The Pupa short anime series is notorious for being one of the worst anime out there. With twelve episodes, just four minutes each you’d be forgiven for thinking it can’t be that bad – how can something go so wrong in such a short period of time? But Pupa manages the impossible, and in it’s running not only showcases a lacklustre story and awful graphics but also a nauseating incest theme. Many who watch the anime, myself included, often wonder if the manga is a better experience, after all beneath all the crap of the anime there is an interesting story. So dear reader, I braved the anime (twice over) and I braved the manga, and now I’m here to share my thoughts on each of them, and tell you that neither are really worth your time.
*Some Spoilers Ahead*
For those of you who haven’t heard of Pupa, you’re probably wondering what my big spiel about in the beginning was getting at. At its core Pupa is a story about sibling bonds and loyalty. High schooler Utsutsu will do anything for his younger sister Yume. The two of them live alone after their mother left and they escaped their abusive father. So together they carve out a humble but happy life as they try to get through each day together. One day, on the way home from school, Yume sees some red butterflies. A strange woman appears to warn Utsusu of these, and he races to save his sister. But when he arrives, she’s no longer the girl he grew up with. Before him is a monstrous creature eating any living thing in its path. Yume is infected by pupa and now to survive must eat flesh, preferably human flesh. To stop his sister turning into a monster and wrecking havoc, Utsusu sacrifices his own body to satiate her hunger. As Utsusu is being eaten by his sister, he works to find a cure so they can return to their happy days.
What’s So Bad About The Anime?
Short anime series are always going to have trouble conveying a complex plot over 4 minutes each week. And to be very honest, I don’t know why Pupa tried. The series could have worked so much better as a series of ‘gag’ segments, or focusing on just one small part of the manga – such as the childhood of Yume and Utsusu finishing off with Yume’s transforming and prompting viewers to read the manga to see what happens next. Instead we have haphazardly stitched together scenes that try to convey a complex plot in about a fifth of the time actually required.
Animation wise is even worse, with shots that are passable at best and shoddy at worst. Instead, it’s clear more time and effort were placed in making the scenes of Yume eating Utsusu as uncomfortable as possible. In episode 6, Yume and Utsusu are on a bed, and Yume is eating Utsusu and the whole segment can’t be described as anything but sexual – the squelching sounds, moans of Utsusu and Yume passionately calling “Onii-chan, you taste so good” – What the f**k. It’s the only thing I can say to that. To give the series the benefit of the doubt, the manga does have this scene in it too, but there’s no doubt that the anime went all out in ensuring it was as nauseating as possible to watch (in fact taking up the whole of one of its twelve episodes – that’s right four whole minutes of squelching and groaning).
Don’t even try to defend those teeth
It’s really hard to think of anything redeeming about the anime as it’s clear that somewhere, very early on, even the creators themselves gave up on it. Perhaps at one point they had hopped that this series would be a quick and easy money grab. But they quickly realised it had no hope and instead slogged their way through to the end. They worked on a script and animation they clearly couldn’t care less about and it’s the audience that bears the brunt of it.
What’s Better in the Manga?
The Pupa manga is complete at five volumes, and its publication ran from March 2011 to December 2013. The anime is a pretty faithful adaptation of what happens in the manga, in that it doesn’t go off and create it’s own stories or tangents. But it does miss a substantial amount of content. In the manga, there’s a far more developed and intricate relationship between Utsusu and Yume, as well as a winding tale of the history (and secrets) of the pupa virus. The story really ‘fleshes out’ Yume and Utsusu as characters, and brings up additional themes besides sibling bonds such as morality, and to some extent the idea of nature vs nurture. A key question being – how far is too far to go for someone you love, for your research or for your own happiness. There’s a lot more development there, and a far more complex story to engage with. And, on probably the most positive note, when reading the manga there’s no squelching sounds you have to endure.
The art could be a bit of a hit or miss for me in the manga, but still far better than the anime. The depictions of Yume’s transformations were so detailed and impactful, and any action, gore or scenery were just generally drawn very well. My issue was more with the way humans were drawn, I sometimes found them a bit awkward and not really to scale. For example right at the beginning of this post is a screenshot from the manga with Utsusu’s side profile – his whole face looks like a flattened pancake!
What’s Still Awful in Both
Probably the most pertinent part of the Pupa anime that made audiences uncomfortable was the incest overtones. And they’re pretty much still there in the manga, there’s no escaping it. I have seen reviews and comments online interpreting Pupa as a ‘coming of age’ story. Yume’s transformation mirrors that of puberty and her turning into a monster and devouring flesh is her ‘menstruation’. And of course, this links into the incest theme as Yume and Utsusu have some weird Freudian sexual awakening towards one another. Look, I’m not gonna bash on people’s interpretations, but for me, that interpretation doesn’t make this series any more endearing.
Both the anime and manga’s ending can be described as quite lacklustre. The anime ends on a complete tonal shift in episode 12 with a slice-of-life episode and the episode before that just kinda ends the story with no real resolution. You never really find out what the pupa virus was or any real resolution for Yume or Utsusu. Instead it’s a bit of a ‘well I guess this is my life now’ as Utsusu reflects that it’s not too bad being eaten by his sister since he’ll be there for her just like a good big brother(!). Yume even says she doesn’t mind being a monster cause she knows she has her brother’s support – easy to say when you’re not the one being eaten alive!
The manga’s ending, while it did resolve a lot of the story point, still left me quite unsatisfied. Many points felt undeveloped, almost like they had been forgotten or the author ran out of time. For example, the scientist and her…assistant are kinda just there as random frustrating antagonists throughout the entire series. There’s no real rhyme or reason to what the scientist does other than ‘just cause I can’ or ‘for research that only I care about’. There is some backstory rightttt at the end, as an extra chapter to show the scientist as a child always lacked any form of remorse and was always interested in research the unknown, but this felt a bit like a cop out. The group of friends that support Utsusu and Yume kinda fade into the background with no real impact to the story. Ultimately, just a lot of threads that went nowhere.
Audiences tend to have quite the dichotomous view of Pupa. The anime is truly awful and the manga is some fantastic gem that was so hard done by the adaptation. Let’s not mince words, I don’t think any manga deserves the treatment Pupa had by its anime adaptation. But I would lean into the controversial and say I found the manga to be only a decent read – certainly not something I would be shouting from the roof tops to recommend. If you really have to satiate your curiosity about this series, I’d say read the manga. It’s not a long read and you’ll get a lot more out of it. If you’d like to watch the anime, all the weirdness aside, the poor design of it really makes it a boring watch. But the choice is yours to decide which you’ll sink your teeth into.
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