What’s Going On With Uzumaki, the Upcoming Junji Ito-Inspired Anime?

In August 2019, Adult Swim’s anime-focused offshoot, Toonami, announced an anime adaptation of Junji Ito’s legendary horror classic, Uzumaki. The mini-series was set for release in 2020, however, by September of that year, they would reveal that the COVID-19 pandemic had delayed its production and consequently needed to push the release date back to 2021.

Last June, Hiroshi Nagahama, the director of Uzumaki, reached out to fans via Adult Swim’s YouTube channel to apologize for this string of setbacks and “ask for [their] patience just a little more.” Nagahama went on to state, after revealing a snippet from the show, that he hoped “to be able to share more clips down the road”. The series has now been scheduled for release in October 2022.

However, after many months, very little else has been revealed. These delays are not unique, with many anime studios being affected by COVID-19, but it seems curious as to why more has not been shown at this point in time. As there is just a short period of time until the series’ release, it wouldn’t be unfair to suggest that more delays are likely on the horizon. Yet, this isn’t the biggest concern that people should have for this upcoming series. The original manga spans twenty chapters, but the show will consist of just four episodes. Although fans will undoubtedly be reassured by Ito’s involvement and his statement that the production team has done “a good job of rearranging the series”, it is clear that dramatic alterations have been made.

In an interview with Crunchyroll, the mangaka revealed that a character who dies early in the original story (possibly Shuichi’s father) would now play a major role within the upcoming series. Revisions do not doom a show to failure, however the number of adjustments that are likely going to have to be made to convey the manga’s overarching story is worrying. While many of the elements that have been exhibited so far are highly promising, from its exquisite use of black and white imagery to Colin Stetson’s eerily effective score, all of this will be for nothing if Uzumaki's story isn’t accurately and effectively executed.

Past adaptations of Ito’s work have often been commercially unsuccessful. The live-action renditions of GYO, Uzumaki and Tomie would fail to live up to expectations and receive poor ratings from both audience members and critics alike. The release of the Junji Ito Collection would similarly fail to impress, with many fans commenting on the show's subpar animation and the poor choice of Ito’s stories.

This streak of disappointments has often left fans wondering if it is even possible to recreate these horror classics. The process of converting manga into anime can be considered a tried and tested convention, but some works simply don’t translate properly. This can often be due to poor directorial decisions (i.e. The Promised Neverland’s second season, in which huge chunks of the manga were removed) to subpar animation. However, there are arguably even more fundamental reasons as to why Junji Ito’s omnibus of work remains difficult to adapt.

Unlike many other genres, horror is deeply psychological and introspective. Although Ito’s work is certainly a visual experience, it too is a cerebral one. This lends itself to the manga tradition as it enables readers to more easily take a pause and allow their imaginations to wander through the possibilities and sublime horrors that the author has set out. Ultimately, no matter how well-paced an anime’s interpretation may be, it will never be able to achieve the degree of contemplation that the manga format allows for.

However, Hiroshi Nagahama and the rest of Uzumaki's production team appear to have a deep respect for source material and the trailer, although very short, does truly reflect this. While the lack of updates or upload of clips is certainly frustrating for those itching to see how the show is developing, it is understandable under the circumstances.

The past few years have placed many studios into a state of chaos and this has left the deadlines for several anime to extend far past what some might have originally anticipated. Even without these exceptional happenings, Toonami would likely still find difficulty in showing fans more content from the series. Ultimately, the premise of any horror production is to scare its audience and create a sense of mystery, if too much is revealed then these foundations will inevitably crumble.

Hopefully, fans will be able to enjoy the show by October 2022, but whether the quality of the product will live up to expectations still remains to be seen. However, if Nagahama and Toonami succeed in creating the authentic Junji Ito experience that they have aspired to, then they will almost certainly be rewarded by this manga’s fans for many years to come.

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