It’s Halloween season and in order to celebrate, we here at Adventures in Poor Taste have gotten together to do a very special horror review. Together we reviewed the horror manga collection Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito, the man behind Uzumaki and Gyo. What did we think? Is it good?
Fragments of Horror (Viz Media)
“Futon” [Review by J.R. Richards]
A young woman’s husband is terrified of something and won’t leave his futon, hiding under it and hoping the bad things out there won’t get him. This is a very quick story to the start of the horror collection, running about 8 pages. As such, there’s no time for themes, deeper meanings, or even character. However, as a primer to get the audience ready for the rest of the stories, it’s a solid introduction showing how ordinary and how bizarre Junji Ito can get with his stories. The ultimate ending of this tale is amusing and simple, showing that sometimes, there are reasons for what seems like the impossible.
7 out of 10
“Wooden Spirit” – [Review by Dave Brooke]
The second story in this manga hits very close to home. And by home, I mean the literal home you live in. It opens with a father and daughter who have moved into a house that has been in the family for years and deemed a national cultural property. The father is excited, tours are visiting due to its historical value and then a strange woman shows up.
This story plays on a few things that are creepy and strange. The first is the awkward feelings a child goes through as a parent dates someone other than their birth mother. The second is the idea that the wood used to make a home has a history of its own. Junji Ito does a good job establishing the odd feeling these things bring so that when it really gets weird you’ll get the creepy feels too. If eyeballs creep you out this story is really going to mess with you too.
The story is a bit slow though and much of it is set up to an unexplained supernatural event. It’s weird because it’s confusing.
“Tomio: Red Turtleneck” [Review by Jordan Richards]
This tale is about young man named Tomio, who is constantly holding onto his head. You see, only a few days earlier, he broke up with girlfriend, Madoka, and started going out with a fortuneteller the two of them had met before. The fortuneteller really seems to be into him… but most of all his head.
Twisted and gory, “Red Turtleneck” feels like a lost Tales from the Crypt episode. An ironic torture for a man who wandered away from someone who loved him to another who just loved his noggin. It’s a good horror story, one of the best in the collection, with a solid resolution that feels nice and appropriate. The only problem is a weird sidetrack towards the end with some “visions” that feel out of place in the rest of the tale. Junji Ito’s artwork is stunning here, as he’s able to switch between the mundane, normal world and the creepy, getting really under your skin with some of the visuals in the tale. There are visuals within this story that are gory, disturbing, and should you squirm in your seat. The only downside of the artwork goes to the production of the collection, which chose, for some reason, to have the color pages in black and white. As such, you never really see the “red” part of the Red Turtleneck story.
9 out of 10
“Gentle Goodbye” [Review by Alyssa Jackson]
Riko has always dreamed of her father dying, so when she marries and joins her new family, their family secret is especially intriguing: when a relative dies, they can bring back an “afterimage” of them that lasts for 10 years, so they can say a gentle goodbye and be more ready when they finally leave.
While this is an intriguing idea, the execution falls flat for me. There is little emotion between the characters, and the dialogue felt a bit wooden and expository rather than natural. The relationship between Riko and her husband is especially wooden, which makes the ultimate reveal less wrenching than it could have been. Riko’s recurring nightmares and fears about her father feel like they should be leading to a major reveal, but not the one we get.
I think this story also benefits from some knowledge of traditional Japanese family values and traditions. I have a baseline knowledge, so it basically made sense to me, but for people not familiar, some of the story beats might seem odd.
The art was nice and had some nice freaky moments, but wasn’t outstanding.
“Dissection-Chan” [Review by Patrick Hellen]
Body horror is kind of hit and miss for me. On the one hand, watching The Empire Strikes Back at age 4 has left me with a lifetime fear of losing a limb, but I think that was because I was experiencing the movie as Luke Skywalker, and my gut reaction was horror to that entire situation.
“Dissection-Chan”, while a compelling and creepy title, loses a bit of that body horror for one reason – it’s not my, nor the protagonist’s body.
To summarize, we’ve got a medical student, who during a normal cadaver dissection discovers that a very odd woman has snuck into the medical school, and presented herself as a subject to be cut open.
There’s something familiar about her – a connection that goes back to his own past, and his first experiences with death and another little girl from the neighborhood.
That little girl? The currently obsessed with death and dissection woman he sees before him.
This tale recalls all the strange things we did as children, though perhaps not this severe, as we started to learn about the world around us – while not trapped under our parents watching eyes. There’s a slow build of terror, in the little girl whose boundaries are unknown, and who has a scalpel that she’s very adept at using.
The artwork is perfect for this medium – with stark white space for the medical arenas, and dingy shadows for the childhood dissection attempts. As someone who doesn’t read Manga often, it took me a bit to get the correct flow when reading right to left, but my unfamiliarity with the medium actually heightened my tension, as I was less likely to skip a peak at the bottom panel, to lessen the creepy factor.
Still overall – while the maniacal child with a penchant for cutting open things is creepy as hell, the true impact of the body horror for me is that the focus, and the disgusting finish of all these oddities is the “crazy” woman, and not our grown and distinguished protagonist.
For me, Audition is the type of horror that pulls the real strings “Dissection-Chan” is attempting, and I feel like it’s a swing and a miss to focus on an older and psychotic woman who wants to harm herself, than the crazy kid intent on harming others.
“Blackbird” [Review by Tyler Sewell]
A simple, good Samaritan act turns out to have haunting and supernatural consequences in Junji Ito’s “Blackbird”. When a man finds a fellow injured hiker paralyzed out in the woods, he marvels at the hiker’s ability to survive alone for weeks without the use of his legs. But when night falls, he comes to find that the man’s survival was not in fact luck, but a curse.
“Blackbird” is particularly intriguing due to the traditional horror and quasi-science fiction aspects blended within this short story. It’s definitely a head scratcher that leaves you guessing until the final few pages. What begins as truly bizarre ends in poetic horror.
“Magami Nanakuse” [Review by Dave Brooke]
If I told you everyone has a special tic would you know what I mean? The definition describes tic as a “habitual spasmodic contraction of the muscles, most often in the face.” After looking that up it’s clear this story is the ultimate horror tic story. It opens with a girl who is infatuated with an author who explores tics. She relates to the writing and soon books a visit with the author. The fact that nobody knows she’s visiting, or that the location is remote and in a scary house should tell you everything you need to know. Ito connects the disturbing nature of tics to this author and turns this story into a torturous affair. The story is a bit silly, especially how it involves a transgender character for absolutely no reason, but works well to bring the creepy.
“Whispering Woman” [Review by Greg Silber]
Perhaps it’s because I struggle with my own annoying bouts of indecisiveness that I loved the premise of this story so much: Mayumi is indecisive to the point of being a danger to herself. She can’t walk, sit, stand, or do any other mundane task without the explicit instructions of others. As such, she requires care for all 16 hours of her waking life, a task that each one of her caretakers find maddening. Enter Mitsu Uchida, an eerily patient young woman who lasts longer than any of Mayumi’s previous attendants.
This being a horror story, you can probably imagine what kind of ending such a premise would lead to, but we arrive there in an interesting way. It’s a slow burn, to be sure, but the way that Junji Ito builds gradually from mild weirdness to deep uneasiness to, finally, full-fledged horror proves that he has developed his reputation as a master of horror manga for a reason.
I never got the sense that anything in the writing was lost in translation, but one thing that transcends the language barrier is Ito’s art. I’ve heard people complain over the years that “all manga looks the same,” but those people probably never saw anything by Junji Ito. There’s a roughness and weight to his lines that help make things more unsettling.
This particular story didn’t scare the bejeezus out of me like I hoped it would, but it was certainly compelling, and as a first-time Junji Ito reader, it made me want more. I’d call that a success.