the doctors, the tradesmen, the priests and on and on it goes. What I love is that despite the small amount of time devoted to these characters, they seem genuine. You feel like you could go to this village and meet these people.

Natsuno shines as the teen dragged from the city by his parents. His only desire is to finish school and get into college so he can leave the village. His cold views and analysis of other characters regularly puts him on the wrong side of an argument but he is a fascinating character to watch, particularly in the latter half of the series.

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Muroi and Ozaki as the priest and the doctor to a wonderful job of creating opposing moral views on how to deal with the invasion of the village. Both ideals are flawed and neither side is really willing to compromise leading to the very tragic events at the end of the series. It’s interesting that Ozaki seems like the voice of reason for so much of the series but by the end becomes completely consumed by violence and Muroi who tries to sit on the fence is pushed into actions against other humans even as he realises he is in the wrong.

There are also some fantastic performances by the vampires (sorry, shiki) but it’s hard to really get into those characters without giving the plot away too much and in a horror/mystery you really don’t want to know too much about where it is going.

But if the characters are the strength of the series, they are also what ultimately bring it down. The journey you go with these characters is long and you feel you know them, so as reason is tossed aside and they become involved in increasingly violent acts it can make you uncomfortable. Characters who are set up as good or nice meet tragic ends for no other reason than to play on the audience’s emotions and barbaric characters are seemingly glorified at times. As for the main cast members, none of them could actually be described  as the hero of the piece. They are all just deeply flawed humans acting in their own self interest. While there is a great message in that, it does leave the audience with no one to really support during the final stages of the anime.

Plot:

I’ll try to avoid too many spoilers. A family of vampires have moved into the village and are using its isolated nature to their advantage as they believe no one would notice if the entire village became a vampire village. One by one the humans are dying and while at first they believe it is the work of an unusally hot season and then an epidemic, some members of the village begin to suspect more is going on.

This is a slow burning story that spends a lot of time building atmosphere and doesn’t try to do jump scares or excessive violence (though the final few episodes do become extremely gory). Creepy music, long pauses, and dialogue full of double meanings abound while actual evidence is slow coming during the first half of the series.

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Once it is finally established that vampires are in fact present in the town, there is a dramatic shift in both tone and pacing. Time is divided between the various human characters and the vampires and their actions. The similarities between the two sides are continually emphasised. Humans are faced with the prospect of killing their former loved ones (re-killing?) and the vampires are faced with the thought that they will need to kill to live. It is here we find the horror of Shiki. The questioning of the audience about what is right in such a situation. This is far more effective than any slaughter filled horror where vampires appear and devour their pray before being taken out in a shower of blood.

That said, early on you wonder why the characters are so slow to realise what is happening. You wonder what the end game could be. You also begin to wonder why the occasional absurdity is thrown in (such as the vampire run funeral which leaves the family of the deceased speechless). These moments that break the mood and disrupt the flow are frustrating. As is the ending itself. And while I won’t spoil it for those that haven’t already read about it or watched it, it just feels like they couldn’t think of any way to satisfactorily resolve the conflict.

Other:

I’ve already kind of discussed the village and its setting. The visuals are fantastic but the whole show leans towards a dark colour palette, so with the exception of Megumi  and Chizuru’s outfits, don’t expect much in the way of colour. The opening song is suitably creepy and the time skips forward and back are quite effective for showing multiple perspectives on events, and shining new light on events that you had already seen.

Verdict:

I loved Shiki. I get why other people may find it boring and may dislike the ending. But for me, it was a great journey and gave me plenty to think about, and really, I can’t think of an ending that would have been satisfying because it wasn’t that kind of anime. There wasn’t ever going to be a hero to swoop in and save the day.

What are your thoughts on Shiki? Or, what are some horror anime that have really worked for you?


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Karandi James

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Tokyo Ghoul:Re Episode 4: They All Fight

Ever have a feeling like you’ve seen something before? That’s what I’m getting from this episode of Tokyo Ghoul: Re.

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Who has time for questions such as who they are and what their purpose might be when we can plunge into an all out battle at the auction. We’ve got the doves, aogiri tree and whoever else they want to throw into the mix all just kind of going at it for about half the episode. Not that I dislike violence but there is so little reason here for it and cutting from one fight to another with a whole bunch of characters I either don’t know or don’t care about isn’t exactly a way to re-engage me with a story that threw off my interest mid-way during the second season.

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Just so you know, this guy died less than thirty seconds after this. Great introduction.

More importantly, it gives us zero reason to become invested in anything introducing a character who gets a line or two about how they are going to improve, overcome or whatever and almost immediately after cuts them down. The only real winner this week are the sound effects because squelching blood never sounded that gross.

And if you are thinking I haven’t said anything about Haise or any of the actual characters we’ve met this season, that’s because other than bait boy who was in the auction, they didn’t do anything other than run into the scene and then disappear for the rest of the run time.

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Tokyo Ghoul:Re Episode 3: The Bleak Picture Continues

They seem to be working as a team, but there are so many horrible people here all after their own goal. Seems like nothings changed with Tokyo Ghoul.

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I know this anime is just getting going and it is building to an operation that looks like it might kick these into motion, but I couldn’t help while watching this episode feeling like the thrill was just gone. I don’t care whether Haise gets his memories back at this point so there’s no emotional resonance going on when creepy prisoner guy is asking him about what he’ll do. The team themselves all have their own issues and while they might become interesting, they aren’t yet. The most action we get this episode is a door getting kicked in and there are so many characters all pushing forward with their own agenda the entire thing just kind of feels disconnected.

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None of this makes it unsalvageable, but other than people who are super thrilled just to get more Tokyo Ghoul, it would be hard to recommend this anime to anyone based on what it has delivered so far. There’s potential to be sure and it would be lovely to see it do something with its themes and ideas, though given season 1 had a fairly strong start and then still squandered it, I’m not going to be overly hopeful until this anime actually delivers an episode that is strong in its own right and not just because I want this franchise to finally deliver.

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Tokyo Ghoul:Re Episode 2: Not Kaneki Thinks He’s Happy

This second episode is painting a bit more of a bleak picture but I’m still left wondering what the point is.

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The team of not ghoul’s are given some explanation in this episode and their personalities are fleshed out a little more, and yet that is possibly to the detriment of my enjoyment considering the former Captain guy is really getting on my nerves. As is this anime’s general tendency to not have characters ask the questions that need to be asked or give the explanations that should be given. You know the doctor not recommending moving Captain guy to the third frame, might have been nice if you said why. I mean, it is pretty obvious that it is going to end poorly and possibly with him losing control, but seriously, what kind of doctor doesn’t at least explain the potential side effects of a procedure.

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Then we have Kaneki v.2 and while we still don’t know why he hasn’t got his memories, it is pretty clear that his old self is going to come back at some point. And my overall question on this whole situation is why? Why is Kaneki still alive? Why manipulate his memories? Why haven’t the others contacted him prior to now? And really, why do we as an audience need to see an overly optimistic Kaneki, again, just to watch him fall apart, again? I guess I could drop this but there’s that tiny nagging thought that maybe, just maybe this anime might be ready to address some of its bigger questions though to be honest if it doesn’t, I’m probably not going to be disappointed this time around. My expectations of Tokyo Ghoul are pretty low at this point.

What did you think of this second episode?

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Tokyo Ghoul:Re First Impressions

I wasn’t entirely convinced I wanted to go back for another round of Tokyo Ghoul but curiosity got the better of me. What did you think of this first episode?

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I’m not entirely sure what I was supposed to make of this first episode. It wasn’t bad, except that there’s been a time jump since the previous seasons and I’m not entirely sure what we’re supposed to assume has happened in the meantime. Even reading the synopsis on MAL wasn’t overly helpful though it seems clear we’re supposed to draw a few conclusions fairly quickly so I wonder if these are red-herrings or if this is a simple case of what we see is what we are going to get.

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As a brief overview, this first episode focus’ on a team of Doves who all have ghoul abilities and are clearly not exactly a functional or admired team. This might be an interesting focus or it might just be another reason to have horrible characters act horribly, and given how previous seasons of this show have gone I have a sneaking suspicion it might be the latter.

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Still, if you liked blood splatter, explosions, and characters making nasty comments right before showing us gross out visuals for the fun of it, then this isn’t a terrible first episode. It doesn’t deliver much else and we’ve barely scratched the surface of these characters (unless they all turn out to be one-note in which case we’ve met them). Definitely a wait and see but it did keep me curious enough that I’ll commit to this.

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Junji Ito Collection Series Review: Twisted Tales and Weird Delusions, But Something Is Not Quite Right

This horror anime collection was talked up a lot before the season started, but how did it go in the end? Be sure to share your thoughts on the series in the comments below.

Review:

There are many creepy moments in this animated horror collection. Some of these include body horror, disgusting imagery, blood, and just a general feeling of unease and that something is very, very wrong. Where Collection doesn’t quite succeed is in translated these into a memorable narrative that lasts beyond the initial viewing.

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Part of the issue is the format of the show itself. Trying to convey two separate tales per twenty minute episode where the cast and object of horror is completely separate from the previous story means that there is never any build up or connection made with these weird and strange events. While in written form perhaps there is more lasting impact, but in anime form, these stories simply feel like sketches or outlines of a much greater narrative we’ll never get to see.

Even the stories I quite enjoyed, such as Smashed in episode 12 or earlier stories about the doll disease or the weird neighbour, never left more than a momentary impression before they were forgotten. Other stories just never clicked in the first place because we had no reason to be invested. This was definitely the case with the circus story where mostly it just seemed random and stupid rather than in any way creepy or scary. And yet, if time were given to building up the characters and providing motives and actually fleshing out the horror (and spreading out the deaths so it wasn’t quite so in your face) there is still real potential here.

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I’ve read the argument that the point of this anime is to introduce people to Ito’s work and while it might do that the impression it leaves on those who have never read the original work is not a particularly favourable one. You would have to admit after watching this that it is neither a particularly impressive animated series or a particularly impressive advertisement for the source material, though I imagine the source material probably works quite well as some of the imagery in the anime is quite disturbing and in still images would probably be more affective.

Which leads us to the artistic choices for this series. It is very dark (visually, though the subject matter is also clearly dark), but that doesn’t really add much to the atmosphere as at times it is actually difficult to make out what we are supposed to be seeing on the screen. The characters are all very flat and dull to look at and I guess if they are standing in for Average Joe they have succeeded but you would be hard pressed to remember a one of them after the anime was done (except Souichi who most of us will just wish we didn’t remember because that giggle of his was really obnoxious).

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Where the art shines is in some of the moments of horror themselves. The creepy smile, the model, the slug emerging from the girl’s mouth, even the centipede/brain thing, are all really remarkable images that while the animation isn’t amazing, the image itself sticks. Given more time and possibly a larger budget, bringing these moments to life could have lead to something truly amazing and instead we get glimpses of genius underneath a smearing of the very ordinary.

There isn’t a lot more to say about this other than it is basically formulaic with each story setting up a character dealing with or walking into a weird situation which rapidly escalates before the story ends, sometimes without any kind of resolution. The very good thing about this is you are not compelled to watch the whole series. You really could just pick and choose individual tales to watch from the collection and enjoy them for what they are without sitting through a whole series.

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While I’m not really recommending this, I didn’t hate it. Okay, I hated one or two moments where they crossed the line from horror to disgusting for the sake of it, but for the most part I found the episodes worked well enough even if I always felt the series was somewhat lacking. If you really enjoy horror, there’s enough here to make it worth while checking out, but ultimately the potential of this show far outweighs what it delivers.

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