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Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection

The cover to "Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection."Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection
by Junji Ito, Translation by Jocelyne Allen, “Frankenstein” originally written by Mary Shelley, “Frankenstein” English Adaption by Nick Mamatas.
Viz, 408pp
Rating: Older Teen

Junji Ito has had a presence in the American manga scene for nearly two decades, starting with Viz’s Uzumaki in 2001, which tells the disturbing tale of a town haunted by a shape; and Gyo in 2003, a bizarre tale about an invasion of walking fish. While both series were well received, companies struggled to really market his work in the U.S. Publishers such as Dark Horse and the defunct ComicsOne attempt to bring more of Ito’s work to stateside, with various anthology collections of his works, but each attempt petered out by the third volume leaving fans hungry for more. That all changed in 2013 when Viz re-released Uzumaki and Gyo in affordable hardcover editions. The combination of cheap hardcovers and Junji Ito’s horrific tales turned out to be a hit, and since then Viz has rolled out a new collection of Ito’s work on a near annual basis. Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection, released in 2018 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s original novel, combines Ito’s adaption of “Frankenstein” with several original short stories, including the “Oshikiri” cycle, to create a must have volume for horror fans.

A page from "Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection."

The creature confronts his maker.

For the most part, Ito’s adaption of “Frankenstein” delivers. Ito does a fantastic job at conveying the monstrousness of both the creature and Frankenstein’s actions. The former is done through a fantastic design which wonderfully conveys death and decay, highlighting the unnaturalness of this rotting, shambling figure speaking, moving, and reasoning in a bizarre mockery of natural life. While the latter is done by deviating from the source material to actually show the construction of the creature, something which is touched upon but not explored in the novel, and certainly wasn’t detailed in the same, graphic, and repulsive manner. While Ito’s decision to deviate here is an incredibly effective choice, latter deviations are not so fortunate. Frankenstein’s attempt to create a partner for the creature goes off into completely new territory with help from a very unlikely source, and it results in a sequence that is half as effective as it should be due to how out of character some of the actions seem. At the same time, the sequence completely removes any moral ambiguity to the creature, something which had long been one of the original work’s most intriguing features, and casts him as a far more inhuman and monstrous figure. As a result, the final twenty pages or so are something of a letdown, especially when compared to the absolutely fantastic build preceding them.

While “Frankenstein” is clearly the centerpiece of this collection, it would be a mistake to write of the rest of the collection as mere filler. The bulk of the non-“Frankenstein” material is made up of six short stories in Ito’s “Oshikiri” cycle; short tales about a young, short, high school boy who lives alone in a massive Western style mansion. While the stories initially seem unconnected, Ito eventually weaves them together to create a rather unsettling haunted house tale. Ito’s art is wonderfully suited for a haunted house story, as his thatching and attention to detail lends the house a nice, lived in, and aged feel. Visual tone is something Ito never seems to have a problem, and these stories emphasize that beautifully. The tall cracked ceilings, flaking wall paint, hallways that are just a little too tall, and a side yard far too narrow, all work to reinforce the feeling of the uncanny that all good haunted house stories have. Unfortunately, it really felt like Ito was just finding his groove with “Oshikiri” when it comes to an end. One can only hope he’ll revisit “Oshikiri” at some point in the future.

While he doesn’t quite stick the landing with “Frankenstein,” the rest of the adaption and the short stories which follow results in Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection being a must read for Junji Ito fans. Further, Viz made a very good decision in packaging Junji Ito’s adaption of Shelley’s novel alongside his original works. This combination allows newcomers, drawn in by the presence of “Frankenstein,” to experience a new take on a classic story while also exposing them to some rather fantastic works which are pure Ito. Minor missteps aside, Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection is a wonderfully chilling read and a fantastic way to introduce newcomers to the work of a modern master of the horror genre.

Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection is available now from Viz.

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