Smashed is the newest English translation collection of short horror stories by manga artist Junji Ito, bringing together 13 chilling tales. Most of them are one-shot stories, with the exception of trio that focus around a strange haunted house attraction that pops up in abandoned buildings near the outskirts of towns, charging outrageous prices but promising to scare you out of your wits. I didn’t know much about the stories collected in this book going in. I saw there was a new collection coming out, and that’s pretty much all that was needed to get me to commit to picking it up.
My eagerness to read this collection notwithstanding, I’m starting to think that the novelty of Ito’s art and story ideas is starting to wear off a bit for me. I will continue to sing the praises of his longer works, but I’m increasingly finding his shorts to be hit-or-miss. The first two stories of the collection especially missed the mark for me. I normally delight in how weird his horror can get, but these I just found a little perplexing. The first is a story about a girl with an eating disorder having strange nightmares about it raining blood, and the second is about a weird comedy duo that somehow twist their audiences into freakish fits of laughter. Solid premises, but I found the ways they developed bordered on the nonsensical. Granted, the first story might be effective to someone with a specific phobia, but it didn’t really work for me.
Fortunately, despite the poor start, the majority of these stories were quite good. The best were those that dealt with more cerebral horror rather than direct physical threats. “Roar” features the ghostly manifestation of a flood, continually carrying the damned souls of those swept away by it. “Earthbound” sees people fixed in random places throughout the country, seemingly unable to remove themselves from one spot. And “Splendid Shadow Song” tells of a tune that you just can’t get out of your head once you’ve heard it, no matter how badly you want to forget.
Shocking visuals are all well and good, and Ito continues to be a master in that respect, but these showcase how much he’s capable of writing an idea that can get under your skin on its own. These stories take mundane sensations like craving, longing, and guilt and warp them into something truly nightmarish.
My favourite of the collection, and the closer, was the titular “Smashed.” It tells the story of a man who has come back home from a trip to South America. While there, he met an indigenous tribe who shared with him a mysterious nectar that is the best thing he has ever tasted. The nectar tastes so good that no other food is satisfying. One must be careful when eating it, however, because you wouldn’t want to be “noticed” while doing so. For me, this story perfectly married tension, mystery, grisly visuals, and just a hint of cosmic horror. The reveal at the end is unsettling without over-explaining what is going on. It was the perfect high note to end the collection on.
I think Smashed is a worthy collection of Junji Ito’s stories, though more middle of the road than his other books; far from the worst but not among the best either. If you’re just starting to check out his work, I’d recommend starting with a collection like Shiver first, or the singular work Uzumaki. You wouldn’t be making a mistake starting here though. If you’re a fan, you likely made up your mind well ahead of time as I did. It’s more Junji Ito. The art is great and, while there are a few hiccups, the stories have a lot to offer too.
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5