Stuck In A Rut – Junji Ito

Yeah, that’s kind of exactly how I pictured Junji Ito. Typical horror author’s look. Just look at R.L. Stein.

Or Stephen King.

If you wanna write horror, glasses are a must. And a black article of clothing.

This will be the final Ito work of the week, as I want to focus on other works from other authors, and get Portus off of my shelf. Spoiler, no Tomie. Not this year, anyway.

As per my rules, there’s no attacking the mangaka involved and I’m working off of three series. So, naturally, I’ll examine Uzumaki, Gyo, and Hellstar Remina, since I reviewed those. The most obvious link is the apocalyptic tone of each one, but there’s an interesting factor. The range of devastation is contrary to the amount of hope left by the end.

Uzumaki = One town, everyone gone and succeeding town doomed again.
Gyo = One planet, some survivors remain immune and could potentially stop the legs, albeit repopulation is unlikely.
Hellstar Remina = Solar System, everyone on Earth died excluding six people, three of both genders, with hope for finding a safe home within a year.

This brings us to a common factor. None of these lack any sweet ending, but are always overshadowed by the bitterness. So Kirie can live forever with her boyfriend? I’d prefer to date around if it came to that. There’s the illusion, or delusion, honestly, that these stories need some form of hope or happiness to be enjoyed. Maybe I just want the Earth to crash and burn with remnants of dust floating in space. Maybe I want to see everyone farting on crab legs. Why does the positivity ¬†matter?

Well, Ito never talks down to the reader. Things suck; and Ito makes it abundantly clear to us. It’s not Twilight where the horror is a means to the romance; rather, the romance is a means to the horror. We need someone to cheer for, or we become removed from the events and relatability. But that’s a commonplace concept. So let’s step it up. How many other genres could end with the Earth’s destruction? Horror and Death Metal, but the latter only for music, I suppose. Now, how many people would you imagine could survive the Earth being eaten? Zero?

The hope for humanity allows for a curveball to be thrown. Sometimes the humans can survive, sometimes doom is apparent. But there’s always a chance, and that makes the romance, the hope, the happiness necessary. Ito isn’t a softie (well, not to strangers, but…), he needs these elements for surprise. Would you have guessed the girlfriend becoming bloated like that in Gyo, turned monstrous? And the protagonist remains without love. Finally, without love, beauty, we could not have horror, the ugly, AKA the visually preferable. I mean, it’s way more interesting.

Speaking of the art, Ito only has a few faces, like most artists, but they’re GOOD faces. They don’t need to smile or kiss, they need one thing: The face of fear. Whether monsters with sharp teeth, humans losing the need to live, or ice cream children sinking away with a careless grin, the face of fear has no peer when it comes to Ito.

One more idea. I said that Ito never talks down to the reader in terms of how things will turn out. On top of that, Ito also never insults the reader’s interest. I’ve read a vampire story by him, and it changes the dynamic of typical in such away that makes the creature fresh yet familiar. Unlike so many “horror” manga in the US, which have witches and yokai and devils as cute pals, Ito knows. He so knows, and takes full, glorious, fleshed-out advantage of the creatures of the night. And I’m sure they return the favor by giving him great press. Heard of a centaur working at Nintendo, gave Ito a one-shot to do for Pokemon.

I mean, everything is scary to him, and he knows how to show it. But we’ll look at that more next week.

Oh, and the lack of explanation for everything? Eh. It’s not the why or how, but the what and which. Like, “Which Ito stories should I examine next week?” But for now, tune in for some other authors. Maybe there’s ghosts or deep-fry shrimp! Probably not.

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Hellstar Remina

Welcome back to Obligatory October-Themed Horror Month! I sure love Junji Ito, but if only he wrote something about an evil space monster eating planets.

Oh! A scanlation of the very thing I vaguely described exists! Enter “Hellstar Remina,” about a love between a girl and a hellstar that would never die. Okay, it’s an apocalyptic tale, again. This one’s different, however. Unlike Uzumaki, confined to one town, or Gyo, limited to Earth, the threat lies in the Solar System! Okay, the focus is on Earth, but still.

Remina’s father discovered a “heavenly” body that appeared 16 light years ago, the same Earth-time as Remina’s sixteenth birthday. He names the planet “Remina,” which makes people think, “Wow, she’s pretty AND has a planet named for her! Let’s idolize her!” So she gets Katy-Keened by society, famous for no reason, out of nowhere, and with various potential boyfriends.

Of course, this is Junji Ito, so it turns out that the planet is a Hellstar. It’s eating the planets leading up to Earth, making escape futile and doom inevitable. Along the way, Remina has some WACKY adventures, like crucification, betrayal, and flying through the air because Hellstar Remina is oh so silly!

Let’s talk about the Hellstar Remina.

Yikes.

Hellstar Remina, unlike Ito’s other works, is… not subtle. At all. Loads of fun? YUP. Scary as a Hellstar? You bet! But it feels that a lot is lost in the one-volume story. I don’t know, the mob mentality is too insane, even for a mob mentality. Even for Ito! “She’s Remina, so the planet wants her. KILL HER!”

They don’t successfully kill her, but her father does die. Seriously, some of the desperation is bizarre. A jerky rich kid and his equally obnoxious family decide that the only safe planet is the Hellstar, considering it can’t (or won’t) eat itself. Yeah, perfect. With the smog, tentacles, and living planet, there’s no way this could go wrong.

OH! WAIT! I just remembered!

I really like to think that one was inspired by the other.

Look, HS Remina is Hell and Yivo from Futurama is Heaven. Tentacles, intimate nature, only mouths and eyes for facial features, loves one woman. I don’t know, just call it Heavenstar Yivo.

HS Remina licks Earth really sensually, which is equal to two Gyos. This causes Earth to rotate too quickly, allowing a lack of gravity for Remina and her pursuers. It is ridiculously fun to read. Oh, then there’s a romantic subplot. “Spoiler, I was the jerky kid’s astronaut brother! Did you care?” Remina and the astro-not find two boys and two girls, find shelter in the Jerkington’s emergency shelter, and Earth is devoured. But wait! The shelter survived, with enough provisions for a year, enough time for s miracle. Everyone laughs and remain hopeful, excluding Remina who wistfully peers out the window, lamenting the loss of her father and the joy she once knew. An unusually kind, yet welcome, ending for an Ito work.

THEN “ARMY OF ONE,” A BONUS STORY WHERE PEOPLE ARE SEWN TOGETHER. It’s okay, and I didn’t see it coming, but I’ve never been more baffled by an ending.

I really liked Hellstar Remina, and I’m disappointed it’s never been produced in the states. Most of Ito’s works have remained in Japan, and I’m glad we have anything at all from him, but I need my fix. As for Remina, I really appreciate the tone of this one. The romance was definitely underplayed, as it should, since Earth was being eaten up and out. Definitely a must-read for Ito-philes.

Tune in for more Manga Monster Murder Month! You’ll love it!

Gyo

FISH HEADS FISH HEADS ROLY POLY FISH HEADS

It’s days into October, and that means I didn’t break my promise yet! I can do this! Today we’ll be looking as Gyo, Juni Ito’s Fishterpiece! Not a word, but it will be.

When I read Ito, my skin crawls, Maybe it’s because there’s another person trapped inside, or perhaps I’ve got spirals emerging. Either way, Junji Ito gives me the willies. Then, fish.

Gyo isn’t like other horror manga. Those don’t have fish in them. You’ve got two teenagers, Tadashi and Kaori. Tadashi is the typical Ito lead: bland, a voice more than a character. Kaori, however, is OH MY GOD WILL YOU STOP ALL-CAPSING, THAT IS SO ANNOYING. Kaori hates smells. Like, really hates smells. Remember Uzumaki and how Shuichi hated his town because of its ominous feeling? That’s Kaori. Oh, then Tadashi is Kirie.

And while I plan on doing a new “Stuck in a Rut” segment on Junji Ito, I’d like to point out here: This is unacceptable. It’s the exact same formula, only horror and gender tweaked! Lead and partner are
happy but partner states dissatisfaction with the area they’re in. Assuming insanity, lead doesn’t listen to partner until it’s too late. Their lives destroyed, evil had triumphed yet again.

I gripe about this because I’ve read the smaller works, and half the time it’s the same thing! Okay, Ito never has real happy endings, but I mean the plot. Quite often the one-shot stories are mass-devastation, like balloons that strangle everyone or something that happens in this manga.

It’s not exactly “bad,” and I honestly prefer the art and the loophole-prevention to the basic plots. Speaking of…

Here, there’s no spirals. We have fish on legs. Then sharks. Whales. Cows. Humans. Some kind of mechanic crab legs inject creatures, bloating them with gas that smells to high Hell. The creatures are restrained in the legs, forced to burp and fart and WOW, Kaori got caught in that.

Yeah, unlike Uzumaki, Kaori spends more than half of the two-volume story in the fart-on-legs machine. I have another writing flaw: Ito’s need for romances. Shoehorned, always. So when Kaori is a fart machine (she’s expelling gas from her mouth and rear, although “fart” is never used), a budding romance tries to sneak in between Tadashi and his uncle’s lovely assistant.

Oh, the uncle. He claims that the legs were made for warfare but scrapped and sank, which may have turned them into self-replication war machines. FINE! An actual explanation for the events of the manga!

Then the assistant is kidnapped (right before Kaori tries to kill her) by the uncle, gone mad by… something? He hooked up Kaori to his own version of the legs, made a second one for himself, and flew off with the assistant. Hmm.

Kaori is murdered by the “natural” leg monsters, Kaori joins some guys who are immune (no females, I note) and one claims that no, it couldn’t be war machines, but a design by Mother Nature to get revenge on her attackers.

REALLY?! Two theories? Can I please get one? Nothing is really “explained,” as I quote the term because no one could be satisfied by something this farfetched having a plausible reason. Yet when there’s much to be answered, we are left to dry by a man who plans and ends with no bends. I still love Gyo because it’s such a bizarre plot, but definitely conventional within his own works.

Unsatisfied? There’s bonus stories! First “The Sad Tale of the Principal Post.” Strap in folks, it’s a long one.

A family just moved into a new house, and, sadly, discovered their father under the central support post of the house. Not wanting to ruin the new house, the father sacrifices himself. They never found out why he was under the post to begin with. The end.

FOUR PAGES! I’ve enjoyed four pages of this more than some entire series!

Finally, “The Enigma of Amigara Fault.”

Human-shaped holes are discovered on a mountain side. Various people come to find their hole, claiming they recognize the shape from TV. One goes into the hole and is unable to turn around (why not walk backwards?), so he disappears. More and more people go into their holes, disappearing from sight. Our bland protagonist, who has dreams about how the holes were ancient forms of punishment, and his love interest who he’d just met a day ago resist as long as possible, but end up giving in. A few months later, a team of field researchers discover on the opposite side of the mountain more holes, albeit more like squiggles than anything. Our last image is a deformed human about to escape their hole. The end.

This one is highly enjoyed, but I have a few complaints. Remember how I said Ito shoehorns romance subplots when they’re not needed? Really? A day? No one’s buying it. The only reason we have a protagonist here is the visions. Oh, and even though we finally have a fairly suitable explanation, it undercuts the ending a bit, since the squished human isn’t a huge shock. All in all, however, fairly solid.

Stay tuned for more Junji Ito, folks! I ain’t done yet!