This volume includes nine of Junji Ito’s best short stories, as selected by the author himself and presented with accompanying notes and commentary. An arm peppered with tiny holes dangles from a sick girl’s window… After an idol hangs herself, balloons bearing faces appear in the sky, some even featuring your own face… An amateur film crew hires an extremely individualistic fashion model and faces a real bloody ending… An offering of nine fresh nightmares for the delight of horror fans.
Shortly after I finished reading Uzumaki in October (my first experience with Junji Ito’s work) I was excited to learn that a new collection entitled Shiver would be releasing in North America in December. I’d heard a lot about his short stories being particularly good and was eager to get some firsthand experience with them. He’s been a manga artist/writer for a long time, yet as far as I have seen there is only one other book published in English that collects any of them that is also easy and/or inexpensive to get a copy of. Options are limited for now, but this was a great place to start regardless.
The author considers these stories to be nine of his best and contained within is a medley of disturbing, violent, and downright bizarre tales. Some of them evoke familiar horror ideas in unique and interesting ways while others are unlike anything I’ve experienced before. The book’s tone frequently reminded me of Stephen King’s Creepshow or Tales from the Crypt. The stories are less character focused, except for details necessary for the plot to move forward, and a lot more concerned with developing the concept of the story itself. I enjoyed this style of storytelling for the most part, the length being just right to get the idea across without overstaying its welcome. The only drawback was sometimes I didn’t particularly care what happened to the characters themselves, since there was little time to get all that emotionally invested in them.
Throughout the art continued to be as superb as I’ve come to expect from Ito. He can draw body horror unlike anything I’ve seen before, injecting so much horrible life into his work. He’s quite skilled at making something mundane look unsettling too. “Honored Ancestors” features the visual of giant caterpillar creeping into a bedroom at night, and while it looks just like an everyday caterpillar something about its appearance is unnerving. Another story, “Greased,” involves some of the most effective gross-out horror I have ever seen in my life. It’s the only story that fit this mold fortunately, but despite legitimately feeling sick while reading it I loved how good it was at getting a rise out of me.
Interestingly, my two favourite stories were not directly tied to physical threats, but rather more spooky/haunting ideas. I found this most interesting because in one of the two cases – “Used Record” – his highly detailed, explicit art didn’t factor in at all. It was just a simple story of people obsessed with an old record that plays a single song of a woman dispassionately scat singing, but the depths of these people fixation and the eerie nature of the song itself were enough to make a big impression.
The other story – “The Long Dream” – did use some creepy visuals as someone underwent a gradual physical transformation. However, what really stuck with me was the idea of being trapped in vivid dreams that feel increasingly longer with each passing night, until your mind living through centuries of time in the span of a night, which is reflected in the man’s changes. The imagery was creepy, but moreso were the implications of what his mind was going through, as well as whether such a fate could be considered a blessing or a curse.
Shiver is a great collection of horror comic books, for those who are looking, and a good starting point for anybody particularly interested in checking out Junji Ito’s work. The art is wonderfully nightmarish, and the writing itself frequently chilling and well developed, often in ways that don’t rely on visuals much at all. In a couple of instances the concept for the story had me scratching my head more than unsettled, but even these cases were visually bizarre enough to be memorable in their own right. Not for the easily upset or disturbed, but definitely good for a chilling thrill.
My rating: 4 out of 5