MANGA REVIEW | Chills and Uncomfortable Laughs in Junji Ito’s "Tombs"
When you want to be creeped out, Junji Ito’s your man. His stories, be it the short-form in The Liminal Zone or the long-form Dissolving Classroom, know how to give readers a good case of the goosebumps. His 2013 collection Tombs demonstrates a solid knack for crafting scares and giggles, with his audience knowing full well what they’ve signed up for by the first page of one of his stories.
The collection begins with the titular “Tombs,” as two siblings enter a strange town where those who die turn into tombstones. Although the reason behind the phenomenon is unknown, its presentation is trademark Junji Ito. Tacking on the subplot of the siblings accidentally killing a town resident adds more unsettling vibes to the narrative, especially when we see them transform. It all leads to a grand finale that not only is visually horrifying, but emotionally heartbreaking.
“Washed Ashore” takes the concept of hope and turns it on its fickle little head. A giant sea monster is found dead by the beach, with the sight causing tons of people to come see it. Two strangers with their own reason to hate the ocean bond over the situation, with one of them losing their fiancé to a boating accident years ago. But things go completely ape-shit when one person finds something horrifying within the dead sea beast. All of it crescendos into a bonkers revelation, bringing forth more questions than answers. (Personally, this is one I’d love to see a follow-up on sometime.)
Ito’s knack for the weird is showcased greatly in “Slug Girl”, where the young student Yuko finds herself having trouble speaking. After spending days with the ailment, the root cause of her problem literally spews from her mouth. It’s a story that’s more comedic than horrifying, but the last few images will certainly give some readers some cause for concern. The same can be said about “The Window Next Door”, which balances uncomfortable uncertainty with a sliver of humor thanks to a very bothersome neighbor.
When it comes to the perfect mixture of dark comedy and horror, “Bronze Statue” is the story that does it best. Rumors of the mayor’s wife’s statue in the park cause a few ladies to laugh at the idea. But when they are invited to the woman’s home to see the next addition, they find themselves unable to escape from her clutches. What follows next is a terrific blend of the grotesque and the wacky, where victims become molds and statues start conversing with one another.
“Floaters” balances between tragedy and horror, with mysterious hairballs that spew people’s inner thoughts. Some do their best to catch them, whereas others wait to own the thoughts of others. However, when one person takes their life over their thoughts getting out, the story takes a left turn into disturbing territory. Its ending brings to mind the original Little Shop of Horrors, with one deceased’s character getting to speak its mind truthfully for once.
“Clubhouse” feels like a perfect fit for a classic Tales From the Crypt episode, where three friends embarks on an abandoned house. A situation arises that causes the friends to split, with the one person that glued them together seeing where they’ve been going since then. What follows is an unnerving tale involving radical students, ghosts, and murder. Ito ends it with one of his classic cliffhangers, leading readers to worry and wonder what will become of this trio in the long run.
“The Strange Tale of the Tunnel” lives up to its namesake, with a young brother and sister finding themselves drawn to a tunnel that was the sight of their mother’s death. When the sister keeps finding herself back in the tunnel without explanation, the brother Goro has no choice but to investigate. There, he finds a group of scientists measuring radiation readings. But in true horror fashion, the strange circumstances have nothing to do with radiation; something more spooky is the cause of it all!
Serving as the collection’s grand finale, “The Bloody Story of Shirosuna” has a doctor arriving at a weird village where everyone is anemic. The cause of the problem is unknown, until the doctor does some detective work with the help of a young resident. What he discovers is something that goes beyond human knowledge, with the reason for the mysterious ailment becoming clear. Sadly, Junji Ito just doesn’t want to give this village a happy ending, with the doctor doing something that causes more harm than good in the long run.
Tombs is an excellent showcase of what Junji Ito can do. From the unsettling title story to the humorous “Bronze Statue”, each of these works is a testament of how well the author presents these downright creepy stories. He’s never been for the faint of heart, but Tombs is easily one of his most accessible of collections. If you’re new to his works, then I suggest you dare yourself enough to read this collection to see why Junji Ito is the best in horror today.
Promotional consideration provided by Chantelle Sturt of VIZ Media