Gyo was a horror manga written by Ito Junji. He’s known for his horror works like Umazaki & Tomie. Gyo was written in the very early 2000s. The anime adaptation was released in 2012, roughly a decade after the manga ended. It was brought to us by Ufotable. We’ve seen them before with such works as Fate/Zero, Kara no Kyoukai, Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight & Tales of Zestiria. How do they handle Ito Junji’s breed of horror, usually involving fucked up body stuff? Let’s have a look and judge.
We open with a trio of young ladies, Kaori, Erika & Aki enjoying a nice graduation trip to Okinawa where nothing bad could possibly happen, right? Unsurprisingly, things don’t stay peaceful. The three arrive at the house they’re staying in and smell something rancid. Someone opened a McDonalds across the street. Actually, it’s the smell of rotting flesh and, surprisingly, it’s completely unrelated to fast food. Something darts around their feet. Kaori manages to push a dresser into it, splattering blood everywhere. To their surprise, they find a fish that seems to have borrowed technology from Mojo. Better call Longshot. They’re freaked out but not too worried. Then things get worse. The streets are flooded with walking fish and people are dying and it’s not just Okinawa. They seem to be spreading all over Japan. Kaori runs back to Tokyo to try and find her boyfriend while her friends stay behind because the house can surely protect them… The one that’s been breached twice at that point. Safest option ever.
The biggest narrative issue here is just that a lot of the story is very formulaic. The peaceful setting that gets overrun by something sinister. The emergency back home that forces the protagonist to risk greater danger and the fairly predictable obstacles that she encounters on her way. The beats are familiar which does detract from the impact of the events.
Then we have the premise. On one hand, fish with mechanical legs attacking Japan is, on the surface, pretty damn goofy. It’s not nearly as absurd as the idea of a shark tornado but it’s still ridiculous. However, Ito manages to take that silly premise and make it kind of intense. The narrative doesn’t afford you any real opportunities to laugh at the absurdity of the premise because there’s constantly something grotesque, creepy or otherworldly happening. All while managing to be paced pretty well. Ultimately, that’s the biggest strength of Gyo. The strength of its execution and pacing because pulling off a premise this silly even somewhat competently in a horror work isn’t easy. I also do appreciate that there is effort put into explaining the basics of how this situation happened while leaving some supernatural elements intact. Because there’s no way you’re explaining this with no supernatural elements.
The characters are something of a problem in this. Let’s start with Kaori and her friends. The first issue here is that they really don’t come across as much of friends. We’re supposed to believe that they’re the bosomiest of bosom buddies but pretty much the first thing we see is Erika trying to ditch the other two so that she can fool around with random blokes and they just generally act more like people who can basically tolerate one another with some effort than the types of friends you’d actually expect to see take a trip together. We also have the motivations. Let’s look at Aki specifically for this one. When Kaori is going back to Tokyo she stays behind with Erika even though evidence suggests that she can’t stand Erika at that point. Why doesn’t she just go back with Kaori then? And then she gets mad because Kaori left her alone with Erika even though there’s no reason given for why she couldn’t have just gone back. Kaori herself is just a bland character. And her boyfriend is basically a non-character but her search for him also, unfortunately, drives a lot of the narrative and serves as her primary motivation.
Ito has a talent for taking something ordinary and innocuous & twisting it into something disturbingly grotesque. Which is something that Gyo manages to portray pretty well. It’s not his absolute best, that still goes to superimposing pregnant women and mosquitoes. The deformations in this little OVA are gruesome & disturbing, though. The animation itself flows very well. The action is quickly moving while possessing impact and it manages to convey the chaotic atmosphere while still being easy to follow.
Most of the cast in this is perfectly passable. Not exactly good, but decent enough. The problem is that our main actress, Kataoka Mirai, gives a performance that seems completely devoid of actual effort. Her delivery reminds me of a student reading off of the script while trying to get a role in a school play. When the student in question was dragged in by their friend and doesn’t really want to be there. Could they not be bothered to give this poor woman some direction? Shiina Go’s soundtrack is actually quite good. He does a good job of matching his tracks to the atmosphere. Which does help things come across as creepier than they might have otherwise.
There isn’t any to be found.
Gyo could have been a solid OVA. It has some narrative issues but the execution is quite good. The atmosphere works nicely. The artwork really matches Ito Junji’s style. Unfortunately, the bland characters result in the piece lacking any real tension and Kataoka’s poor performance also holds the work back. It ends up being a decent enough spectacle and even worth watching just for those elements that do work but it’s not great or even particularly good. My final rating is going to stand at a 6/10. Next week I’ll continue horror month with a look at Kowabon and then we’ll finish this year’s horror month with a look at Elfen Lied.