The Liminal Zone HC – Junji Ito

4 out of 5

I think this might be the first modern Viz Junji Ito collection that isn’t named after a story in the book. Whether or not that’s important, I don’t know, but this is also the first collection of Ito’s work that wasn’t done for published manga, but rather an online app called LINE. Both of these notes come bundled with a revived passion found in the work, which isn’t to say that Ito’s constant horror output isn’t always of interest, but, inevitably – after many years; after a fanbase forms with expectations – it falls into routine, and there has been a clear desire to find inspiring subject matter that’s made some recent works a little wandering.

In the afterword, Junji mentions how the LINE app’s removal of a page requirement had him allowing stories to flow to a more natural length; that is absolutely what’s notable about these four tales: instead of rather abrupt endings, after some (occasionally forced) horrific twist, Liminal’s stories have room for character, and room for environment, and room for concepts to build – things get legitimately creepy at points, tapping into the unknown frights of classic Ito, with final story Slumber particularly haunting.

But this is also Junji sort of relearning his craft, which you can also somewhat tell from that afterword: the first couple stories have a beat pace to them, as Junji allows himself to figure out what he’s going for along the way. That afterword mentions a kind of malaise he was dodging; the LINE entries were created during Covid, and all of that goes into the process: pounding vague ideas into stories, trying to maybe avoid some of his own cliches and do something new, while still delivering a solid narrative. Weeping Woman Way and Madonna – the book’s first half – are affected by this moreso, though each has some really compelling imagery and moments, and, again, benefit from a lack of gotta-fit-it-into-a-magazine rush. The Spirit Flow of Aokigahara and the aforementioned Slumber that close out the set are both quite perfect, though, nailing the pacing and flow in addition to the other positives.

Topped off with a very naturalistic translation from Jocelyne Allen, and a gorgeous design from Adam Grano – that’s been consistent with the last few Ito HCs, all looking very awesome – this is a wonderful latter-career upswing for the mangaka.