‘Gannibal’ Review: Cannibals in the Mountains of Japan

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When you hear that Disney Plus is about to debut a Japanese TV series about cannibals, you will probably raise a brow, only to realize that Disney Plus is a very different entity outside of America. The streaming service has basically combined Hulu, and other services into itself, so it is more than just a place to watch the latest Marvel film or rewatch Hannah Montana for the eleventh time. In other territories, Disney Plus is actually a very good and diverse streaming service. Gannibal is just the latest to arrive at Hulu here and in America, and on Disney Plus in other territories.

Gannibal is a TV series based on manga of the same name, written and illustrated by Masaaki Ninomiya. The series stars Yuya Yagira, Kasamatsu, Riho Yoshioka, and it is directed by Shinzo Katayama. The release also calls attention to the fact that the series shares the same producers as Drive My Car, the Oscar-winning film from last year’s Oscars. The series tells the story of Daigo Agawa, a disgraced police officer who is sent to a remote region of Japan. Daigo takes his family along with him, but soon he will discover that the peaceful village where he lives now, hides some horrible secrets.

Gannibal comes as a manga adaptation that goes straight to live-action. This is very particular, because, as we know, most manga is adapted into anime first. Shōnen manga, for example, receives very few live-action adaptations; anime seems to be the format where that kind of story can flourish so much better. However, Seinen stories, meaning those that are far more violent, have a better chance to go into live-action and be treated as any other normal drama on the medium.

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Gannibal is not a manga that deals with superpowered beings, characters that do magic, or any sort of hard science fiction. The story is very grounded in reality to some extent, and this allows the adaptation to be just a normal show, filmed in a normal town. The focus of the matter here is the subject of cannibalism, which, no matter where you go, is always taboo. Of course, there are known communities that practiced cannibalism in the past and probably still do, but this subject is very dark and isn’t talked about openly.

So, Gannibal brings nice production values to a show that could be just some throwaway horror movie, but this one actually tries to adapt the manga as faithfully as possible. The result is a show that feels very much like a psychological thriller thanks to its focus on the characters above the plot. Our main protagonist, Daigo Agawa, played excellently by Yagira, is a character that could be considered boring or plain in other stories. He feels very much like this at the start of the story, but soon we realize that there is more than meets the eye, and this could make him the perfect protagonist for this story.

Riho Yoshioka does the same thing. Her character feels so distant and strange as the story starts that it only makes you wonder what her deal is. As the story progresses, you realize that the entire family has been marked by some very dark events, and they might be the only ones ready enough to face what is coming in Kuge Village. The acting is very good overall. There is usually over-the-top acting that is a signature of Japanese productions, but at this point, many westerners should feel accustomed to this type of performance.

In terms of visuals, the series feels very well-directed, and the atmosphere coming from this small village in the mountains feels oppressive and definitely something that could become the signature tone for the series. By just looking at one frame, you know that there is a darkness that is hidden in plain sight. Creating and capturing something like that on film is quite hard, so props to the filmmakers for certainly hitting the nail on the head on that front. However, there are also some other aspects that feel a bit half-baked.

Some visual effects used on the show feel very unfinished. The series uses them to a minimum, but when the scene asks for them, you can expect them to be not of the best quality around. CGI in Japanese productions always feels rubbery and unfinished. It is really hard to compete when you have things like Stranger Things doing their thing on TV. This is just the result of not having enough time and money to pull off those scenes in the best way they can be.

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In the end, Gannibal feels like a very good option for those who want to dive deep into a psychological horror story that explores the darkness of human beings without having to deal with more supernatural affairs. There is definitely a fantastic element here, but it is hard to put it down as just plain fantasy. The acting is solid, and the characters really come across as the most interesting part of the show and the element that will keep you watching, just to see how their stories end.

SCORE: 8/10

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