Netflix’s Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre Review

Even as someone who isn’t too familiar with the works of legendary Japanese horror manga writer/artist Junji Ito, known for Tomie and Uzumaki, Netflix’s new anime series based on his stories definitely caught my eye. A horror anime series based on the work of an icon of the genre like Ito would be tough to pass up for any horror fan, let alone myself. However, this adaptation doesn’t always manage to maintain initial intrigue.

Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre is a collection of Ito’s short stories, including “Hanging Balloon” and “Tomie,” that touch on different subgenres of horror, ranging from the unsettling supernatural to mind-bending body horror. While each story delves into different horror atmospheres, tones, and narratives, they all share an art style that’s kind of nostalgic and fitting. Personally, it feels like an updated style of the animation seen in Perfect Blue and other anime films and shows from that time. There’s a certain darkness and grounded feel that’s evoked from it that elevates the haunting nature of Ito’s stories. When there is 3D animation used, it can be a little off-putting or look just plain bad. However, when Maniac sticks to its distinct art style, it can have downright terrifying visuals.

From a growing faction of floating heads that seek to hang people on their dangling ropes to some skin-peeling, bone-breaking body horror that would make even a master like David Cronenberg cringe, Maniac holds nothing back in bringing Ito’s vision for horror to life. It’s really nice how each story has its own feel to it and the sub-genres the series highlights are pretty diverse. The story it opens on, “The Strange Hikizuri Siblings,” has the vibes of an anime Addams Family and there are others that feel deeply original with some of psychological and physical horrors they unleash.

“Hanging Balloon” and “Tomb Town” offer great stories about death that are thrilling to see unfold while still delivering some shocking body horror. “Tomie” mostly lives up to its legacy as one of Ito’s most prolific stories with the wild third act it presents. Plus, there are plenty of stories shown that have chilling atmospheres, like “Mold” and “Four x Four Walls,” that bring viewers into a slow-growing, claustrophobic nightmare. Overall, it’s a good collection of horror stories that’ll easily please fans of the genre.

Unfortunately, there are some weak aspects that do hold the series back from being a pure horror haven. Now, it should be noted that I did watch the series with an English-dub, so it’s possible that the dialogue would come off differently. However, the dialogue in the series is very stiff and can be incredibly redundant. Characters often overexplain things that are happening right in front of them and the way they speak doesn’t feel normal. Don’t get me wrong, the style of dialogue seen in this series isn’t too out of the ordinary for Japanese writing, but it doesn’t create a smooth experience or presentation of the material.

Most of the time, it just feels like time is being wasted because characters are just describing stuff that’s already clear to the audience. To be fair, it is worth noting that the voice acting is honestly really good and helps make the emotions and personas of characters stand out. However, it’s not enough to stop the rough dialogue from affecting the pacing and overall viewing experience. These stories also can feel a little incomplete at times with their sudden ends. Most, if not all, the stories end on big cliffhangers that come too abruptly leaving things on an unsatisfying note. It’s a constant problem that makes some stories super lackluster and really affects the more concept-heavy stories that don’t feature a strong character-driven narrative. Some of them, like “Ice Cream Bus” and “The Sandman’s Lair,” also feel too thin and don’t fully capitalize on the horrifying nature of their stories because they aren’t given the time to fully develop.

So, while Maniac is worth checking out for horror fans, especially for fans of Ito, simply because it’s a visually strong horror anime series with some intriguing horror stories, it has elements that keep it from living up to its potential. The incompleteness of some its stories and uneven dialogue make Maniac a bit of an inconsistent watch. Yet, there’s still some haunting and unique about Maniac that’ll keep horror fans invested throughout each tale.


Watch the Trailer Here:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s