5 out of 5
Things we can now unreasonably expect from Junji Ito: that his artwork will always feature emotive characters and amazing creature/concept designs; that it will easily cross over into the surreal without missing a beat visually, or narratively; that he will somehow continue to weird us out and/or frighten and/or interest us with his ideas and interests…
In other words, Ito has somehow proven capable of continuing to churn out immensely fascinating and affecting work, and even when it’s not directly in the horror genre, it’s of high quality and potential impact.
With that high bar consistently met, one thing that’s kept him from setting it higher – at least in what I’ve read – has been a persistent niggling of misogyny in his works. Women are very often at the source of the Very Bad Things in his tales, and it’s hard not to read into that, beyond a cultural lens and in to the author’s personal opinions.
Smashed, the latest collection of short horror tales in hardcover from VIZ, finally avoids that sensation, making it the first set of Junji’s work I can fully enjoy without caveat. I would even say it serves as a slight corrective to that mentality: when we’re not dealing with the “usual” batch of horrendous concepts pushed beyond their usual Tales From the Crypt-y limits to realms only Ito is able to imagine – and bring to life! – we have stories in which men are to blame for their own miseries, or those inflicted on others. This may just be a coincidence of what’s been brought together here, but I’m also curious if there’s any timing that can be matched to when other stories were written versus the ones featured here.
With that out of the way, we can focus on the repeated motif of something – some obsession, some idea – being pushed too far. A predilection for a particular food; a song that gets stuck in your head. While this admittedly can go on past a conclusive point for the sake of a page count, it’s never exhausting; Ito’s professional, patient linework and composition makes it fascinating to look it, even if it gets a little silly. We also have some Souchi stories here again (a nasty little character who likes to curse people and keep nails in his mouth…!), but for those of us who maybe lose patience with these darkly humored tales when they appear in excess, there are only a few here, and Ito has interestingly paired two of them to be the same tale from different perspectives, which was really novel.
Simply a fantastic collection, meeting and exceeding the high marks of the creator’s previously VIZ-released stuff.