Junji Ito’s Maniac: hit or miss but still an incredibly disaffecting experience

Not every story lands well, but those that do are unforgettable.

by Justin Choo

There is a certain je ne sais quoi about Junji Ito’s work. So much so that Netflix thought it was worth a gamble to bring his macabre stories to life.

The stories that makeup Maniac aren’t as much horror as they are disaffecting, and Ito’s genius lies in his ability to create a sense of discomfort and unease with merely pen and paper. Ito has an uncanny knack for conceptualising a captivating premise, though oftentimes the story plays second fiddle.

Perhaps this is why Maniac is a hit-or-miss affair, because not all stories translate well beyond visual concepts on paper to screen–sometimes the power of suggestion alone is what sells, which Ito does very well with his unique talents.

If anything, a side-by-side comparison of both source material and the adaptation demonstrates why Maniac isn’t necessarily an upgrade or a more compelling way to showcase Ito’s twisted vision.

Perhaps sometimes, a disturbing, static bit of iconography is more potent than one in motion; its fleeting movement castrates the power of a single image. That is particularly evident in The Story of the Mysterious Tunnel, which loses its impact because of necessary changes in the adaptation.

Some stories fared a little better in the transition, like Hanging Balloon and Long Hair in the Attic, suggesting that a more prudent choice of stories with the right visual elements might be the key, rather than attempting an inspired retelling. Others, like Tomb Town, Headless Statue and Layers of Terror, stand alone perfectly well without needing strong visual accents. And despite its simplicity, The Bully will probably be one of the most unforgettable stories in the series.

Unfortunately, Maniac isn’t quite the best way to experience Junji Ito’s work for the first time. But watching it along with manga in hand is certainly a great way to appreciate how incredibly nuanced the manga form can be.

  • 6.5/10
    Junji Ito's Maniac - 6.5/10

Junji Ito's Maniac

Not all of the selected stories translate well to animation, but there are some moments where they nail it. Wish there were more, though.

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