Junji Ito is one of Japan’s most celebrated creators of horror manga, and VIZ has released a fun new collection of his short works in Smashed. Coming in at just over 400 pages, it consists of thirteen (of course) tales of the morbid, weird and gory: “Bloodsucking Darkness,” “Ghosts of Prime Time,” “Roar,” “Earthbound,” “Death Row Doorbell,” “The Mystery of the Haunted House,” “The Mystery of the Haunted House: Soichi’s Version,” “Soichi’s Beloved Pet,” “In Mirror Valley,” “I Don’t Want to Be a Ghost,” “Library Vision,” “Splendid Shadow Song” and the titular story, “Smashed.”
Fans of Ito’s previously English-licensed work, such as Uzumaki and Tomie, would be familiar with his dark, sometimes gruesome and always detailed art style. What Ito offers us here, though, are vignettes rather than longform stories, and each one is like a tasty if disturbing treat. The first story has a girl struggling with an eating disorder who keeps waking up to find spots of blood all around her. This is a good setup for the rest of the stories, showing how it mixes real issues people deal with alongside creepy, otherworldly happenings.
Familiar horror scenarios play out here, like haunted houses, ghosts, monsters and cannibalism. At the same time, Ito brings horror with new twists on the mundane, such as his story about an evil song that gets stuck into people’s heads, or a comedy duo with sinister powers over the audience. We don’t get any detailed or mythological explanations for the ultimate cause of the weird things that happen, because the stories concentrate more on the horror of the unknown and unexplainable.
Some of the stories have reoccurring characters, while others do not. Either way, each story stands on its own. There’s a long tradition of telling horror stories as short stories, and while prose works like that of Edgar Allan Poe and Lovecraft are the most famous, it doesn’t mean horror short stories can’t also work well in the comic book format. Ito’s been publishing horror manga since the 1980s, and there’s a reason why he’s one of the most successful in his field. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of Ito or of horror stories, short horror stories or horror manga in general.
Story & Art: Junji Ito
Publisher: VIZ Media
Danica Davidson, along with Japanese mangaka Rena Saiya, is the author of Manga Art for Intermediates. In addition to showing how to draw manga character types in detail, the book describes how professional Japanese manga creators work, including common techniques and what drawing utensils they use.