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Gyo (Deluxe Edition) by Junji Ito

This entry is part 50 of 56 in the series 2022 Reads

As with other posts in this series, these #booksread2022 posts get published with some lag. I’m trying to be more punctual, though, and this one’s very recent.

This post includes a few horrifying images of body horror, death, and… other disturbing things from a horror comic. I actually went looking for a decent plugin I could use to blur images so people could avoid seeing them, but couldn’t find one I trusted enoough to install. So, well, I guess you’ve been warned. 

I should say at the start that, despite the fact I’m reading more comics now—getting an iPad helped with that, and so did discovering that the local branch of the National Library had a bunch of things available—I’m sort of new to narrative comics. Aside from Mad and Cracked magazine in the 1980s, most of Asterix & Obelix that was published before 1990, and Garfield, they were not really available to me when I was at the age kids get into comic books,   I’ve read some, and did read a few as a kid, but not much. I did  read some books by Scott McCloud on the art form, but I’m not steeped in it, but I still deep like I have a pretty weak grounding in the artform, and you can probably tell from how I respond to graphic novels even now. For me, it still always feels a bit like reading literature from a culture I know only by reputation, or something. I’m always unsure how far to trust my own interpretation of things. This is doubly true for comics from actual other cultures!  

With all of that said, I’ll add that until recently, all I knew of Junji Ito was the occasional image used in a meme online or verbal reference by a friend. However, after a discussion a while back, I got curious, and I recently discovered that the local branch of the National Library has English translations of number of his comics. 

Anyway, Gyo is just as messed-up as I expected from the memes—or maybe a little more. It’s the chronicle of a surreal invasion by… well, terrible things.

My acquaintance with Japanese speculative fiction is quite shallow, so as my mind cast about for models to frame my reading, I found myself thinking about the few narratives I am familiar with, and wondering how a Japanese reader would respond to that. The themes that run through the story—unforeseen consequences of military experimentation out at sea, a horrific invasion springing from Imperial Japanese history, a struggle with survivor’s guilt, the ravaging of a modern urban Japanese landscape—all called to mind the most famous Japanese export, the Godzilla franchise. 

Then again, I wonder if that’s an outlandishly simplistic connection to someone better versed in Japanese horror and SF? Something akin to someone who’s read almost no SF drawing strained parallels between H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and a more recent, and very different, time-travel film like Primer? (They’re both time travel narratives, but I wouldn’t place them side by side in terms of building a context for reading Primer.) For all I know, this might be a common narrative frame today, something that barely warrants comment.

In any case, for me the power of Gyo isn’t so much the story. The dialog is relatively simple (at least in translation), the narrative structure relatively straightforward and obvious… but then there’s the the imagery. That just gets under your skin as things go wrong…  

… and then go horribly wrong: 

The book feels less like a realist horror narrative than a nightmare brought to life and made inescapable. There’s a note of hope near the end, but there’s so much awful imagery and so many absurdly terrible events that unfold in rapid succession that by that point, it feels almost like cruelty instead of lightness. Many of these events seem not just absurdly terrible, but—by the logic of a waking mind—straight-up absurd, and yet when you’re enmeshed in the nightmare logic, it manages to hang together well and get under your skin. Or it did mine, anyway. Yet somehow I found myself devouring it.

At the end of the volume, I was happily surprised to find a narrative I’d actually been retold recently—because someone mentioned a meme drawn from it, and I didn’t understand it. “The Enigma at Amigara Fault” is a short tale that manages to pack a lot of creepiness and into a very few pages, in large part by what it implies and what it refuses to depict. Its quieter tone overall makes the cosmic horror that it implies that much more unsettling. 

I pretty much devoured this book, and am happy to note there are several other works by Junji Ito available in English where I borrowed it. I picked borrowed most of them (except the one that was already on loan) yesterday:

… so I’ll be posting about his work again soon, I guess, even most of what I have to say is just my personal reaction.

Series Navigation<< <em>Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents</em> by Lindsay C. Gibson<em>Saga</em>, Vols. 2–3, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples >>
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