Sensor HC (Viz, 2021) – Junji Ito

4 out of 5

Touching on some of mangaka Junji Ito’s familiar themes of obsession, and guilt, as filtered through the recent Remina‘s marrying of science and the unknown, Sensor almost feels like a revisitation of the latter, albeit committed with much more focus and consistency. This is actually one of Ito’s most consistent and linear horror tales yet, maintains throughlines from chapter to chapter such that it all feels like a connected story, and not a series of asides – generally the structure of his longer-running stories.

In Sensor, we start off with Kyoko Byakuya, visiting the site of Kiyokami – a village that was destroyed in a volcanic eruption from the nearby Mount Sengoku years ago. Right away, Ito drops in the what’s going to be his linking visual concept: “volcanic hair,” fibers formed from lava and still floating around in adundance around Sengoku. There’s an otherworldly aspect to these particular hairs; Byakuya somehow finds herself in a reconstructed Kiyokami, learning about its history. Mount Sengokua erupts once more.

Cut to reporter Wataru Tsuchiyado, following up on Kyoko’s trail. His investigations allows Ito to push the story in the (making assumptions from Ito’s afterword) originally intended structure of a travelogue of oddball events – Wataru comes across a creepy cult; a doctor whose son’s obsessions led to an alarming change of physical state; suicide bugs… On the surface, this is more like the aforementioned way Junji tends to craft his tales, but Sensor keeps all of these things fairly tightly linked, continually coming back to Kyoko, and volcanic hair, and the mind-expanding knowledge the former seems to have obtained when coming into contact with the latter, somewhat giving the story its title: Byakuya is a “sensor” for information, of all sorts. And thoughout the chapters, our understanding of her abilities, and the causes behind them, grows – cautioning what the impact of the pursuit of such universal knowledge might incur…

Sensor is a very satisfying story. Kyoko’s character is a bit lacking, and Wataru’s role as a reporter seems like just a tossed-off detail to get him involved – the same afterword suggests this is because the story shifted shape as Ito was writing it, meaning Byakuya starts as a POV and then is shifted to a more ethereal figure, requiring the introduction of Tsuchiyado just to have a new POV. The ending may also be a mixed bag, dipping slightly into spirituality, but I found the balance Ito employed to be well-handled, allowing things to go very, very bleak but also putting a conclusion on matter. This is also one of Ito’s best looking works – whether him or his assistants, the handling of tones and the balance of detail throughout was quite perfect. And superficially, the English VIZ printing of this is also delightful, with grabbing imagery, and an embossed, gold-font title against a brown and black backing making it stand out.

Remina had me a bit worried that Ito, in trying to expand his approach beyond use “usual” horror repertoire, may have lost a beat, but Sensor shows how he’s still growing, and learning, and applying new themes and interests to still-fascinating and creepy tales.