4 out of 5
In my typical backwards approach, my first exposure to classic horror manga artist Junji Ito… is through a cover of another work. And a very practical and straight-forward cover at that: of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which, wouldn’t ya’ know, I also hadn’t read before. In marveling at some of the telling’s more lurid details, I was surprised to find (thanks to Wikipedia’s appreciated summary of the tale) how accurate it was to the original text. There are some changes, particularly in the final conflict between man and creation, but I think these made sense for Ito’s rendition, keeping the pacing intact and character relationships consistent; more importantly, I don’t believe they change the impact of the tale: it still fully comes across as part tragedy, and part horror story. And justifying its existence in this format, Ito’s status as a name in the genre is well-earned, as his portrayal adds an omnipresent sense of dread throughout: Frankenstein is appropriately unhinged but also human; the monster is creepy and powerful and grotesque, and the doctor’s crimes of scientific passion are similarly limned with the nastiness of his chore of stitching together dead body parts. That being said, I’d note that Junji isn’t indulgent: there’s a patient, non-flashy sense to how he structures his pages and panels.
For those without awareness of the story: scientist man creates monster man; monster man turns out to be a monster. Junji includes the framing story of another man hearing the scientist’s tale.
Also included in the VIZ collected edition are the six tales of Oshikiri: a boy who seems to have a problem with incredibly disturbing things happening around him. Ito drops us right into the middle of this without buildup, which makes getting along with Oshikiri – he’s rather petty and petulant – something of a chore at first. He’s something of an outcast at school, and he takes issue at that; once we learn a bit more about his living situation, we get his purposeful isolation, and Junji dips deeper into the more horrific elements of the tales at this point. It’s a very satisfying evolution, but with a non-sympathy-earning barrier to entry at the start.
Lastly, the book has two very entertainingly grotesque shorts, and two amusingly harmless tongue-in-cheek autobiographical (I assume) tales of Non-non, the artist’s yappy little dog.
VIZ’s printing, and the translation, are all quality, in a slightly-oversized binding. The HC is great to hold and flip through: very solid but light, with appropriate space between the pages and edge to appreciate the full page.