Review

by Carl Kimlinger, Jan 21st 2008

Gyo

GN 1

Synopsis:
Gyo GN 1
Tadashi is vacationing in Okinawa with his olfactory-obsessed girlfriend Kaori. After a giant row over her smell-neuroses (she wants him to brush his teeth before he kisses her), she's attacked by what appears to be a legged fish. At first Tadashi is convinced that they've encountered a new species, until the entire island is overrun by legged sea creatures of every stripe. To Kaori's horror, every one of them smells like a rotting corpse. After a harrowing encounter with a land-mobile great white shark, the two fly back to Tokyo, but the incident has driven Kaori nearly mad with fear of the smell. Tadashi brings one of the legged fish to his uncle, a scientist of some standing, whereupon he learns that the infestation may be man-made in origin, and more frightening still, may involve a virulent contagion. And then the hordes come to beach on the shores of Tokyo.
Review:

From the guy who brought us murderous spirals comes killer fish! If you think that sounds ridiculous, you'd be right. It is. Towns terrorized by walking fish, World War II conspiracy theories, and a "wouldn't it be cool if Jaws could walk?" scene; it's all quite preposterous. But Junji Ito is a master at blending camp with terror, and by volume's end his usual obsessions have blossomed grotesquely, letting readers know that they may be in for another creepy, freaky ride from one of Japan's best-known horror artists.

Beginning by replacing Uzumaki's free-floating paranoia with the silly monsters and technophobia of 50's B-horror wasn't Gyo's wisest decision. It's cheesy going at first, very much a standard monster tale, replete with an unkillable nemesis and monster-interrupted showers. The Jaws parody does transform into an impossible yet terrifyingly claustrophobic chase through a hotel, but the feeling that you're reading something that is terribly stupid at heart persists all the way to Tadashi's return to Tokyo. It's there that it becomes obvious that, content aside, Junji Ito is still Junji Ito. The Junji Ito of the horrors of mutable flesh and of relationships tested to their limits by circumstances beyond understanding—the one who understands that the most frightening thing of all is not monsters or supernatural forces, but the power of human obsession.

Ito knows that simplicity is key in beautiful women and a wealth of background detail key for successful atmosphere. He draws great monsters and gore and can put together a mean chase sequence; but most importantly he's one of the best in the business at drawing crazy people. Haunted, shifty eyes, extreme close-ups, the courage to take expressions of terror and unholy curiosity to the border of campiness and the good judgment not to let them cross it—no one does crazed quite like Ito. The book's most frightening sequence has nothing to do with legged fish, but rather with Tadashi's uncle avidly experimenting on his own severed arm. Ew. Ito is careful to illustrate air currents and wafting scents such that the pervasive, corrupting influence of the "death-stench" is tangible. His preference for laborious cross-hatching and hand-drawn detail over tones gives his art an intricate, home-made feel that serves to make his monsters and physical grotesqueries all the more disturbing. It serves him particularly well when, towards the end of the volume, Tadashi and Kaori's relationship takes a hideous—and blackly humorous—turn that no relationship should ever have to suffer.

It's that turn, more so even than the promise of more delicious insanity or the sheer weirdness factor (always one of Ito's main draws), that makes it worth returning for the next volume. Tadashi and Kaori aren't the most sympathetic of characters—they're both self-centered and prone to verbal abuse—but their relationship, especially once it enters truly bizarre territory, provides Gyo with an essential emotional hook. It's a hook that is all the more essential for this manga being, rampaging fish and terminal flatulence notwithstanding, Ito's most mundane and mainstream effort yet to reach these shores. Though, given that his (arguably) best work was about a lethal geometric pattern, that isn't saying much.

This is Viz' second release of this title, this time under the banner of their Signature Series line of manga. Like the others in that line it has a classy minimalist cover (in shiny black with red highlights) and unflipped artwork, but unlike the others it also features Viz' usual replacement of Japanese sound effects with English translations.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : A-

+ Illustrated with Junji Ito's usual horrific flair; potential for some delightful insanity; bizarre, interesting central relationship.
Silly premise with a disappointingly mundane cause.

Story & Art:Junji Ito

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Gyo (manga)

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Gyo (GN 1)

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