When adapting something like Gyo, the inevitable must be asked: Do you play it completely straight faced without a hint of irony, or do you throw a few winking nods to the audience in subtle ways? Apparently Ufotable’s approach was to imitate the most clichéd of disaster flicks and show the whole thing with hardly any intentional comedy, opting for the former method. And let it be said right here that so much went wrong… but I can’t entirely blame the studio for crapping out what they did.
For those unaware of Junji Ito’s short manga, Gyo details the invasion of dead fish on mechanical legs as they overrun land and begin inflicting all kinds of delicious body horror on the unsuspecting public. The story was as goofy as it was creepy, never allowing itself much time to take itself seriously. After all, there are only so many sea creatures you can stick on four spindly metal legs before a degree of credulity on the audience’s part is lost. On one hand, the designs of the creatures and the plot itself was as unsettling as the best of Ito’s other work, but on the other it bears the unintentional comedy that also plagued the likes of Uzumaki; if Ito ever learns to draw a surprised expression, a great gift will have been lost. It certainly doesn’t help that the second half was as unnecessarily convoluted as could be, not really building to anything good.
So naturally, if somebody wants to adapt a horror manga, Gyo probably isn’t the best choice unless the adaptation in question is a horror/comedy. Right away Ufotable shoots itself in the foot, giving itself a nasty gangrenous infection in the process, by not taking advantage of the overall tone of the story. But if it were just an issue with tone, this adaptation could still be considered good. After all, the source material didn’t seem to be able to settle on a consistent tone, and that was pretty damn enjoyable.
For the first half, you could consider it nothing but a campy disaster flick and likely wouldn’t be too far from the truth. The fish scuttle along on their legs, giant sharks eat multiple people, and there’s even a scene with tentacles for the clichéd fetishist in each of us. While there’s some unnecessarily shoehorned in drama and several liberties taken with the source material (Main character’s a girl on vacation with her friends, doctor has a much less prominent role, there’s a videographer seemingly out of nowhere), these scenes are interesting in their own bizarre, unsubtle way. But of course we have to remember that there’s a second half to accompany the first, and this is where things start to go from enjoyably bad to simply mediocre.
The plot follows that of the manga without deviating too much, but there’s too much crammed in with too little context. For instance, the circus scene felt awkward enough in the manga, but at least it was given more than three minutes of a man speaking in intermittent broken English. That’s all we get in the OVA, and then it’s promptly forgotten about never to be brought up again, as is everything else that precedes it. Something ran out, and I’m not sure it was just the budget.
Unfortunately, there’s not much to get worked up about in general. The OVA does what it does and quietly passes from memory, not leaving much of an impact one way or the other. There’s not much more to say that hasn’t been said already elsewhere; the character archetypes are extremely broadly drawn and seen in virtually any disaster film ever, the added drama is unwelcome, the animation veers between being kind of good and being utter shit, and there’s just little to recommend in general. It’s a boring hour-long distraction that I can’t in good faith even recommend as a spectacle. There’s so very little to draw from the source material that works well on screen that Ufotable can’t be entirely blamed for the result, but this will likely go down as one of the worse choices that the studio’s made.
To pithify it into something short and sweet, the Gyo OVA offers little that the manga hasn’t already done better. It bummed me out more than anything, actually, so I think I’m going to eat some ice cream and forget it even existed.