Frankenstein is the latest in a new run of hardcover releases from Viz Media showcasing the work of Japanese horror master Junji Ito. And this new volume is just what the mad scientist ordered for your Halloween reading.
If you’ve been on the internet long enough, you’ve probably seen Ito’s work in a dozen different memes and image macros:
Anyone possessing even a modest familiarity with either horror comics or Japanese horror should be familiar with the name. Ito’s been active since the 1980s. Over the last thirty-plus years, he’s put out some of the most surreal and horrifying, yet genuinely beautiful comics you’re likely to find.
I was first introduced to Ito’s work in high school. I was a big manga fan, and one of my classmates who shared my interest passed me a copy of a book I’d never heard of. The cover was a simple blood-red field. The only ornamentation was a subtle spiral pattern I couldn’t quite make out, along with the title and author credit scrawled in scratchy lettering: UZUMAKI by Junji Ito. I cracked it open, and was instantly obsessed.
It would take years before I could track down my own copies of all three volumes of the series. Uzumaki, along with much of Ito’s other work, was only available in English intermittently. Long-out-of-print copies of his Junji Ito Horror Comic Collection and Museum of Terror anthologies sold for top-dollar, meaning scanlations of dubious quality where the only option for a teenager working a minimum wage job such as myself.
Fortunately for me, I’m not as broke as I once was. And fortunate for everyone, more of Ito’s amazing work is finally finding wider distribution abroad.
Uzumaki, along with other Ito classics Gyo and Tomie, are available in beautiful hardcover omnibus editions. The two compilations Shiver and Fragments of Horror showcase some of the master’s acclaimed graphic shorts. And now, Frankenstein is the latest to join the mix.
The first half of the collection features Ito’s adaptation of the legendary Mary Shelley story. More of Ito’s shorter subjects fill-out the rest of the book.
Frankenstein seems like a weird choice at first glance. Victorian gothic horror and proto-sci-fi doesn’t really seem like Ito’s main wheelhouse. His usual work tends to revolve around body horror, surrealism, and supernatural monsters.
However, above all other concepts, there is one recurring theme present in almost all his work: inevitability.
For example, take a look at the well-known Ito story The Enigma of Amigara Fault. The citizens of a small village discover holes in the side of a mountain, and all feel a powerful draw to the place. Villagers claim specific holes where made for them, and can’t help but jump in. Even as they struggle against the allure, they are powerless to resist it. One by one, the villagers take the plunge, without knowing where the holes will lead.
Simply put, the characters in a typical story by Junji Ito are doomed. Without giving away too much, his stories tend to revolve around people struggling against a destiny they probably can’t stop. They feel compelled toward a grim fate, and fight as they might, there’s not much they can do to escape that end.
When you consider that little fact, it makes Frankenstein—a story about a man whose hubris sets his life on an inevitable course of tragedy and death—a natural choice.
As mentioned before, the book is a collection of Ito’s short stories. The title piece is the longest by far, though, occupying the first half of this 400-page compilation.
The story is very faithful to the original, varying only in the minor details. Of course, the original Frankenstein is a classic of world literature. Thus, there is only so much that can really be said about the writing. If you’ve ever wanted to see a version of Shelley’s classic related in graphic format, this is a great option.
The other stories in this volume include six tales revolving around a young man named Oshikiri. The lonely boy lives alone in a mansion at the edge of town, and begins to notice strange occurrences around the house.
The first two stories fall more under the supernatural horror genre. While they’re good, they’re nothing particularly amazing relative to Ito’s usual oeuvre. However, as the suite of tales progresses, we discover that the home plays host to a sinister gateway to another world. At this point, Ito’s tendency to always think of the most surprising way to direct a story really shines.
The volume also includes two standalone stories, each just 5-6 pages in length, including the well-known The Hell of the Doll Funeral. Finally, the book wraps with a palette-cleanser in the form of two heartwarming shorts about the Ito family’s (former) pet dog.
The writing throughout is consistently strong. Ito has a natural talent for finding grotesquerie in every nook and cranny of day-to-day life. This ability is most apparent in the shorts that occupy the second half of the book.
With Western comics, a team of creators typically work on a story together. Certain figures will usually focus on the writing, while others are solely on art. With manga, though, one creator is more often the sole author, both writing and inking the story. Some creators tend to be better at one aspect more than the other. Junji Ito, however, is a master of both angles of the craft.
Even after thirty years in the business, no one manages to deliver uncanny, unsettling images like Junji Ito. There is a level of detail present on every page. The real payoff, however, comes when Ito really lets his twisted imagination lose, producing breathtaking horror artwork. You could genuinely take many of the pages throughout this volume, rip them out, frame them, and hang them on your wall.
I mean…we’ve seen Frankenstein’s monster brought to life in graphic format before. However, it take a true master to create a grotesque, strikingly-horrific being like the one we find in the pages of this volume.
The short works contained here aren’t quite on the level of a masterpiece like Uzumaki. However, that’s an incredibly-high bar to reach. Frankenstein by Junji Ito should be a welcome addition to the collection of horror fans of any persuasion.