Sensor by Junji Ito is the latest horror manga by the author to be published in English by VIZ media. A young woman named Kyoko Byakuya hikes at the foot of Mount Sengoku, unsure as to why she is there. Despite the mountain’s volcano being inactive, she stumbles across an area covered in strange volcanic glass fibres that look uncannily like golden hairs. Soon after she is met by a man who says he’s been waiting for her, leading her to a village covered in these golden fibres. Referred to as “the amagami”, these gold strands allow the people of the village to psychically communicate with each other and commune with the far reaches of outer space. Despite this oddity, the people seem harmless enough, inviting her to star-gaze with them before she departs. If only the appearance of mysterious lights in the sky weren’t a portents of things to come.
I’ve read nearly all of the newly translated Ito books that have been published over the last few years, and it isn’t often that one comes out where I’m entirely unfamiliar with the material. Though I knew little about some of the more recent stories like Lovesickness or Remina, they’d been originally published long enough ago that I’d seen some of their art while looking up the author. This story, however, was a complete unknown and new, having been originally published in Japan in 2019. I typically prefer his longer stories, so I was excited to see what Sensor had to offer. Despite my optimism going in, however, I just couldn’t get into it.
According to the afterword in the book itself, this story was meant to be a travelogue of sorts, following a collection of strange occurrences around the character Kyoko, who becomes ethereal and strange after the events of the first chapter. The role of perspective character is then taken over by Wataru in the second chapter onward, a “no-name reporter” who becomes fixated on Kyoko and entangled in ensuing events. While he would not have been a bad vehicle for telling such stories, the book really didn’t pan out as a travelogue, which Ito admits himself, instead becoming confused and messy.
Each chapter is self-contained, yet trying to build off of what came before it too, with mixed results. The opening chapter, while a little hurried at first, was actually pretty well done, telling an effective little cosmic horror story all on its own. Unfortunately, it seemed like Ito didn’t really know where to take things from there. On their own, each chapter is a weird little tale, having their own effective moments and adding to the mystery of what happened to Kyoko; they were also random and aimless. I kept waiting for things to build toward something meaningful, but was continually let down. The book felt constantly at odds with itself, struggling to find harmony between the narrative through line and the independent elements of each chapter.
A hitch in the writing that especially nagged at me stems from the fact that each chapter was released serially. To remind the reader of events from chapters published previously, perhaps months before, a lot of information is awkwardly repeated by the main characters. As a published volume that can be read in just a few sittings, if not one, this made the book feel like it was constantly repeating itself, which bogged down a story that was already having a lot of trouble gaining traction.
More’s the pity, because there are ideas in the book that I felt had a lot of potential. The villagers reach out with their minds into the cosmos to feel the presence of their patron saint and come into contact with something malignant instead, which was a fantastic concept. I liked that Kyoko is meant to be an avatar of good too, though imbued with a power that is sublime and in some ways terrifying. Ito’s work is populated with plenty of doom and gloom, and having a paranormal counter-balance to that was an interesting idea that kept me engaged, though he didn’t do as much with it as I would have wanted. Though his art is almost always a positive point, there was a lot in this book that especially stood out to me too, much of it creepy or downright horrific, but others oddly beautiful too.
It’s difficult to recommend Sensor, but I wouldn’t fault someone for being curious either. A lot of the ideas in the story are decently unique and it’s quite weird, in a good way, but there just wasn’t nearly enough cohesion to make a solid narrative whole. The first chapter is really quite good on its own, for what that’s worth, and the art is as excellent as always too. It’s possible you may get more out of it than I did, but check it out with fair warning.
My Rating: 2.5 out of 5