Junji Ito, the creator of Uzumaki and Tomie, brings us another short series: Gyo.
This is a real interesting one and ever since I found about this new deluxe edition last year, I’ve been eagerly waiting to crack it open. I read this manga several years ago, around the same time as Uzumaki. Is it good?
Gyo: Deluxe Edition (Viz Media)
Written and Drawn by: Junji Ito
English Adaption and Translation by: Yuji Oniki
A young couple is taking a vacation down in Okinawa, crashing at the home of the guy’s uncle. It seems like a nice trip, with the guy, Tadashi, getting in some scuba diving and girl, Kaori, seemingly enjoying herself as well. However, a horrid stench besets Okinawa and Kaori’s extra sensitive nose starts making her really agitated. What’s causing this smell? Fish with mechanical legs that have crawled right out of the ocean, of course! While the premise may seem weird and ridiculous, this is just the start of something really filthy/nasty on the horizon that’ll change their lives.
So as you may have noticed: Gyo is weird. It’s gross and disgusting. It’s icky and a bit eerie. However, before my description becomes a parody of The Addams Family theme song, the most important thing about Gyo that you should know is that it’s not particularly scary or even that great. Gyo is one of strangest and most bizarre things I’ve ever read between what actually goes on in the story and the fact that it seems to take itself seriously. It’s hard to really know where to start this series, but let’s give it a shot.
Let’s start with the story itself. The best way to describe it is how someone described it to me: Gyo is like a B-movie in manga form: the weird and questionable science, the odd monsters that the characters are facing, how damn serious the manga takes itself despite everything going on in it, and more. In some ways, if you look at the story with that mindset, it could make the experience more tolerable or bizarrely fascinating. However, unlike B-movies such as Dead/Alive, Samurai Cop, Troll 2, or even the original Piranha — this manga simply isn’t that fun or even entertaining. It’s just too bizarre and gross for its own good.
Gyo basically starts off with Tadashi and Kaori on their vacation and encountering the insanity of the walking fish things. No one knows what they are, where they came from, or how they came to be — they’re just there. The manga tries to sell you on how scary these creatures are, based on how fast and creepy-looking they are, but it never really feels frightening. The walking fish aren’t all that intimidating (except for the sharks of course ) and due to a lack of real strong characterization or likeability for our leads, it’s hard to worry or feel any concern for them.
From there, the story takes the characters away to Tokyo, where Tadashi meets up with his scientist uncle, Dr. Koyanagi. This is where we start seeing some theories floated around about what exactly the fish creatures are and about where they come from. However, the threat of the fish actually continues to expand and eventually reach the city, where we then get our first real twist and surprise involving the noxious gas/smell and the germs that come from these threats. Afterwards, the manga jumps forward one month after the invasion and things continue to expand from there with the big threat, new surprises and twists happen, and even more theories are tossed in about the origin of the machines the fish ride on. Eventually, we hit the ending and it’s pretty much a non-ending. The story just sort of peters out, with nothing really accomplished, nothing giving a good definitive answer, and nothing really all that exciting happening. It’s rather annoying, especially given everything that happened.
Focusing on the non-definite answers, I’ll need to drop a few spoilers here to better explain. The thing about the walking fish is that they aren’t alive, but more of a fuel source. These machines with mechanical, spider-like legs latch onto the bodies of fish and infect them with some kind of virus/germ. The germs kill/paralyze the host and make them create this funky, nasty gas within their bodies. The gas is then used as an energy source as tubes from the machine go into the creature’s mouth and in their gills (and in later cases, up someone’s butt, but we’ll get to that), the fumes being used to run the machinery. Seems straight forward as it can be given the setup, but the story throws several ideas out there about their origin. These mechanical machines are leftover weapons that were built by the Japanese military from WWII that were lost when a ship was sunk, same with the germs. Then there is the idea that the gas is somehow alive and filled with the souls of the dead or infected. Heck, even the idea that these machines are self-replicating and are alive was tossed out as well. The story never seems to pick one, all of these theories have plot holes to them and don’t make much sense, and the manga feels like it explains too much or not enough about these ideas for them to be all that credible. It feels like the manga is trying to say something or make a point, but it’s too confused and unsure of what it wants to be in order to do so.
But that’s not really the biggest problem when it comes to this manga. It’s more or less the fact that Gyo is not really scary in the slightest for many different reasons. Besides the fact that fish on mechanical legs are not particularly scary nor frightening, most of the imagery and things that are meant to be “creepy” are more disgusting and weird or something counteracts it. For instance, later on in the manga, the machines eventually gravitate towards infecting and latching onto humans. The machines infect humans with the germs, causing them to inflate and boil up as their insides fill with this nasty gas. It looks nasty and almost creepy, but all of the humans are essentially naked at this point so you see their bloated bodies full on and see as they spew gas from their mouth and their butts. So essentially, they are burping and farting themselves to death or are powering machines that way. This suddenly becomes not as creepy and just more… odd and gross.
Air fresheners aren’t going to be enough for this mess dude.
And there’s much more that cuts into anything horror related than just that. You have scenes like the one where Kaori, when she has become infected and bloated herself, commits suicide via hanging herself from a ceiling fan. However, she is spinning around in circles because she’s discharging gas from her butt and the artwork specifically highlights that. There’s also stuff where the manga lovingly focuses on people getting probed with the tubes in the butt and of course, anything involving the circus later on. Also, probably one of the biggest things early on is where Karoi is chased by a plastic bag with the body of one of the walking fish. It’s a bizarre sight for sure and honestly, all of this really hurts the manga a lot and takes away from anything that remotely feels scary.
But enough about the tone, let’s focus on the characters (all four of them). Tadashi is our male lead and is pretty much a saint. Outside of getting mad at Kaori early on in the volume as seen above, this guy has to be one of the most selfless and self-sacrificing type of characters I’ve seen. He puts up so much with Kaori’s crap, more than any human should be able to, and will put his life on the line for her no matter what. However, that’s all there is to him. He’s just kind of a blank slate otherwise, as we never really learn anything else remotely important about him.
Before we discuss Kaori, let’s turn to Dr. Koyanagi and Ms. Yoshiyama (Koyanagi’s assistant) now. Koyanagi starts off as a pretty reasonable and fair individual, offering up the first theory about the walking fish to Tadashi and even setting out to do some research into the strange fish-machines. However, he quickly turns after a while and becomes that stereotypical mad scientist you might see in a monster movie where he is just nuts and doing completely unethical things, like repairing a broken leg on the walker Tadashi brings him or even building his own walking machine and using Kaori as a fuel source for it. Then there is the Yoshiyama and she’s completely and utterly forgettable. She doesn’t really do much, has no real characterization or personality, and the only definitive aspect about her is that she may like Koyanagi. I only mention her because she’s basically the only other character besides the three that shows up more than once.
Last and certainly least, there is Kaori. She is, perhaps, one of the worst female characters I have ever read in a manga series. She’s constantly whining or complaining about her situation (even before anything too serious happens), is overbearing and asks way too much of Tadashi, acts like a complete jerk to him at points, and makes him save her so many times after she causes the problem herself. There’s rarely a scene where she is nice or pleasant, making it extremely hard to care about her or feel all that bad for her. She makes this series a frustrating experience at points and really cuts into the horror (hard to feel anything towards a person you want to see die or care about whatever situation comes her way). Hell, her last real act of will after she’s been comatose for almost a month and has been used as a source of energy for one of these walking machines is to screw someone else over and get them killed because she was jealous. She willed herself back to life to get rid of someone and when she gets cornered by some baddies, she wants Tadashi to save her.
The writing on the book is fine for what it is. The pacing isn’t too bad and there are parts where Ito does a decent job at building suspense. The story structure is fine and the story tends to transition from scene to scene without any problems. The dialogue is alright, but it has its moments where it sounds too unnatural or odd. The tone and mood can be eerie at points, but it’s usually offset by something else in the story. Finally, there are still plenty of moments in the story that come across as rather stupid or just don’t make much sense. Probably the biggest one to me was this: if the fish are already dead by the time they get onto land, how come the sharks are still trying to attack people?
Probably the strongest part of the manga is Ito’s artwork. Even if the story is very problematic, he is still very capable at drawing very eerie, gross, and eye-catching imagery and scenes. The amount of detail he puts into the scenes and “horrors” of the manga is very impressive as it is nasty. His layouts are pretty nice, the characters he draw are decent (though I can’t help but notice that most of his female characters look similar or have similar facial features). His artwork is good at setting a tone or mood for scene, like how hazy and barely visible the streets of Tokyo are later on. To be honest, I would love to see him work with a much better writer and see what they can produce together.
Last thing to discuss is the collection itself. As with the previous editions, Gyo: Deluxe Edition has both of the short stories usually paired alongside it in this collection: The Sad Tale of the Principle Post and The Enigma of Amigara Fault. The principle post story is pretty forgettable due to how short and pointless it feels. However, the Amigara Fault short story is really fantastic and creepy, even better than Gyo itself (heck, find a way to read that somehow if you aren’t interested in this manga). The collection is hardcover, similar to the previous Uzumaki deluxe edition and is pretty good. The binding is decent, the hardcovers are nice and strong, and the images used on the front and back are probably from some of the creepiest parts of the manga. Opening the front or back of the book gets you a nice double-page spread of the original cover artwork for the Editor’s Choice editions of this series from way back. My only real problem with this collection is that there are some pages at the very beginning that obviously look like they are supposed to be in color, but are not. I know they are basically the only pages in the entire series that have color and the original volumes didn’t have color if I recall, but it’s slightly disappointing that Viz couldn’t give us the original pages just for this deluxe edition.
Is It Good?
Gyo: Deluxe Edition is a bit lackluster. The collection itself is perfectly fine and Junji Ito’s artwork is grotesquely amazing, but there are just has too many problems with the actual manga itself. It’s too weird, goofy, and disgusting to be scary or even fun; the characters are forgettable to downright aggravating, and the story itself is weak and has too many plot holes to it. Even if taken with a B-movie approach, it’s still not great. I could recommend this to a fan of Ito’s work or maybe if someone wanted to upgrade to a better collection of the story, but to everyone else? There’s just far better horror manga out to read, even from this writer.
Gyo is available from Viz Media, alongside Junji Ito’s other series, Uzumaki. Besides the deluxe edition, there are two other versions of this series that are in two separate volumes. The first edition was the Editor’s Choice edition from 2003 or so (the images used above are from it, but the translation is still the same in the new versions) and other was a rerelease back in 2007. Believe it or not, an OVA (an animated adaption for those who don’t know) was released back in 2012 called GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack. It changed the focus to Kaori, made her much more bearable, and switched a few things up like adding some new characters. It is currently available from Aniplex of America.