Anime short review: Pupa

Today it’s the final anime short review for the month. But I wanted to do something different this time: instead of finding a series I thought I might like, I started from the bottom ratings on fan rating and review anime catalogs Anilist and MAL. I’ve always had a fascination with horrible media (blame MST3K for that, maybe) and I’ve never really looked into the world of truly awful anime before now.

After filtering out the obviously tossed-off garbage and one short made almost entirely of still images, I found Pupa, a 2014 short horror series of 12 three-minute episodes. I’ve enjoyed and praised some anime scored just decently or even near middling on these sites, so I’m not the type to disregard a show because it isn’t a 10/10. Pupa is a far harder sell, however, with a score of 27% on Anilist and 3.30 on MAL — truly abysmal ratings and among the lowest on either site.

Pupa was produced by Studio DEEN, an actually sort of reputable anime studio. At least they’re reputable with someone, not with me, because I’ll never forgive them for what they did to Umineko. And now I have another reason to hate DEEN, because this anime really does live up to its terrible reviews. Pupa is absolute trash, though my reasons for hating it might be a little different from some other viewers’. (Also massive warning here because Pupa really is fucked. If you just ate or have a general aversion to reading about cannibalism and similar horrors, you may want to skip this post. And spoilers, but I doubt anyone cares this time.)

How cute, I’m sure nothing horrible will happen to these people

High school students and siblings Utsutsu and Yume Hasegawa have a hard life together, children of a broken family, but they love and care for each other. One day, Yume wanders alone onto a dark park on the way back from school and encounters a strange woman dressed all in black who tells her to beware of the red butterflies. Red butterflies immediately show up, and Yume is attacked by an exploding dog (I think? Hard to tell.) When Utsutsu shows up shortly after looking for Yume, he meets the same woman in black, Maria, who tells him his sister has changed and that she might not recognize him.

Let’s go home Yume, I’m sure you’ll still fit through the front door like this

Looking into the woods nearby, Utsutsu finds his sister transformed into a giant man-eating monster. He can tell it’s still Yume somehow, and he comforts her, but even though her consciousness is still inside the monster she can’t stop herself from eating her brother.

Fortunately (?) both Utsutsu and Yume have some kind of virus that allows them to endlessly regenerate wounds, so Utsutsu isn’t actually dead. He and Yume are both taken away by the lady in black who works at/for a shady organization that performs horrific genetic experiments. Yume has mysteriously changed back into her human form at this point (no, this is never explained) and while Maria tells Utsutsu she’ll let them go, she warns him that he’ll have to act as “live bait” for his sister since she still craves human flesh even in her normal-looking human form. Utsutsu loves Yume so much that he happily volunteers to be her dinner every day from now on, a lucky thing since he can also regenerate any flesh she eats.

Teddy bears are used in some scenes to simulate these terrible acts, but we’re also subjected to realistic depictions of them so I’m not sure I see the point

The story goes on from there with Utsutsu and Yume being hunted down by a rival shady organization that performs tests on Utsutsu for vague scientific reasons, and then Yume has to rescue him so they can continue living their happy, quiet life of consensual cannibalism. Maria has also harvested his semen and her eggs without their knowledge and has used them to birth a horrific incest monster, but we never learn why she does this, and it doesn’t matter anyway because said monster never even makes an appearance.

That’s Pupa, and I agree with the general consensus: it was shit. Not necessarily because it was about cannibalism, though. Part of why I was willing to give this any kind of chance is that Saya no Uta is one of my favorite visual novels, and that has plenty of instances of murder and human-eating (though not quite cannibalism in that story — it’s complicated) along with other horrific acts. The difference with Saya is that all its horror was included for a purpose and was perpetrated by characters I cared about against characters I mostly also cared about. The story also made sense and had an actual thought-out structure to it.

None of that is true of Pupa. By the end, I didn’t give a damn about any of these characters. Utsutsu and Yume’s backstory is so tragic as to be ridiculous, and every other character save their mother is a massive piece of shit, and even the mother just disappears without much of an explanation so she doesn’t matter either.

Sorry Mom, you deserved better than this

Yume is at the center of Pupa, but her virus and the powers she gains from it aren’t clearly defined either. First she transforms into a giant monster, but then never mind, now she’s a human who has to eat other humans to survive. But now she has to save her brother, so she has the power to grow tentacle-wings out of her back and attack people with them. And she went through these transformations in the first episode after being infected by a virus or looking at red butterflies or something, but no, she was actually born a monster who feeds on flesh, which her mother realized before she even gave birth.

Pupa makes no fucking sense and doesn’t seem to care. This complete mess of a story means that every horrific act in the show (i.e. about 90% of the show’s running time) is completely pointless and gratuitous, the worst offender being episode six, which is simply an extended scene of Yume eating Utsutsu’s flesh. Add on top of that the generally incestuous feel of the story, which is made absolutely clear in the second-to-last episode. And then just as an added fuck you, the show has the nerve to give us this screen:

Translation: “Which is a dream? Which is reality?” Fuck you, Pupa. You don’t get to give me a load of bullshit and then wave it away like this (and yeah I know dream is yume and maybe it’s a reference to her name, but that doesn’t make this any better.) And while I’m at it fuck Studio DEEN again for the Umineko adaptation.

I could mention the low production quality too, but that’s the least of this show’s concerns. It might even be for the best that it looks pretty cheap. Somehow Pupa aired on television, which might explain some of the extremely strange instances of censoring with rays of light and patches of darkness. Not much point covering up Yume’s teeth tearing at her brother when we can hear her chewing and swallowing him. I thought I had a strong stomach, but it was really tested by Pupa, and for absolutely no payoff.

So would I recommend Pupa? Holy God no I wouldn’t. It’s garbage, and I don’t even recommend watching it out of morbid curiosity, because in the end it’s pointless and kind of boring given that the plot goes nowhere. To be totally fair to its original author, Pupa is an adaptation of a manga that I’ve heard might actually have some merit to it — I’m guessing this three-minute episode format mangled what may have originally been a coherent narrative. I can see how the elements of Pupa might make for an interesting story if told properly, and assuming you do have the nerves for it.

I don’t think I have any nerves remaining, so I won’t be reading the manga myself, but if you’re a fan of horrific cannibal stories with creepy sexual/incestuous undertones then you might want to check it out. Might be less stomach-turning than The 120 Days of Sodom at least. And if you’re somehow required by contract or a dare to watch one of these episodes, pick the last one, because it’s actually nice and cute and has nothing to do with the rest of the story. I might have even liked it a bit if not for everything that came before it.

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