Tadashi and his germophobic girlfriend find their holiday interrupted by a disgusting smell wafting off the beaches. Soon, fish with legs are swarming ashore. Land-walking sharks are the next. The fish seem to be walking on strange metal legs that are powered by a foul-smelling gas. This gas has a mind of its own, and soon Japan is in the grips of a plague that may literally be from hell.
Ito says he conceived Gyo after watching Spielberg’s Jaws and deciding that the shark would be even scarier if it could walk on land. Gyo lacks most of Uzumaki’s creepiness but packs plenty of intensity and imagination, and the art is, of course, pungent. There are about ten or twelve moments where you think “OK, no way is he going to top this” only to get hit with a scene even more ridiculous and insane. As far as revulsion goes, Junji Ito is pretty much a dial that turns right…and right….and right…there is no end.
By volume 2, the story has fully shifted gears into what resembles a zombie apocalypse story. Ito bombards us with plot fragments until it’s hard to work out where any of this is going. Walking sharks, deadly germs, WWII military experiments, circuses…Gyo has something for everyone. By the final few chapters, Gyo starts to creak and groan a bit under the weight of its own implausibility. Eh, what are you gonna do. When you turn zombie sharks loose in a city, there’s going to be some casualties. Sanity and plot cohesion are likely to be among them.
The ending is, at the same time, rushed and incredibly profound. Ito struggles a bit to tie together all of his haywire plot threads, but the final two pages absolutely work. Ito rarely attempts this kind of simple, understated gravitas.
To pad out the shorter second volume, there are two bonus stories.
“The Sad Tale of the Principle Post” is a lovingly told shaggy dog joke about a man who becomes trapped under the support pillar of his house. “The Enigma of Amigara Fault” is very, very good, almost to the point of upstaging the main event. An earthquake reveals an ancient fault in a mountain, and people who journey to the fault find countless human-shaped holes in the rock. A very compact and frightening tale.