Junji Ito is a Japanese horror mangaka (comic book writer-artist) who has created both long-form horror manga (comics) series and manga short stories. Ito's best known long-form manga include Tomie, Uzumaki, and Gyo. Tomie was adapted into a live-action film series (beginning in 1998), and Uzumaki was adapted into a live-action film (2000). Gyo was adapted as the anime film, Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack (2012).
VIZ Media has been publishing hardcover books that collect many of Junji Ito's manga short stories for the last four years. The first was Fragments of Horror (June 2015), and then, came Shiver: Junji Ito Selected Stories (December 2017). Last year saw the release of Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection (October 2018), which collects six Ito stories and Ito's manga adaptation of Mary Shelley's legendary novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818).
The latest Ito short story collection is Smashed: Junji Ito Story Collection, which was released last month (April 2019). This hardcover comics collection gathers 13 chilling, nightmarish stories from one of world's masters of horror manga and comics. Be warned. Do not be noticed when you eat the secret nectar, otherwise you’ll get smashed! What has caused so many people to be “earthbound?” Why are they tied to a certain place for the rest of their short lives? What is it about that strange haunted house that has come to town? This is Junji Ito’s world, where there is no escape from endless nightmares.
THE LOWDOWN: A long time ago, I was reading a review of Annie Lenox's second solo album, Diva (an album of cover song), in which the reviewer/ music critic said that every album should have at least one great song. [He thought Diva had two.] I sometimes use that standard for collections of comic book short stories, except having one great story per collection is not enough for me. I want at least two stories that so overwhelm me that I declare them to be great.
Smashed: Junji Ito Story Collection contains 13 comics/manga short stories, and I think five of them are great, and a sixth is bat-shit-crazy enough to be great. The opening story, “Bloodsucking Darkness,” begins as a tale about a young woman who, after being spurned by her boyfriend, decides to starve herself in order to get skinny so she become a model. It wraps up as a chilling story dealing with themes of obsession and self-destructive behavior with the symbolism of vampirism and human blood as vehicles by which Ito moves the story forward.
“Roar,” an imaginative ghost story about two hikers who encounter a strange flash flood, is a mystery tale that uses an unusual and recurring haunting to explore family and local histories. Its tragic reunion is one of the most poignant and heart-breaking moments I have ever read in a ghost story. I think that “Roar” would have made for a wonderful episode of the original version of “The Twilight Zone” television series.
“Earthbound” and “Death Row Doorbell” both explore themes of guilt, revenge, and grief. In different way, each considers how a sense of guilt can be so strong that it overwhelms the existence of people who have committed violent crimes. Each story also examines the power that grief and the desire for revenge hold over both the perpetrators of crimes and the victims/survivors. I don't want to say too much about the plot of each story because it would give away each story's fantastic resolution. “Earthbound” is about an epidemic of people frozen to a particular spot on earth. “Death Row Doorbell” tells the story of a young woman, Noriko Kowa, and her brother (unnamed in this tale) who suffer a visitor whose ringing of their front doorbell causes them great pain and fear.
“I Don't Want to Be a Ghost” is an unsettling tale about a young husband who first finds a strange young woman on a lonely mountain road. He begins an affair with her only to fall prey to her blood-chilling appetites. The title story, “Smashed,” centers on a strange nectar that a Japanese explorer finds in an isolated jungle in South America. The warning is that when you drink the nectar, you must not be “noticed.” The ending of “Smashed” is of the kind that readers would only find in a comic book, and it reminds me of the ending of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen – an excellent science fiction, mystery, and conspiracy comic book miniseries with an ending that is crazy, but is not as enthralling as the story that leads up to it. “Smashed” is the sixth “bat-shit-crazy enough to be great” tale I mentioned earlier in this review.
The other seven stories in Smashed: Junji Ito Story Collection are also quiet good. Most of them have elements that I would use the word “disquiet” to describe. Once upon a time, elements in these seven stories might have gotten a cartoonist or comic book creator fired, maybe even made him or her unemployable, or even gotten a cartoonist jailed. I'm thinking of the three-story suite involving a haunted house and a character named “Soichi.”
The only other comics short story collections that have impressed me as much as Smashed: Junji Ito Story Collection does are those books collecting stories originally published in various EC Comics publications. Smashed proves once again that Junji Ito is the current king of horror comics.
POSSIBLE AUDIENCE: Fans of Junji Ito, of horror manga, and of comics short stories will want the VIZ Signature edition of Smashed: Junji Ito Story Collection.