If you’ve never heard the name Junji Ito or read any of his works, then congratulations. You’ve been able to sleep a little more soundly at night.
Ito is a horror manga artist from Japan who revels in delivering his scares with tales of the strange, unnatural and the unexplainable. And copious amounts of body horror. He’s notorious amongst manga fans for his sheer ability to create nightmare fuel with his style of drawing and his love of putting his story’s protagonists through ungodly amounts of hell.
Out of the over one dozen volumes of his horror collection, and several stand-alone stories that can span many chapters, there are some that stand out above the rest, be it for their superior story or their extreme ability to make us squirm.
These are those exemplars in my book.
If most manga enthusiasts are like me, the term Uzimaki is most notable from Naruto fame. It is the word for “spiral”, and Ito somehow makes it the most terrifying and unnerving shape ever with this multi-chapter story about a small town “cursed with the spiral”. What first seems like a simple madness gripping the citizens with delusions with anything spiral-shaped, becomes something far more creepy and unnatural as you realize that it might be the town itself causing the sick and bizzare phenomena.
Probably Ito’s most famous work, he takes his skill with body horror and progressively ramps it up with each successive chapter told to the point you anticipate the cringing you’ll be doing. It also gives the terrifying idea that a force so miserable as an entire town could be behind such crazy events and that it cannot be stopped, short of trying to leave. If the town will let you, that is. (Ala. Silent Hill)
Enigma of the Amigura Fault
Another of Ito’s pieces steeped in the bizzare, Amigura Fault is a short story about an earthquake that reveals a fault riddled with people-shaped holes. As news of the discovery is circulated, more people come to the fault under the premise that one of the holes is “theirs”, shaped specifically for them.
Ito delivers his horror psychologically for this story, with the questions leaving the characters to wonder who could have made dozens of perfectly person-shaped holes through a whole mountain of stone, but are these holes actually calling to individual people? Or are people convincing themselves that they must go into their holes and there is nothing that can be done? It has some other twists delivered as the punchline, but the entire idea alone is enough to drive you into a claustrophobic fit.
The Dark Drinks Blood
One of Ito’s Horror Collection stories, this short story is about anorexic girl who finds hereof the object of an innocent crush from her male classmate, who makes the resolution to starve himself too until she comes to her senses and breaks out of it for both their sakes. He also happens to befriend a large group of bats. The story spirals from there it usual Ito fashion.
What I liked about this story is that, beyond the oddness it exhibits, it’s also probably as close to a genuine romantic story as you’ll find from this author. Its not traditional, especially with its ending, but there’s no sinister motives or malicious force out to screw the protagonists. Its a refreshing change from the usual crapsack stories usually used by Ito.
This is one of Ito’s stories that delves into the unnatural as well as the sociological, which is a double dose of unnerving. Hellstar Remina is another stand-alone tale about an astronomer that discovers a new planet that has just become fixable in our galaxy, and due to it being his discovery, he names it after his daughter Remina. the girl soon finds herself famous simply for being the daughter and originator of the historical astral body’s name. However things go sour in the worst way when it is discovered the new star is headed towards Earth at an ungodly speed, and that every heavenly body it passed ends up absorbed and destroyed by the star. Panic erupts and soon, everyone is jumping to blame Remina herself for the impending arrival of the star baring her name that could doom the planet.
I find Thu story interesting not for the unexplainable instance of a star cannibalizing other planets and having an unexplained bee-line for Earth, but just how quickly human panic can turn into desperation and the need for a scapegoat to somehow ease the terror normal people face.
Unlike any other Ito story, Bully has no roots in the supernatural or the strange. Its the story of a girl who, as a child, used to torment and terrorize a younger boy simply because he annoyed her and because she could. It speaks to some very real themes in a normal child’s life when other children turn malicious to make themselves feel better.
The twist is that the bully herself eventually grows up and runs into her victim years later, and falls for him. It ends about as well as you’d expect from Junji Ito, but I won’t spoil it. What I will say is that the unnerving feelings conveyed in the tale are very realistic and could indeed happen in real life, which makes it all the more terrifying than any supernatural spiral force or creepy man-shaped holes could ever be.