2013 was an interesting year in terms of anime that were released. Some were more memorable than others, but it’s not every year that the industry decides to take a jab at something obscure. While a lot more infamous for its grotesque imagery, Pupa‘s original anime adaptation drew a short stick when only a fraction of the manga’s original storyline was kept in mind during its initial premiere.
Siblings Utsutsu and Yume Hasegawa are high school students that only have each other after being abandoned by their parents. Mysterious red butterflies begin making appearances in their everyday lives’ until Yume’s true nature spirals out of control, as she’s overcome with the cannibalistic Pupa virus. Resolved to stay by his sister’s side, Utsutsu takes it upon himself to act as personal cattle for Yume, after gaining regenerative abilities from said virus.
Lack Of Substance
During its initial run, Pupa only had a compilation of twelve four-minute episodes with little to no context and heavy censorship that left viewers confused and agitated. The uncomfortable relationship between the two main characters hadn’t been cast aside, however – though what made it so disturbing wasn’t fully incorporated into the anime adaptation. After Utsutsu dies trying to save her from an accident during their childhood, Yume uses her inhuman abilities to resurrect him – creating a relationship in which he becomes bonded to her.
With this in addition to the fact that she is an insect-like monster, who’s taking the form of a human to pose as his sister leaves room for speculation: what does Yume see him as? Does Utsutsu truly “love” his sister or is his mind just enslaved? The anime never covers this important plot point, as it only jumps from one story arc to the next without any context or proper transition.
The Pupa virus can’t go without mentioning, either. Despite the series’ name, Pupa‘s anime adaptation barely glosses over what exactly “pupa” refers to. In the manga, it’s explained that among millennia, there were two insect-like creatures that were mates, until their livelihoods were threatened, and only one managed to escape from being experimented on.
As the story progresses, the viewer builds up an awareness of the identity of the monsters and how they correlate to what’s happening. The character, Yuu is arguably the most vital aspect of the storyline, as his relationship with Yume is quite essentially the larvae of the pupa that is the overarching plot. The studio’s decision to write him out left Pupa without a story, and without a story, they had to rely on other things to fill in the blanks.
Horror That Isn’t Scary
The original horror aspect of the manga was lost to Studio Deen’s decision to focus solely on shock value, rather than adapting the surrealism that the manga was best known for. Sayaka Motegi’s artstyle is quite unique in the way that she utilizes watercolor effects with a pastel-like palate – and while the anime did incorporate a watercolor-like aesthetic, the execution still fell flat.
The biggest part about Pupa that made it so scary, was the progression of Utsutsu’s deteriorating mental state the more he was exposed to Yume’s true form. As his life went from relatively normal as a high school student caring for his sister, his ever-growing distrust of the adults around him and reliance on her made him into an unstable personality. At one point, he imagines his past self looking down on what he’s become, unable to cope with the reality that he has too, become a monster.
The concept of fear also plays a part in the manga’s narrative. Utsutsu’s fears are what drive him insane: his fear of his abusive father, the fear of losing his sister, the fear of becoming something inhuman, and the fear of the unknown. Each story arc is centered around a fear and is explored through the series of events. Even in a fictional setting, fear can destroy anyone. When one is living in fear, one will look to anything for comfort.
Where Its Potential Lies
Not all is lost, however, as there were a handful of elements the adaptation got right. Maria’s involvement as a mad scientist enamored with the pupa virus was presented in such a way that still made her interesting. If anything, her character was the only consistency in the show.
Aesthetic-wise, the animators’ decision to keep the stuffed bears that represented the characters during internal monologues, was a nice touch. The soundtrack in addition, while not particularly noteworthy was true to its tone, and was used sparingly. Should it be given another chance, Pupa would surely be able to find its place in the hearts of contemporary horror lovers worldwide.
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