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Fragments of Horror

Fragments of HorrorFragments of Horror
by Junji Ito
Viz, 224 pgs
Rating: Teen + (16 +)

For the first time in nearly a decade, Junji Ito returns to the horror genre with Fragments of Horror, a new collection of short stories of the macabre, bizarre and horrifying. Best known for his horror masterpieces, Uzumaki and Gyo, Junji Ito is one of the most well known creators of horror manga in the U.S. Will Fragments of Horror live up to the expectations and reputation of the previous works of his released here?

In short, no. Fragments of Horror is a mixed bag, with stories ranging from the surprisingly touching and haunting “Gentle Goodbye,” to the bizarre and nonsensical “Magami Nanakuse,” to the creepy and disturbing “Black Bird.” While there are some good solid horror tales to found among these stories, there’s a surprising amount of stories which are just meh or downright forgettable. “The Futon,” which serves as the book’s opening story, is a story which has hints of the disturbing nature of some of his other works, but is most memorable for being so incredibly short and ending so quickly it feels like it never even got started. The aforementioned “Magami Nanakuse” stands out for another reason entirely, namely being the lowest point in the collection. It’s a weird little tale of a young woman obsessed with a reclusive and highly quirky author by the name of Magami Nanakuse. After contacting the author and being invited to visit her things go south quite quickly. Before you know it we’re being bombarded with a bizarre rendition of a cross dressing or transexual character, it’s never made clear which they are, along with some unfunny visual puns regarding body tics. It’s an uninteresting story that ends up sitting there like a lump in the middle of the collection. “A Gentle Goodbye,” on the other hand, is quit possibly the highlight of Fragments of Horror and was a lovely surprise! It’s a wonderfully emotional and moving story which uses the supernatural as a beautiful metaphor for the process of moving on from the loss of a loved one. I’m so used to Junji Ito and his bizarre body horror which is full of gross out moments, that I had no idea he was capable of something this elegiac and haunting. In a collection that features women being dissected, people being enveloped by mold, “A Gentle Goodbye” is an unexpected treat.

Interestingly enough, almost all of the stories involve the dissolution of a traditional relationship, whether they be a heterosexual couple or a family unit. The two leads from “The Futon” bare the worst of this, as they feature in two stories where their relationship is put through the ringer thanks to a woman touched by the supernatural. Likewise we witness the breakdown of the family unit in “Wooden Spirit” when a widower remarries to a younger woman despite his daughter’s protests. Again and again, this collection features stories where the horror comes to us via infidelity or an outside woman injecting herself into the various relationships throughout the book to such point that it’s hard to ignore. Horror is often a conservative genre, but seeing it laid out so explicitly was a little surprising.

One thing about Fragments of Horror which is consistent throughout the otherwise uneven outing, is Junji Ito’s visuals. Even if the stories don’t quite click or come together, he maintains a flair for the visually disturbing and unnerving. “Black Bird” isn’t my favorite story and doesn’t quite click for me, but my god is the titular figure one of the most disturbing and unnerving creations I’ve seen this year. Even “The Futon” which is only a few pages long and not terribly good, still has a visual punch which comes during the last page reveal and is both gross and disturbing. Junji Ito’s knock for the visually disturbing remains in tact and hasn’t been dulled by time.

In his afterward, Junji Ito wonders if his horror muscles have gotten weak or rusty and after reading Fragments of Horror, I’m inclined to say yes they have. This book really feels like Junji Ito is shaking off his ring rust. It’s uneven, some of the stories are flat duds, but when it clicks for him it really clicks. I can only hope that this isn’t a temporary return and that he continues and works with the horror genre and shakes off that ring rust, because I get the feeling that once he finds his groove again, he’ll be back to churning out the disturbing classics we all know and love.

Fragments of Horror are available now from Viz.

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  1. June 23, 2015 at 5:46 am

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