Oct 22, 2010

Manga: GYO - Junji Ito

I am not easily horrified. In fact, unless it's some deeply disturbing psychological stuff, it is almost impossible to work on me. Gore, violence and all that joy just don't connect with me, even if they could - on occasion - gross me out. There is, however, one thing that really unsettles me, and it is the reason why Gyo led to a totally sleepless night even though I was 24 and quite rational at the time I read it. That thing is a simple story concept - taking the human condition and perverting it into something inhuman. It lies at the core of the zombie story of course, but we are used to zombies. However, it was also the reason why Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later was so horrifying. And it is the reason why Gyo is one of the most amazing horrors I've ever read.

I am not generally a manga person. The tropes of the medium don't do it for me, and even though the stories are supposedly better developed than in anime, I'd always prefer to watch an adaptation instead. However, a sudden rain forced me into Borders one day, and I had to kill the time somehow. I wasn't in the mood for a book, so I just picked a manga at random. It was only two volumes, had awesomely stylish covers and they contained a spider-fish hybrid and some sort of bloated zombie thing with tubes in its mouth. Awesome, right?


Thus began my affair with Junji Ito and his sick imagination.

It all begins with a stench - a horrible rotten smell that comes from the ocean. Then the fish start walking, an unstoppable tide of squirming dead mass born on metallic spidery legs that springs forth from the water. And then the gas comes, and with it the world is remade.

It is impossible to summarize Gyo's plot without spoiling it, although it is not the rather simple story that really grips the reader. It is the atmosphere. The art is simple when depicting humans, but very graphic and detailed when dealing with the supernatural threat that consumes them. The way the story flows is very Lovecraftian in a way, weaving a tale of poetic inevitability and doomed efforts, of senseless struggles and monstrous purpose. It is told through the eyes of the young man who first encounters the walking fish, but in a way, there are no main characters here. Nobody is important enough against the tide.

This feeling of inevitability, of something that is so much bigger than you, so malicious and at the same time so vastly, inhumanly uncaring, is what makes Gyo the horrific gem that it is. As the story progresses, both the artwork and the atmosphere become more and more surreal, and toward the end there is even a Lynchian circus scene, giving the manga an absurdist spin that only makes its impact stronger.

In the end, I have no way of telling whether my profuse usage of adjectives has done its job, but I can't recommend Gyo highly enough. It is a deeply disturbing tale, masterfully told and beautifully drawn, and if there is even a tiny part of you that's fascinated by being horrified and unsettled, then it is exactly what that part needs.Plus, at the end of the second volume there are a couple of short stories that somehow manage to be equally good. So go for it! Who cares about a few sleepless nights?


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