When you see the name Shuzo Oshimi attached to a manga, you know you’re in for a disturbing journey. His work on The Flowers of Evil was a polarizing affair, diving between the brilliantly absurd to the just-plain fucked up. His latest work Blood on the Tracks is a slow burn, but when it comes time to shake its audience, it does so in the creepiest of fashions.

Blood on the Tracks follows a young teen named Seiichi, who has a nice relationship with his mother. Others claim that she overprotects her son, with Seiichi slowly coming to realize her means of acting around him. But on a family summer trip, it all comes to a head when his cousin Shige pushes his teasing aesthetics a bit too far for the mother to take. That’s when...well, I don’t know what to quite say here.

Oshimi does a great job with creating tension, even when there’s nothing happening. A smile, a head pat, and even something as normal as kids goofing off has something dark underlying from within. Even when Seiichi’s mom is acting kind, there’s a look in her eyes that says that something isn’t quite right. It’s when she does something so over-the-top on the summer trip that the buildup to that moment was calculated very much right from the get-go.

Where Junji Ito uses visuals to strike uncomfortable sensations, Oshimi goes straight to the reader’s nerves by crafting dark contradictions. The image of a cute fuzzy cat pulls at our heartstrings, only for the feline’s true nature to jolt us with cringe-worthy intent. As the mother slowly drifts into madness, the concept of a person who’s supposed to be homely is instead warped into an untrustworthy psycho. Things that should bring comfort are twisted in ways that make Blood on the Tracks a blood-curdling affair, even with the absence of gore. To accomplish something like that takes loads of talent, and it’s clear that Oshimi has plenty of that stored within his creativity.

Perhaps that’s why I’m so enthralled by the imagery he crafts. There’s a very Satoshi Kon-like look to his characters, which is a no-brainer to go for seeing as both creators are masters of screwing with their audience. The very human features of the mother make her actions feel jarring, to the point where one may wonder if there’s someone in their own family that may act out in such a way. A beautiful shot of butterflies in the woods also brings back some Flowers of Evil-like symbolism, as if the mother’s cocooned dark self has finally emerged.

Blood on the Tracks is a very dark affair, even with its first volume. One can only imagine what may befall those close to Seiichi, especially when he finally invites his crush Fukiishi over to his place. Odds are, I’m going to get very frustrated by Seiichi’s mom as the story progresses. I look forward to the mental scarring that awaits.

FINAL GRADE:

Promotional consideration provided by Tomo Tran of Vertical Comics

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