Gyo by Junji Ito

I’m convinced that Junji Ito suffered horrific night terrors as a child. Almost the entirety of his 35-year career are manga works that are gross, often graphic, and downright absurd in nature. And yet I won’t be the first to admit that they are also works that are totally engrossing as much as they are gross.   

My first experience of Junji, like many, was through Uzumaki – a town initially affected but ultimately consumed by the effects of a supernatural curse related to the spiral symbol. The concept is so addictive to read and consume its like you’ve become addicted to the very same curse. It is the only way I can describe it; something so disturbing its too hard to turn away. The setup of Gyo is very much in the same mould: Tadashi and Kaori are on holiday at Tadashi’s uncle’s beach house in Okinawa. After a scuba diving excursion where sharks are repeatedly getting close to Tadashi, his girlfriend Koari aggressively complains of the smell of something dead. After finding the source of the smell in the beach house – a human-size fish creature with mechanical legs – they both find out this is just the beginning.

This latest Junji Ito omnibus is yet another must-read, and not just for its horror. Beneath the gross creatures, the relentless hopelessness that often comes associated with any Ito storyline comes a tale about insecurity, and how it can also consume. Kaori’s insecurity is intense from the outset. She is on a trip with her boyfriend, a getaway for just the two of them, but it isn’t enough. Tadashi can’t appease her no matter how much he does for her. That insecurity is exacerbated by the emergence of the smell. Like the creatures that follow, Koari’s insecurity becomes all-consuming, and Ito never loses site of that, despite the Lovecraftian bow that wraps the whole thing. While designed to appeal to the primitive part of all our minds, Gyo is a fascinatingly much deeper tale of how nightmares and fears define who we are, what we do and how we deal with it. This is part of what makes Junji Ito such a powerhouse in Japanese horror. His stories are akin to Tales from the Crypt type scenarios, but far more relatable and as a result, highly readable.

This single omnibus volume also includes two short manga works which are just as compelling. The first, “The Sad Tale of the Principal Post,” is straight up absurdist art, as family find their missing man of the house in an impossible position in their new home. The second story, “The Enigma of Amigara Fault,” deals with the sense of unease and ultimately, claustrophobia. Of the many short stories Ito has produced it is absolutely one of his best, overwhelmingly intriguing and of course, disturbing. Junji Ito’s works are both totally disturbing and bewitching in equal measure, and Gyo in no different. Prepare to feel uneased, uncomfortable, and yet wholly satisfied by Ito’s masterful supernatural and perversely pleasing publication. Essential reading.

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