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Uzumaki Could Be the Most Faithful Manga Adaptation Ever

No announcement at Crunchyroll Expo 2019 stirred up as much excitement as the reveal of Adult Swim's four-episode anime Uzumaki, an adaptation of Junji Ito's celebrated horror manga of the same name. Ito's profile in the West has grown significantly in recent years, with Viz releasing fancy editions of his translated works and his beautifully twisted artwork recognizable even to comics fans who don't follow manga. Having Adult Swim's marketing muscle and Hereditary composer Colin Stetson doing the soundtrack attracted non-otaku press to cover the announcement.

The announcement trailer doesn't show much footage from the actual show itself. Much of the still imagery shown in the trailer is just screen grabs from the manga, and only a few seconds are actually animated. Those brief snippets of animation, however, are striking for just how faithfully they capture the manga's art style, including one aspect nearly every manga adaptation since TV went to color hasn't bothered with: recreating the manga's black-and-white imagery.

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Uzumaki Adult Swim

In general, anime is a very colorful artform while manga is the opposite. Unlike most American comics, almost every manga is printed in black-and-white, aside from cover illustrations and maybe the first few pages of the opening chapter. Keeping the Uzumaki anime black-and-white just like the manga is an inspired decision, lending the whole affair an eerie Eraserhead-type vibe. Considering Junji Ito's manga tends to be focused more on visuals than anything else and that Ito has a history of poorly-animated adaptations (the Junji Ito Collection anime was a major disappointment), it's refreshing that this adaptation is focused on recreating the manga's visual strengths.

It's possible this approach is a response of sorts to criticism of director Hiroshi Nagahama's Flowers of Evil anime. That series proved highly controversial for completely discarding the art style of the manga. Instead of cute, traditionally anime-style characters, the characters were rotoscoped from live actors. The effect was fitting in regards to providing an Uncanny Valley effect for the psychological horror series, but it was so radically different from the source material's art that it upset many manga fans. Doing another horror series now, Nagahama is going with the opposite approach in terms of visual faithfulness, while achieving the same effect of making something that's both incredibly creepy and wildly different from any other anime being made today.

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Uzumaki Adult Swim spirals

So we know that Uzumaki is going to be perhaps the most visually faithful manga adaptation ever made. The big question is how narratively faithful it will be. The Uzumaki manga is about 600 pages and 19 chapters (plus a "lost chapter"). Adapting it into just four half-hour episodes, each fitting in the contents of around four or five chapters, could be a challenge (it would also be the opposite of Flowers of Evil's extremely slow pacing).

Toonami producer Jason DeMarco said on Twitter that while some streamlining will be done, much of the original manga's story will be preserved. Considering that much of the early part of the manga is essentially a series of vignettes, an assortment of different spooky spiral-themed tales, it's just as easy to imagine how some could be end be cut without impacting the overall plot as it is to think it could be possible to fly through a bunch of them at a fast pace without losing impact. Look at Adult Swim's The Shivering Truth, which tells an assortment of disconnected horror stories in an even more limited runtime, to see how moving fast doesn't have to make things any less scary.

We'll find out sometime in 2020 just how well Uzumaki makes the jump from page to screen. Early indications give us reason to hope for an amazingly adapted success. If it fails, we blame Jason DeMarco for messing up the shrine ritual to prevent the show from getting cursed.

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