My episodic notes, reactions, and commentary from the second half of Pupa, which aired during the Winter 2014 anime season.
Everything is by and large as it was when I originally wrote them in the Hangers category when the show was airing. They have been sewn together and provided for the convenience of readers to look back on my feelings on this series specifically, without needing to click through numerous pages.
Pupa (Episode 1)
The good news for Pupa is that after multiple network issues last season, the ensuing weeks of delays and “We’ll let you know where we’re showing this as soon as we actually know ourselves” level of hiccups, it well and truly finally got itself broadcasting.
…and promptly blew all of that potential lead-in hype right out of the window.
Unlike a lot of folks, I was not really miffed by the short format running time. I watch a lot of shorts every year, and I think it is a good place for a lot of things. Two of my favorite shows of last year were shorts! So I’m with it on that front, and there are definite ways one could approach a horror series in four minutes or less chunks every week.
This, unfortunately, is not one of them. Characters are haphazardly thrown in front of the screen, multiple cuts to material being handled in the most ham fisted of ways (chief among these likely the random shot that is supposed to tell us of the abusive father of our leading kids, but is handled with all of the subtly of a Family Guy cutaway gag), and a monster that looks about as convincing as the “Oh this was actually the silliest rubber monster suit with a zipper” antagonistic force from the Doug’s Nightmare on Jumbo St. episode of, well, Doug.
And it was heavily censored to boot, with the primary gore scene of the episode covered in so many blobs of impenetrable darkness that I may as well have been sticking my hand in one of those mystery Halloween black boxes where you rummage around and try to figure out what the squishy object is. Man, if there is one thing this series potentially had going for it, it was the “Too Hot For TV” thing that likely intrigued a fair number of folks over the previous months and allowed for a lot of free word of mouth advertising, which is doubly great given that horror productions in general tend to get really minimal budgets for that kind of thing. I’d be really interested in seeing whatever the streaming numbers look like on the back end for things like Crunchyroll, as I imagine the viewership numbers are going to drop like a lead brick after this initial episode.
I’d like to think that Pupa will be improve, but, realistically this is likely not going to happen given the multiple levels of problems present in just this one showing. That’s going to be hard for it to try to overcome. But, I suppose, even with cutting my shows back I will still have a weekly punching bag for the time being.
Pupa (episode 2)
Oh deary dear dear dear.
Incidentally, “dear” is on letter off from “bear,” and we sure did see some bears this week.
More specifically, we have little stuffed bears as placeholder representatives of the family household our leading brother and sister duo grew up in. And that, on the one level, is not a terrible idea, using a series of cute animal plushies as a means of representing what should have been a far happier childhood time that went to far darker places. That said, we end up with things like Utsutsu remarking on how his dad used to beat their mother, and it is visually portrayed via one stuffed bear kicking the other as if like a cardboard cutout. Complete with a little “cute” squeaky noise.
In better hands, a scene like that could even work as a means of attempting to juxtapose the horror and subject matter of domestic abuse in an unnerving and “adorable” visual fashion. What matters hugely to that though is timing and shot framing. And Pupa has no sense of either.
To give the best example from this episode, there was monster form Yume’s concern that her brother may see her as this bloody and murderous beast after her rampage from the last episode. Immediately then, with no pauses or quietness for weight, we have Utsutsu show up just over her shoulder calling out to her, as the camera then pans back over to her eyes shifting to the side of the frame.
That’s the kind of shot that begs for a “Whomp whomp whomp” comedic sound effect or something after the fact. Because it is very silly in how it is constructed and portrayed. But not in a “We set this up intentionally in a way so that you as a viewer would feel conflicted emotions as the narrative and visual storms compete in your mind.” It’s more akin to a bad screenplay a teen may write in a “goth” phase that really only involves them stopping by the local mall Hot Topic every now and again.
Pupa (episode 3)
There’s a way to do shot composition and editing so that if you are making something you know is going to be censored if you show it in full you don’t have big censor blobs in the middle of the screen. You can cut away and the in-between bit will come back in later for the home video release for instance, or a fancier technique would be framing the shot in a way were it can be done in a way allowing the editing team to zoom in to a certain showable part and the full frames can show the more graphic content in the full version.
What is weird to me in cases like Pupa, where the team seems to have no real sense of what to actually do with the camera, the randomness occasionally ends up with well framed shots that are completely showable and yet wholly get their points across with a level of sexualization, gore, and public bathroom decency violations it clearly wants to be walking. One then wonders “Why can’t you be like that all the time?!” before remembering it likely really only happened by chance anyway.
This all said, this is the most interesting episode of the series so far. It had an extraordinarily low bar to walk over, but regardless: the live action video of a fish being gutted on skyscraper televisions while Yume is in her inner mental city world I felt was intriguing as visual presentation.
You can’t be rolling out more creepy teddy bear stuff and then have a human character give lines like “I’m so hungry I can’t bear it!” though. That’s just begging for me to spit out my beverage into hearty guffawing.
Pupa (episode 4)
Maria has monitors in the random public bathroom to watch the siblings have psuedo gore sex?
“Researcher” indeed. I bet she isn’t even approved for this study by her Social & Behavioral Sciences Institutional Review Board.
For a series that consists of roughly three minute long episodes though, my internal sense of where we are and what we are doing is being thrown for a right royal whiplashing. We have the bathroom scene, but we also have Yume outside being wrapped up in a blanket for transport to the facility. And Utsutsu is, understandably, in a body bag after being munched on by his sister. So when does the public bathroom scene happen? The ambiguous future, after he apparently slaughters the other monitoring scientists and somehow links back up with his sister after this confrontation with Maria? Where the scene blocking is awkward and haphazard enough where he was just standing in the middle of the room staring at the door like a robotic video game A.I. from two decades ago.
I mean my bar for this series is pretty low, but… it should not be this hard of a timeline of events to keep track of for what is in total less than about twelve minutes of footage if we add all the episodes together.
Given, our dialogue here is consisting of lines like “He didn’t die. You killed him.” and random cutaways to Abusive Yet Nebulous Father Figure Concept for cloudy “My blood flows through you after all” lines. So I dunno. Half the screen is routinely covered in black clouds, but I am not even sure what they are censoring with them this week, as the underlying gore doesn’t seem any more extreme than dropping the two open slices of a strawberry jam and peanut butter sandwich on the floor.
Pupa (episode five)
Credit where credit is due: I actually understood some of the justifications behind the censoring mechanics this week.
A mother taking a box cutter to her baby and then showing some of what that handiwork led to is a subject area one can easily go “You can buy the home video release if you wanna see the whole thing.”
In a move that honestly does not really help matters when it comes to how confused and jumbled up the timeline of this narrative has gotten to be, we switch gears yet again and move towards following Utsutsu and Yume’s mother around during the pregnancy of her daughter years ago. On the one hand, that is quite useful to see, while on the other, I’m not sure about this really being the right time or place for it given how many plates it is already trying to spin.
In either event, Yume being born with a full set of teeth is certainly noteworthy in the sense of it being plenty unusual and definitely unnerving for a mother who was already more than psychologically freaking out about her child and considering it a monster. Then of course massively multiplied by baby Yume’s ability to get back up again after being carved up by mommy. But I’m not really sure what it really means for, well, anything. Perhaps something about Utsutsu’s unwavering defensive love of his sister being greatly misplaced, but to what end? How that they’re over a decade older, is she some sort of sleeper satanic larva agent or… something?
It somewhat raises the issues, but rather than giving them a bit of the harder push it probably could really use right about now it jumps off to lines of “pain tells me that I’m living in reality. I don’t need soft kisses.” dialogue and I can practically hear the pop-punk mall rock lyrics crawling out of the speakers.
Pupa (episode six)
This was not really an episode.
It was a scene that belongs as a part of an episode.
It has no framing device at either the end or beginning to tell me where we are and how to got here. There are no transitions from the previous episode (mom’s flashbacks to her pregnancy and taking a box cutter to her infant daughter), the one before it (involving cleaning up after Yume’s murder spree and the research facility), or any of the others for that matter.
What we are left with then is about three minutes of out of context moaning, groaning, slurping, and “Onii-chan” cooing on an increasingly blood soaked mattress as Yume tries eating her brother. And, you know, that would be fine. It is sort of what one signs up for when intentionally watching a cannibalism incest show. So, you know, I don’t have any issue with the show going there and doing that.
I feel kind of like how one does if they get into one of those fall asleep – wake up – fall asleep fits very late at night on a sofa with a dumb horror film on. You’re only catching bits and pieces out of context here and there, so you really don’t know why anything is happening. Except, in Pupa’s case, there is no missing footage to go back to and fill in the blanks. It is exclusively out of context scene shenanigans.
Heck, the Corpse Party: Missing Footage OVA short is about as long as the number of Pupa episodes we’ve had, and it makes a lot more sense. Which is saying something, as a completely superfluous collection of random prelude character interactions for a product that wouldn’t exist for another year.
Pupa (episode seven)
I really hope the home video version of this series comes with a reverse Operation style board game for the episodes where you need to figure out how to reassemble the patient that is this show.
With this week being a Maria focused episode, and harvesting the sperm and egg cells of our monster siblings to then insert within herself as a surrogate mother, I’m oddly in the position where this episode almost seemed borderline grounded. At least I knew what we were doing: sticking incest babies inside the crazy scientist lady. We nearly have a semblance of plot, even.
Yume being in monster form and chained up to a wall in a giant underground hotspring Maria was bathing in is admittedly radically confusing compared to our previous episode quaint bedroom sexcapades, as I am still not sure how this whole dynamic between the research group and the siblings actually works. I’m assuming the siblings have some sort of visiting hours or conjugal visit rights, or… something? With Utsutsu dropping lines like “Yet for some reason, every time she feeds on me, she looks so sad,” I wouldn’t be shocked if he needs a padded cell.
That there is an illegal medical research organization targeting our siblings seems warranted, I guess, but that does leave me wondering what in the hell the legality of the current research facility they are in is. I had always figured it was illegal, but the phrasing Hotoki uses would seem to indicate otherwise?
Incidentally, I hope we all enjoyed Hotoki making out of left field boob jokes and getting munched on by a cat with numerous sound effects to boot, because I figure he is dead as nails due to the whole “never betray me” agreement Maria put him up to.
Pupa (episode eight)
I feel like I am at a carnival, spun around on a baseball bat and then needing to hit a ball.
Except it is one of those weird gaudy nightmare carnivals where they spin you around way too many times. And everything is clowns. And all the clowns are Pupa.
If I didn’t write about this show, I wouldn’t be able to tell you which one of the episodes was last week given the scattershot continuity.
Apparently we left off with incest babies in Maria and monster Yume chained to a wall in an underground hot spring. So how on earth she and her brother are out and about walking around a school campus or something is beyond me. Even more jarring though is how the censoring in this program continues to make wildly inane choices. A character pulling a knife with a blinding large white bar on the screen. But, in the same episode, we can see the same guy get his eyes poked out. And we can even see the knife in other scenes, just not the pulling of it out. And it gets pulled out twice.
I should probably stop talking about pulling out and the cannibal incest gore show.
Between all this reeling from the ham fisted editing choices, there’s a lot of haphazard scenes of flashbacks to Abusive But Nebulously Defined Dad and knife dude treating Utsutsu in as a carving toy, but there’s no sense of why any of this matters. Is purple shirted knife guy from the illegal medical research team mentioned last episode, or are those the folks who showed up and tased him? How does he even know who the siblings are and where they would be, because I as a viewer want to know what he knows.
The series wraps in approximately twelve minutes doled out over the next four weeks. Maybe they’ll go back to just doing comedic puppetry with stuffed bears again.
Pupa (episode nine)
Another episode where we have more of an individual scene than an installment of a weekly show.
This one hit me in a more heartbreaking manner though. Which is to say, I do not like to sound like someone who tells professional animation teams how to do their job but… this installment is just wasted potential all over the place. It could have been far more punchy and created less effort for the creative folks with just a few tweaks.
Yume spends most of this episode blindfolded and chained to a chair while her regenerating brother gets dissected. For a horror series, that is a fine setup, for someone to hear the screams and wails of something terrible and yet unseen. But the entire thing is shot with the camera dead centered on her fidgeting, and in a well lit room.
A first person sequence would not have been out of the question here to sell the mood and tension the episode was clearly going for. What slays me is this approach would have been easier to animate that way as well. Have her fidget around and be able to see only some fragmented things through cracks in the blindfold before breaking away. Corpse Party was able to try shot composition elements like that, the viewpoint of someone who can only hear the mutilation and screams, wondering when or if they would be next. And it heightened the scenes where it saw use.
You can even keep the jump cuts to the teddy bear scenes for Yume imagining what was going on. It would still work.
I feel like I’m teaching a remedial film school course. If I am horrified of anything, it is how much extra work it took to make this episode neutered and sterile, when the easier way out would have made it far more terrifying.
Pupa (episode ten)
Of all the things Pupa does, one thing I will defend it for is its use of a watercolor and sketchbook art aesthetic.
But, in design matters such as this, it is important to know when and where the style would tend to break down. To be more specific, generic uniformed military troopers in olive garb should not be a prominent visual part of an episode. You end up with a blurry, slurry mess of undefined blob shapes.
Boy, there sure was a big slaughterhouse fight that happened between last week and this week though.Shame we did not get to see any of it.
Instead we get Yume wandering around interchangeable corridors wondering where her brother is, as the guys with machine guns stand around and wonder what happened. Wouldn’t you know it, this is the exact kind of team who have explicit orders from command to “dismember her and secure the severed flesh with metal.”
So the fully armed guards surrounded by severed bodies… approach to an absurdly close range for what I can only imagine as an insane attempt to subdue her physically. Cue blood fountain.
Guns, guns everywhere, but not a drop of a single bullet to drink.
Pupa (episode eleven)
When I asked for the return of comedy stuffed bears several episodes back, I did not expect DEEN to actually do it.
“If we are alone, we’ll fall. But as long as we’re together, maybe we won’t fall.” Cue squeaky toy noises. I’m sorry to be the bringer of bad news Pupa, but given what I read around the internet you are in even worse shape than that. You are for certain not alone, given the viewership.
But you are primarily surrounded by people who mock you.
Since the show wanted to go down the route of “Which is a dream? Which is reality?” this week via juxtapositions between the slaughterhouse of a research facility and the whimsical brother-sister feeding at school, I’ll play ball. Pupa again shows that vague abusive father figure they have always done minimal establishment for, and in his recollections he again says terrible things of our siblings while our leads endure their situation.
Now, what if the father was supposed to be like us? We, as viewers, are just so often consistently awful to these kids and the container they happen to reside within. If a show is intentionally designed to fail at various construction levels, in an attempt to generate horrible commentary and thus place the viewer in a position similar to that of the individual the protagonists fear so much, is that a valid artistic point or performance art? How would we even draw the lines on such a thing, between such a reality and an anime dream?
Note, this is a thought experiment more than anything: I do not think this is what Pupa is up to. Unless a massive change comes in the series finale, and not even that seems reasonable to expect. Maybe Maria’s monster incest baby she has been a surrogate to is revealed to be us, the viewership, having gestated for so long and contemplating our terrible lineage or whatever. I do not know.
In a sense, this strained hypothetical is a slightly different version of what I come to end up personally calling The Cannibal Holocaust Defense.
Now, that movie is a vile piece of work, including multiple genuine animal deaths. The protagonists are horrible people of the highest order, and there is no earthly reason to root for anything they do. They cut a swath of absolute and total destruction in the name of trumping up how sensational they will be able to make their news story. As a viewer, one gets angry at them. Everything about their actions in the quest for ratings are repugnant. Yet the film takes the found footage concept to such a horrifyingly insane extreme it can be read as lambasting the entirety of exploitative journalism and the horrors of many modern consumer media fascinations like reality programming. And the stunt is dedicated and absolute, not unlike watching something akin to Genocyber on the anime end.
In the case of Pupa, the trick would need to come to be delivered on not necessarily from the character actions but from an actual construction standpoint. By and large, most of the flack I’ve seen (and participated in) comes less from Yume and her brother directly as protagonists but more regarding how the actual show is assembled. How it walks, talks, moves around the house, that sort of thing. Actions often lack in making sense due to poor context, and the way the narrative has flowed from the school and park in the beginning to Maria’s facility to the borderline full sex scene episode to the “enemy” research lab to the present is incredibly convoluted.
Somebody, with a razor sharp three minute script, could attempt to make some sort of point about that. About anime and narrative structure and delivery and audience response and all being represented in a sense by a mocking in-universe figure. Hell, the director, Tomomi Mochizuki, was the director for one of the two episodes of Twilight Q! Admittedly the less interesting one because it was not the Mamoru Oshii episode, but that is a harsh comparison to be against. But at some point in his younger career, he could have figured a slick way out to tie up this material.
But I am pretty sure I just pitched a better idea for a screenplay.
Pupa (Episode twelve)
Lest I get ahead of myself, I recommend checking out what I wrote for Pupa last week.
Never let it be said that I did not try to give Pupa every possible fair shake this season to drag itself even a ledge higher from the abyss.
All the censoring, the haphazard semblance of a plot, even the sketchbook art style… it all goes out the window here for the finale. We get chibi children and a toy store lottery hosted by wacky animal suits saying things like “It must take real talent to lose this much” and “You only get one more try.” This show, if only on a subconscious level, knows very well what it was up to, aiming to sass and storm its way out the door at the end of a big winter anime party. I tried to hypothesize on a way it could try and take a meta approach out. I did not consider the possibility DEEN would just troll away in the final minutes and mock any semblance of a viewership they had managed to retain.
The only way this makes any sense as a finale message is if we view chibi Utsutsu reading the Pupa manga at home as more than a mere reference. His continued lottery losses and eventually being told compromise is a big part of growing up as the studio talking directly to us. That we may have wanted something so much more, and we were just going to have to deal with and accept what we got.
But anime production is not like trying to win the grand prize stuffed bear from the rolly ball lottery spinner and only winding up with the seventh place hair clip. Sure, I may have little personal direct involvement outside of where my money or ad dollars end up. So my picking the show up was a lot like a lottery ticket. But the studio sure could have done a lot more. Compromise is meeting halfway. It is a collaborate process of strengths and shortcomings to make something whole, that multiple parties can walk away from satisfied. It is not the studio presenting a package, the viewership having concerns with how it was lacking in various areas, then stomping them into the dirt and spitting on us while yelling we should be thankful.
Which is really what this last episode amounted to for me. A frustrated production crew, who went through their own hells trying to get this out the door back in autumn but failed, using the last episode to just scream at, mock, and otherwise take their anger out on us. This episode would have been a passing little omake on a normal home video release, and there perhaps it may have even been a little funny attached to a better program. Here, it is a hate fueled condemnation of anyone who dared to speak up about a troubled show.
There was an event in December where DEEN showcased the first eight episodes back to back. So they had been working on them during the autumn after getting their initial rejection from the television airwaves, and could show off a whole bunch at once. It did not screen so well. So they had time to perhaps make various alterations, if not so much for the front end then perhaps the back. Rather than make amends, they aimed to burn bridges.
And the Too Hot For TV angle really is a good free marketing hook for a horror series, if we look at it purely from a cold and calculating “Get people to watch the show” perspective. Which may really be the most horrific thing, that it did work so well to get folks like us to barrel through it.
As of this writing, it is almost a week after the finale, and it is pushing a 683 popularity rating on MyAnimeList, with a ranking of 6878. That has to be one of the largest divergent positions I can recall for anything on that website in quite some time.
I like the strengths some series can find in shorter runtime formats. Miss Monochrome and gdgd Fairies were each on my top ten list from last year. Pupa barely deserves to be in the same category filing section of the bottomless online anime video world. I feel sorry for whatever files are neighbors to it on Crunchyroll’s servers.
The best part of this final Pupa episode for me was the opening tone which rings at the start is the exact same one Sunrise uses for its corporate logo in front of the likes of Gundam Build Fighters.
Let us take that lesson, and play with toys who want to be friends instead.