Shiver: Junji Ito Selected Stories is Maddeningly Close to Horror Manga Perfection

Comics Reviews Junji Ito
Shiver: Junji Ito Selected Stories is Maddeningly Close to Horror Manga Perfection

This post contains disturbing imagery

STL055366.jpegOne of the joys of media journalism in January is making sure spotlight-worthy December releases aren’t forgotten in the haze of year-end lists. Paste’s comic crew has always worn its Junji Ito fandom on its spiral-covered sleeve, so we’d be remiss not to take a step back and discuss Shiver: Junji Ito Selected Stories before fully embracing what 2018 has in store for us. Published late last year by VIZ Media, the American home for most of Ito’s work, Shiver translates a 2015 Japanese volume of 10 short stories curated by the horror-manga master himself. Nine of these, including a slight short original to this collection, have never before received official American releases (Ito’s work is, unfortunately, widely pirated in the U.S.), while one can also be found in the absolutely massive Tomie omnibus published in 2016.

Ito, whose name is synonymous with horror manga both within and outside of his native Japan, has a relatively small amount of work currently in print in English. Uzumaki, about a town slowly going mad due to omnipresent spirals, and Gyo, Ito’s walking-zombie-fish epic, are all-but-untouchable landmarks of horror storytelling. The previously mentioned Tomie omnibus and 2015 collection Fragments of Horror are both strong if uneven, while recent creation Dissolving Classroom is a dud, and Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu is exactly as quirky as it sounds. Ito fans are hungry for new (legal) content, even when it falls below the standards of the near-mythical stature granted to the creator in horror circles.

Shiver: Junji Ito Selected Stories Interior Art by Junji Ito

Thankfully, most of Shiver showcases Ito at his best, touching upon his recurring themes: disturbing body horror, imminent apocalypses and inescapable doom. Ito’s visual style is top-notch throughout the book, at its best when portraying slow descents into madness and psychological afflictions made physical. Ito rarely overcomplicates his pages, relying on clean figure work and considered use of cross-hatching to render his worlds.

“Used Record” makes for an understated opening in classic Ito fashion as a ghostly recording provokes the worst in human nature. Title story “Shiver,” one of the two best in the collection, is another tale of fatal curiosity, bolstered by imagery unsuitable for the trypophobic. “Fashion Model” and the original short “Fashion Model: Cursed Frame” prove less effective, straddling a line between horror and humor that Ito can’t seem to navigate (and “Cursed Frame” reads like an incomplete draft). “Hanging Blimp,” the inspiration for the collection’s haunting cover imagery, is the other highlight, a swiftly escalating doomsday scenario that merges the absurdity of Gyo with the infamous made-just-for-you terror of Ito’s widely circulated short “The Enigma of Amigara Fault.” Clocking in around 60 pages, “Hanging Blimp” envisions a Japan under siege by strange balloons in the shapes of its citizens’ heads, each seeking out its mirror image for a fatal connection. The premise sounds ridiculous, but becomes a terrifically frightening world-ending plot in Ito’s accomplished hands.

Shiver: Junji Ito Selected Stories Interior Art by Junji Ito

With the exception of “Cursed Frame,” which comes at the end of the collection, the rest of the stories are uniformly strong: “Marionette Mansion” is a Goosebumps story turned up to 11, “Painter” is one of Ito’s finest Tomie stories, “The Long Dream” reads like a sleep-science take on Stephen King’s “The Jaunt” and “Honored Ancestors” turns familial pressure to procreate into monstrous, literal form. “Greased,” the penultimate story, will be divisive: some will love the all-consuming grime on display while others (this reader included) will have a tough time with the pus-covered grotesquery.

In addition to these 10 tales, Shiver contains commentary from Ito on his inspiration for each story, as well as tidbits about his life and career from the time of each tale’s creation. Unfortunately, this is where Shiver falls just short of perfection. Like the Tomie collection before it, Shiver lacks clear information about when each story was first published, which will frustrate readers interested in assembling a full picture of Ito and his work. The commentary and story notes are also on the brief side, although they do demonstrate how dramatically a finished product can differ from initial brainstorming. It’s difficult to fault VIZ for the lack of comprehensive editorial content—they’re simply translating what was available to them, and their license with Ito’s Japanese publisher may not allow additions like timelines—but Ito inspires a rabid fanbase, and the slow trickle of English work hitting the U.S. market can’t match the voracious demand for his brand of dread. Despite this minor flaw, Shiver should inspire ample nightmares as fans await Ito’s next American import—and the debut of Junji Ito Collection, the recently announced anime adaptation of Ito’s bibliography.

Shiver: Junji Ito Selected Stories Interior Art by Junji Ito

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