A spotlight on a modern master of horror
By Rebecca Peterson, Humour Editor
As Halloween approaches, it’s time to pull out some of our favourite horror movies, games, and stories. In terms of manga, the master of this category would have to be Junji Ito.
Though not exactly a household name, Ito has had a clear impact on pop culture worldwide. His work has been riffed, referenced, and adapted into other genres in Western works. Most recently, one of his more popular stories, The Enigma of Amigara Fault, received a tongue-in-cheek nod in Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe. Noted director Guillermo del Toro is also a fan of Ito’s, and was set to work with him on the newest instalment of the Silent Hill franchise before the project was ultimately scrapped by Konami (to the disappointment of many).
Ito’s body of work spans across decades, from short stories to full serials such as Tomie, Uzumaki, and Gyo. There are common themes running through his works: the creeping ruin of society through a slow deterioration into madness, everyman protagonists trying and often failing to escape their situations, and a frank but often fair evaluation of human relationships—good and bad—from love to hate and back again. All of these stories are woven together with an artful, almost delightfully sadistic sense of horror, which drips from every panel. The gore is unflinching, and the creativity lent to it utterly fascinating.
His most popular works are easy enough to find in their English translations. Tomie tells the story of a young girl whose powers of seduction drive the men around her to animalistic madness, and has been lauded for subversively examining the worldwide epidemic of misogyny still rampant today. Uzumaki is a series about a town that quite literally spirals out of control as a result of a mysterious curse. Gyo is an incredibly gory series about a sentient virus that infects its hosts with a “death stench,” causing corpses of sea animals to develop minds of their own.
Many of Ito’s stories are open-ended, with no real explanation of the mysterious powers causing the supernatural incidents to occur. The enigmas behind the horror are not meant to be “figured out” by the protagonists, merely survived—or not, as the case may be. It’s never about the horror itself, but the reactions to the horror as viewed through the perspectives of decent people, often selected for torment or survival by pure chance.
The human aspect of his works, as well as the creativity that fuels them, makes the admittedly bleak worlds he puts to pen incredibly compelling. Even if there is no happy ending, there’s a richness to the horror that demands reviewing. If you’re looking for something to get you into the Halloween mood, I would highly suggest Junji Ito’s works.
Just don’t read them after dark. Or while you’re eating.