If you enjoy Junji Ito as an ideas man and a visionary, Black Paradox will appeal to you. If your tastes lean more towards The Twilight Zone than The Human Centipede, you’ll enjoy Black Paradox. But you want a cohesive, effective story, Black Paradox comes up a little short.
After his recent forays into non-horror (Cat Diary, The Patriot Rasputin, even parts of New Voices in the Dark), it’s easy to suspect that Junji is getting bored drawing vampire bats and stitched-together corpses. That trend is continued by Black Paradox. Next to the lurching sickness of Gyo, the Mach 10 sci fi carnage of Hellstar Remina, and the gruesome Lovecraftian hellfuck of Uzumaki, Black Paradox dials the intensity way, way down.
Still, maybe that’s not bad. A new, less campy Junji Ito, relying on weirdness and surreality and psychological scares…sounds like we have a date! So what goes wrong?
Basically, Black Paradox showcases a chaotic, out-of-control, self-indulgent plot. Ito has a complete inability to develop any of his own ideas properly.
This manga is the story of four troubled people who have formed a suicide pact, and their adventures in and beyond this world. The first chapter is a horrific traffic collision of various random horror tropes (dopplegangers, evil robots, haunted mirrors…). It’s like Junji had ten ideas for a story and tried to write them all at once. If I was one of these people I’d kill myself just to make my life simpler.
Starting from chapter 2, things get a bit more coherent. One of the characters swallows some sleeping pills, is revived after a near-death experience, and grows a portal to another world in his lower stomach (or something). The other world is full of beautiful gemstones, and the other characters put their suicide plans on hold to harvest, sell and market the stones. But things soon get out of hand when it’s discovered that the stones are extremely dangerous, and the suicide group must go into hiding when they’re suspected of distributing terrorist weapons.
To enjoy Black Paradox’s story you basically can’t think at all about what you’re reading. There’s any number of things that just don’t make sense (that character who is chained to a bed for a month against her will…why? What did she do?) and sometimes Junji breaks his own rules (other characters start developing portals, even though they never swallowed sleeping pills).
I did think the characters were better than in most Junji Ito stories. Marisol is boring manga heroine #1428905 …but then we have the scheming, double-timing Doctor Suka and the morose, byronic Piitan.
There’s a really solid set of ideas powering Black Paradox, and the final chapter does earn its desired emotional response. I enjoyed the allegorical riffs on how willingly humans will screw themselves for short-term comforts. But the central thematic material is put to such bizarre, senseless use in Black Paradox. It’s like having strong, sturdy wooden boxes that you use to catalogue your booger collection.
Black Paradox also contains two bonus stories. “The Licking Woman” is a nice piece of mayhem, featuring demon-possessed tongues and plot holes, and “The Mystery Pavilion” is so short it doesn’t even have an opportunity to suck.