Don’t read this manga while eating. It is gross.
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.
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In some bands, everyone becomes famous, even a humble drummer like Ringo Starr. Then there are bands like Static-X, where there’s “the man” and a bunch of glorified session musicians playing in the background. This is frontman Wayne Static’s first solo album, and it’s no surprise that Static-X’s sound has been replicated almost perfectly, even after the loss of his entire band.
Static-X pretty much broke up two years ago, with the band members going their separate ways (and slinging harsh words back and forth on Blabbermouth). Wayne used the break to work on a long-promised solo record, now released as Pighammer. Since Wayne had always mentioned that he felt that he was creatively tied down in Static-X I was genuinely curious as to what it would sound like.
Well, it sounds like Static-X. Pantera/White Zombie influenced metal riffs, trancey synths, catchy rhythmic gibberish for lyrics. The changes are chiefly production related. The guitar tone sounds processed and scooped out, just a really fuzzy and big version of Rammstein’s sound. The drumming is mercilessly triggered, without the “natural” tone Static-X dabbled with for a bit on Cannibal.
Static-X hasn’t released a 100% good album since 2001, and Pighammer likewise doesn’t live up to the expectations one might have, but Wayne still writes a fair amount of good material. “Chrome Nation” is an obvious winner, fast, catchy, and loaded with energy. “Assassins of Youth” is apparently based on Wayne’s experiences in the wonderful world of drugs (with the trance-inspired second half representing his decision to go clean). “Thunder Invader” has a lot of double-bass percussion, and a deliberately noncatchy chorus that somehow works.
But as soon as Pighammer slows down and starts bombarding you with the midpaced groove songs Wayne loves so much, things suffer. Tracks like “Static Killer” and “Shifter” are sonically monotonous and flat, without the atmosphere and creepiness Wayne used to command on Static-X classics like “Stem” and “Cold”. The closing track also bombs hard. I could have done without the unnecessary guest vocal spots for Wayne’s ex-pornstar wife, by the way. Wouldn’t it feel weird to kiss a woman on the lips and know that she’s had like 900 penises inside her mouth? Oh well, if you can’t be the first, you can be the next.
Pighammer is meant to be about Wayne’s personal transformation. It’s great that he’s transformed, but his music certainly hasn’t. Static-X had a really cool sound for a while, but it seems the band (even if the “band” is only Wayne) bleeds out more energy and inspiration every time they copy the formula.
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Yay, twelve Junji Ito one-shot stories. This format is where Ito is most comfortable. His style is visceral and intense and works best in small doses. Also, it’s hard to care about slightly flat characters when you only spend 20-30 pages with them.
Ito loots ideas from all manner of places: childhood phobias, ancient myths, Lovecraftian existential terror. There’s no unified theme running through these stories, except perhaps that you should be careful picking up rocks. No matter how safe and familiar a rock might look, there’s always something squirmy and chitinous and unpleasant on the damp side.
“The Bully” is one of Ito’s most frightening tales. No gore, nothing supernatural, just a really powerful psychological tale of childhood trauma following two people long after they’ve grown up and left the schoolyard behind them. It doesn’t matter that we never find out what happened to the woman’s husband. The consequences of his disappearance are enough. “The Devil’s Logic” is equally powerful. A girl climbs to the top of a school building and throws herself to her death, and only one of her classmates knows the reason why. Ito is just on fire in these two stories.
“A Deserter in the House” is pretty fun. A WWII-era Japanese family is harbouring an army deserter in their basement. Since he never leaves the house, they fuck with him by feeding him all sorts of fake news about the war (Japan is winning the war, America is on the verge of surrender, etc…). This is about as good as you get character-wise with Ito. The family is a diverse cast with some understandable (if cruel) motives, and we’re not sure whether to pity or hate the deserter. Unfortunately, Ito wraps up the story on a dull note. I wish it had ended as well as it started.
“Den of the Sleep Demon” is a vile retelling of Jekyll and Hyde, featuring a man with a hellish force of evil inside him (literally inside him), and a girlfriend who helps him fight back. “Love as Scripted” is also very cool. A girl dates an actor, and finds that she likes his stage presence far more than the real thing. It raises the interesting question of whether love for something fake (whether it’s a fictional character, or a real person putting on a fake persona) is any more or less valuable than love for the real thing.
A handful of stories fall short of the mark. “Sword of the Reanimator” is shitty shonen fluff featuring magic swords, ancient legacies, epic boss battles, and all the rest. I have no idea why Ito wrote this story, it’s just inexplicable and awful. Probably his editor made him do it. “The Face Burgler” is about a high school girl who steals other girls’ faces, and is over-long, and too similar to Tomie.
“Village of the Sirens” is big and ambitious, and reads almost like an early test run of Uzumaki. It has its moments but I think he ran out of pages, because the drawings are crowded as hell and he’s clearly rushing the plot along at a million miles an hour. When you have a demon as big as a skyscraper rising from a black pit, doesn’t that warrant a full page drawing or a two page spread instead of a series of tiny cramped little panels? I think if the story had been allowed to breath more, it would have been better. “Unbearable Maze” is like queuing for a ride at a carnival only to be told the ride’s out of order. It has the most unsatisfying ending imaginable.
My favourite story from the volume? “Bio House”. It’s Ito’s second story ever (after “Tomie”) and although it’s stupid and plotless, it’s also outrageous and entertaining. I can’t explain why I like it so much. When Hideshi Hino draws these sorts of stories I hate them.
Although there are ten Museum of Terror volumes, this is likely the last one we’ll see officially released in English. Many of the stories in subsequent volumes have been scanlated, but Dark Horse’s MoT editions frankly rule and it’s a shame there will be no more of them.
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