Venus in the Blind Spot is the latest collection of horror stories by manga artist and writer Junji Ito to be published in English by VIZ media. Marketed as a “best of” collection of stories by the author, there is a common thread throughout each of them related to compulsions and/or utter fixation. Included is the fan-favourite story “The Enigma of Amigara Fault,” previously included in the deluxe hardcover of Gyo, with some bonus colour panels/pages featured in that story and others, unique to this collection. While the majority are Ito original stories, this collection is noteworthy for including a few stories by other authors, which Ito has adapted. Additionally included are a colour poster and gallery of art featuring the subjects of some of his other famous works not included in the collection, which can be removed and displayed if the reader so chooses.
As I’ve discussed in reviews for other collections, Junji Ito’s shorter works have become an increasingly mixed bag for me the more of them I read, and this book has unfortunately continued that trend. In many ways I like this collection, it’s definitely good, but I didn’t get particularly swept away by any of the stories I hadn’t read before. Once I’d finished the book, it was actually the first story, “Billions Alone” (usually translated online as “Army of One”), that stuck out the most in this way. I was surprised to find after reading it that it’s apparently considered by many to be one of Ito’s greatest stories.
Ito’s works, aside from their wonderfully haunting art, are well known for their wildly bizarre concepts, the origins of these strange horrors often obscured. Much of the time I love this. What I experienced most pointedly with some stories in this book, however, was an imbalance between confusing and creepy elements. If what makes the story creepy, like the human shaped holes in “The Enigma of Amigara Fault”, is impactful enough, any confusing elements of the story are suppressed or even add to the horror. If things become too confused and complicated, as obscured horrors often can become, then I’m more frustrated than I am creeped out. Such was the case when I finished “Billions Alone”, as well as a few others in the collection.
I do want to give some credit to “Billions Alone” where it is due, though, as I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I think it is much more cerebral than I’d at first given it credit for. In it, bodies are turning up sewn together with fishing line, often in bizarre arrangements. At first seemingly the work of a serial killer, larger and larger groups of people start disappearing at once, only to turn up dead in a macabre construct with one another. The most disturbingly effective imagery can be found in this story, with the increasingly complicated formations of stitched together corpses defying rational explanation more and more with each incident. It was oddly prescient too, as large gatherings are clearly being targeted, forcing people to desperately isolate from each other while officials struggle to find a solution. It’s ultimately more concerned with the effects of these events on people than what’s actually causing it, and it is rather effective in presenting this. I just wish the apparent source of it didn’t seem so convoluted. Perhaps I’m overthinking it, but my takeaway is what it is.
Aside from the issues I ran into above, the collection is plagued most by feeling fairly average, especially for the stories new to me, which is problematic for a supposed “best of” collection. The title story, “Venus in the Blind Spot”, had a compelling setup and conclusion, but a contrived explanation midway through. “Keepsake” had potential, but felt much too short. “How Love Came to Professor Kirida” was fine, but not especially interesting. “The Licking Woman” had some really good gross-out horror, but was ultimately too directionless for me. Additionally, “Enigma of Amigara Fault” and “The Sad Tale of the Principal Post” are great for their own unique reasons, but I’ve read them before in books I already own.
There were a few standouts, despite my somewhat tepid feelings. I thought “An Unearthly Love” was a really well told story of paranoia and dread over a husband’s suspected infidelity, keeping it simple and moody to great effect. “Master Umezz and Me” was a complete black sheep in the collection, telling an autobiographical story about the influence of author Kazuo Umezz on Ito growing up, which was an utter delight and has me interested in looking up the author’s work now too. I also love the way Ito presents himself as so over-the-top and impish. “The Human Chair” was a little far-fetched, but I couldn’t help but love its complete commitment to its absurd premise, which at its heart is truly disturbing and paranoia-inducing.
Venus in the Blind Spot is not a bad collection, but it is a little disappointing as a “best of”. You’d be better off picking up Shiver if that’s what you’re looking for. There are some rather good stories in here, though, especially if you’ve not read “The Enigma of Amigara Fault” or “The Sad Tale of the Principal Post” and don’t want to commit to Gyo in order to have access to them. I suspect that some of the other stories that did not quite resonate with me upon first reading may have more of an effect on others too. The art is also consistent with Ito’s stellar quality, so there’s always that to look forward to as well, with the addition of colour in some stories as a nice bonus.
My Rating: 3 out of 5