The Fall 2018 Manga Guide
What's It About?In this abridged and slightly altered adaptation of the classic tale, Victor Frankenstein, bright young mind and wealthy aristocrat, has his whole life ahead of him. Though nothing makes him happier than the prospect of marrying his childhood sweetheart, he's driven by a maddening thought that he's cracked the secret of life.
Before he can graduate from his studies and live in wedded bliss, he must give in and test his theories—and he succeeds, piecing together a giant patchwork man from fresh corpses, creating a brain, and sparking it to life with the aid of a lightning strike. However, he's immediately appalled by the monster he's created. Dejected, the creature flees and Frankenstein slowly puts his mistake behind him. However, his mistake lives on, determined to find love and acceptance, even if it means taking those very same things from his own creator.
Also included are several short stories, including a series of stories focusing on Ito's creation, a high school student named Oshikiri who lives in a spooky manor through which people from alternate realities fade in and out. The volume wraps up with a couple of real-world stories about Ito's mangy family dog.
Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection (10/16/18) is a double-sized manga collection by horror manga icon Junji Ito, partially adapted from Mary Shelley's classic horror novel, Frankenstein. It is available from VIZ Media in digital format for $15.99 and in hardcover for $22.99.
Is It Worth Reading?
While there have been plenty of Frankenstein adaptations, Ito seems a perfect match for the material, bringing his trademark gothic horror style to this depiction. It's interesting that despite starting the story off as a fairly straightforward adaptation, even keeping the bookends of the doctor chasing his creature across the Artic, there are some game-changing diversions from the original tale toward the end. With Frankenstein successfully creating the creature's bride and having the bride reject the creature because she's horrified by his appearance—not realizing she's similarly grotesque—the creature experiences a deeper level of rejection than he ever does in the original novel. In that, he could rage against his creator for never allowing him the chance of an equal companion. In Ito's version, he's faced with the opportunity for acceptance, only to have it snatched away from him, and not through any fault of Frankenstein. However, that does make the rushed and changed ending thereafter, where the creature vows revenge on the doctor, less apropos since the doctor did try to satisfy his creature's demands. As a whole, the story is strong, particularly in its visual horror, but the ending feels rushed despite the intriguing twist.
The other stories in this collection are set in contemporary Japan and have little in common with Frankenstein other than a horror element. On their own, they're a mixed bag, with some cutting off too quickly, never quite satisfactorily resolving, and others successfully teaching a macabre lesson of sorts by story's end. The few additional non-Oshikiri short stories and the dog stories seem out of place, almost crammed into the volume as an afterthought, but they're fast reads and entertaining enough.
Ito, as always, conveys horror mostly through his art, whether or not the story succeeds. The gothic setting of Frankenstein is especially well-suited to his work, and he fills the pages with historical details to bring the story to life. In the contemporary stories, he never skimps on backgrounds and draws grotesque moments of terror that stick with you even after you've finished reading.
Junji Ito's Frankenstein is a must-read for fans of the horror master's work, but it also serves as an ideal introduction to anyone new to his bibliography. The slight changes to the classic novel also might make the collection resonate with literary aficionados who've never picked up a volume of manga before, as they can debate what effect the alterations and the visual medium have on the story's themes.
The thing I was most concerned about in picking up Junji Ito's Frankenstein was if the thematic complexity of the novel would remain intact. Frankenstein, in many ways, is a morality play about what happens when ethical considerations are left out of scientific advancements, more so than being just being an exercise in shock. Ito's stuff is the opposite, designed from the ground up to simply unsettle and horrify. Well, my fears are allayed, because Junji Ito's Frankenstein digs into the dark heart of that story so beautifully that I was almost in tears by the last few pages.
The thing to bear in mind about Frankenstein is that it's an extremely faithful transliteration of Mary Shelly's novel, not any other material. This means that, instead of the shambling, grunting husk of the Universal Horror era, the monster is well spoken and deeply, personally motivated. The script appears to be a beat for beat replication of the original novel, but Ito's art is the aspect that makes this version truly special. Ito captures the horror of the monster in a way I've never seen be quite as effective. Because of this, the core conceit of the novel is expertly illustrated. You look at the monster, are horrified, but then you hear him speak, you hear of his alienation and story, and your every assumption is upended. It's a fantastic adaptation, where the strengths of each artist are amplified by being on the page.
But Frankenstein is only half the book. The rest is a collection of Ito's trademark short stories, centered in differently horrific ways around a character named Toru Oshikiri. I thought they were great. Of course, like with all anthologies, some are hits and some are misses. And unlike Frankenstein they are classic, textbook Ito, so if you're not into his style, it might not speak to you quite as much.
Junji Ito's work is the manga equivalent of scary stories you tell around the campfire. They're designed to fire up that part of your brain that still sees monsters shifting about in the foggy, unclear darkness of the night. So for Ito to capture so beautifully one of the all-time great works of literary horror is not just surprising, it's something special. If you have any fondness for Ito or Shelly's classic novel, I cannot recommend it enough.
Most of that rating is for Ito's adaptation of Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein, which is among one of the most faithful I've encountered. Not only does Ito leave in the frame narrative, which a lot of adaptations leave out in order to get to the supposed good stuff, but he also does a good job of blurring the lines between monster and man, which is central to Shelley's original. While we no longer worry about Resurrection Men exhuming bodies for medical research, a 19th century fear Shelley exploited in her novel, Ito is a master of playing with the elements of the story that still reflect our fears – the unknown, those who are different, and taking things too far simply because we can. The visual aspects help to remind us that Victor Frankenstein was a young man as well, not the mad scientist of later monster films. Frankenstein is a story that still touches basic human fears, and in Ito's hands, it continues to do just that.
The latter part of the book is a series of short stories, mostly dealing with a high schooler named Oshikiri and the trouble his many alternate universe selves cause him. Despite the fact that this is Ito's original work, it isn't quite as strong because it takes a bit too long to figure out what's going on – that each Oshikiri we're following is in fact a different one. Oshikiri's not as compelling as Tomie, Ito's best-known reoccurring character, possibly because he's the constant victim rather than the villain. The stories are appropriately scary, particularly when visions of other Oshikiri's crimes come to light, and the art is gruesome in a way that nicely complements the terror aspects of each story. But they feel a little lacking after the Frankenstein adaptation, honestly. They're in the (beautiful hardcover) book, so it is worth reading them, but funnily enough, Ito's less adept at using Shelley's themes in his own Oshikiri tales than when he's adapting Shelley's actual text.
Junji Ito's adaptation of Frankenstein comes in a collected volume that can be easily divided into two parts: the first, Frankenstein, a manga adaptation of Mary Shelley's book, and then the second half follows different stories about the same high school boy, Oshikiri Toru. Frankenstein tells the tale of scientist Victor Frankenstein playing God and creating his own human. Once his monster is made, Frankenstein quickly realizes the monster is intelligent and has a mind of its own and his own set of morals. Confronting what he has done, Frankenstein must right his wrongs and work to stop his monster from terrorizing the people he loves.
Frankenstein also includes a handful of other short stories, including The Strange Tale of Oshikiri. Oshikiri is a short high schooler who keeps experiencing weird happenings in his life. Each chapter is a different event that would make any reader's skin crawl. From people growing long necks, to finding bodies in the walls, each chapter is a new nightmarish experience. The manga also includes three other short stories, two about Junji Ito's mother's dog and a story about a child turning into a doll.
In traditional Junji Ito fashion, Frankenstein has a well-detailed art style, great characters, and strong execution. Though each story is a little far fetched, Ito's writing pulls readers into his world and makes even the most unrealistic feel realistic. Though I like his multi-chapter series better than his one shots, Frankenstein was still a great read for both new and old fans.
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