The season of horrors is upon us, and with it comes a wave of stories that may have come from different mediums, yet are meant to create the same effect for us audiences: meddle with our fears and stimulate the thrills under our skin. Comics combines narratives and visuals, which makes it an effective platform for telling such stories since it can give us the vivid imagery of what there is to fear.
Junji Ito, a Japanese manga artist, is one of the names that will surely crop up when the words horror and manga comics are put together. Although there had been numerous anime and film adaptations of the mangaka’s works, it seems like not even the moving pictures and music accompaniment can contest Ito’s ink on paper.
If you’re not yet familiar with the man, fear not (or is it the other way around?) because we’re here to introduce you to the disturbing works of Junji Ito by giving you five reasons on why you should definitely start reading his creepy creations!
1. Unlike the usual horror tropes, his characters are rarely alone… but this does not help at all.
We feel most vulnerable to threats when we’re all alone, and many horror stories feed on this fear by placing its characters in the most dangerous of circumstances when they’re just by themselves. This is not the case for Junji Ito’s works, however, because the supernatural threats of his stories can harm a whole town or city and yet everybody will be helpless nonetheless.
To prove this point, his short work Army of One is a straightforward contradiction to the thinking that the more people are huddled together, the safer they are. In this story, people who actually try to group up will fall victim to the so-called ‘Army of One’ and their corpses will just turn up, naked and sewn with each other.
2. He amplifies the common fears of people with his art.
Junji Ito’s illustrations are in no doubt exceptional, but in a creepy and disturbing way. The way he puts the black ink over white paper, it brings depth and life to the flawed, grungy, and mutilated features of his created monsters. In fact, given his most disturbing panels, there’s a good chance that people with phobias like trypophobia, arachnophobia, and claustrophobia will be deeply disturbed by his works.
So if you have one of the phobias that had been stated, here are some of his works you might want to avoid: in The Chill/Shivers, a cursed jade statue gives people deep holes in their skin where insects crawl in and out; in Gyo, fishes and sea creatures invaded the land under the control of long sharp legs they somehow acquired, and after the marine life started to rot, the legs turned to sick humans as host (yes, it’s a world of human nopes); and in Enigma at Amigara Fault, people enter the human-shaped holes found at a mountainside fault, only to come out as something else.
3. His works are too bizarre and uncanny you can’t really expect what comes next.
Ito’s works are just so bizarre that most of the time, you wouldn’t dare imagine what is the context behind whatever it is that is happening, or what is bound to happen next. Instead, you just hitch a ride through the protagonists’ point of view as they try to figure things out and let the full story reveal itself. This makes the reading more compelling as you delve into the comics without overthinking and you get to enjoy more of the story's twists and turns.
Take for example Black Paradox. The young nurse Marusou wanted to end her life as an escape from her ugly premonitions, so she meets up with three other people who also plan to kill themselves. They go into the forest to commit suicide but it turns out that she was really accompanied by a humanoid robot, a mirror reflection that came to life, and a doppelganger. After escaping these creatures who wanted to kill her, Marusou meets up with the people she really was meant to meet for the group suicide. Fast forward through the story, one of them dies for a few moments and a pathway to the afterlife opened in his stomach, producing the mesmerizing “spirit jewels” they call the Black Paradox. This story may sound like a confusing mishmash of horror subplots but it is actually an interesting read.
4. It’s gory and gross in black and white.
Both Ito’s art and story can make your stomach turn. If you don’t believe me, then help yourself with the short manga comics Glyceride. It contains the iconic panel that is the best (or worst!) proof that Ito’s penwork on paper can give audiences the same grossing-out effect that only seemed possible using images in real life, so prepare for some internal screaming.
As for the atrocity in his stories, a good example is Black Bird. An injured bird watcher was found on a mountainside after a month of lying there helpless. After he was brought to the hospital, he claims that he survived through the rations on his backpack. But one night in his hospital bed, a terrifying visit prompts him to tell the truth. He reveals that he really survived all that time through the help of a hideous bird-woman creature who feeds him through her mouth like birds do, only to realize that he is being fed with chewed up human flesh.
5. There are just so many Junji Ito works you can actually binge-read.
His storytelling and art are of great quality, there’s no doubt about that, but another laudable thing about Junji Ito is that he had written (and continues to write) so many stories that it almost feels like you’re not running out of frightening reads… and his imagination doesn’t seem to run out of nightmare fuel either.
Be it one-shots or multi-volume stories, the works of Junji Ito continue to horrify and astound in his chosen medium. So if you want to creep yourself out in silence this coming Halloween, reading his works might be the ideal activity you're looking for.
But where to start, you ask? You can check out his most acclaimed work, Uzumaki, which is a three-volume manga filled with Ito's most iconic and notable panels. It is set in the small, fictional Japanese town of Kurōzu-cho where supernatural events start to take place, involving the enigmatic spiral symbol. The story has already been adapted into two video games and a live-action Japanese film. An animated television series is also in the works and is set to premiere on 2020 at Adult Swim's Toonami programming.
To know more about the author, check out the VIZ Media website, where you can also buy his English-translated works.
Homestream image from the Viz Media website.