A new collection of delightfully macabre tales from a master of horror manga. An old wooden mansion that turns on its inhabitants. A dissection class with a most unusual subject. A funeral where the dead are definitely not laid to rest. Ranging from the terrifying to the comedic, from the erotic to the loathsome, these stories showcase Junji Ito’s long-awaited return to the world of horror.
Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito is, according to the afterword, the author’s return to drawing and writing horror after an eight-year hiatus. Going in I had heard the author himself considered the collection a little below par for him, as he had gotten rusty after almost a decade away from the genre. Nevertheless, I’ve really enjoyed Ito’s work that I’ve read thus far, so I was cautiously optimistic going into this book that the stories within would still be of a certain quality that I could enjoy.
Unfortunately, this collection was all over the place in terms of quality, oftentimes dipping well below what I expect from the author. There were a few specific stories that didn’t do much for me at all, but even in the case of those that were better written there was still a sense of lacking. With these better stories there was just something in the delivery or an added small detail here or there that made things a little confusing, and not in such a way as when vagueness breeds good horror by leaving it to your imagination. With the worst cases I found myself scratching my head with confusion, the worst outcome of strangeness in horror.
For example, the story “Magami Nanakuse” involves a novelist who is known for giving her characters unusual tics, which for some reason is the source of her success as a writer. This is so much the case that she’s imprisoning people until they develop strange tics from confinement to inspire her for her next book. She also constantly exhibits unusual tics herself, which the people around her constantly mimic. It makes for some really bizarre behaviour unfolding on the page, and the fate of the lead character makes for an unsettling reveal image on its own, but this premise was simply baffling. It felt too much like Ito was grasping at weirdness.
Where I don’t think Ito has lost his touch is the art. The only nit-picky exception is character faces, which look particularly samey in this book. He’s excellent at making somebody’s dad look like a unique human being, but his main characters often suffer from some degree of same-face syndrome. A lot of the horrific imagery he’s known for is just as good as ever, though. “Futon” is the weakest story in terms of plot, but it has a wonderful two-page spread of nightmarish sprites populating a bedroom. There is also a very troubling dissection scene in “Dissection-chan” that nicely punctuates a markedly good story about macabre obsession and turns it into something even stranger.
Despite their weaknesses, a decent number of the stories do have interesting premises. “Blackbird” is a good gross-out tale with a well-designed monster and “Gentle Goodbye” is creepy but ultimately a poignant exploration of accepting loss and processing grief. I found something to enjoy in most of these stories, they just frequently fell short of what they could have been due to rushed storytelling or bizarre twists.
I would recommend fans of Ito’s work to pick up Fragments of Horror if they’re eager for as much horror as they can get from the author, but this book is sub-par enough that I would insist newcomers not start here. Some of my feelings about the stories in this book may come down to a matter of taste; it’s certainly possible other readers will find them much more effective than I did. The art is still on point, so it’s definitely got that going for it. Regardless, I am confident in saying this book is a far cry from his best work.
My rating: 2.5 out of 5