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Review

by Rebecca Silverman,

The Liminal Zone

GN

Synopsis:
The Liminal Zone GN

A trip to Tohoku leads to a young woman falling in with a group of mysterious weeping women, a school principal obsessed with the Virgin Mary shows the dangers of when religious fervor goes too far, a young man has troubling, murderous dreams, and a planned suicide in Aokigahara goes strangely awry in this collection of four stories from horror master Junji Ito.

The Liminal Zone is translated and adapted by Jocelyne Allen and lettered by Eric Erbes.

Review:

Although he doesn't mention it in his afterword, the theme of this Junji Ito collection really feels like "folklore." The first story, "Weeping Woman Way," draws on the idea of professional mourners as well as myths of the Banshee (and other creepy weepers from folklore around the world) to create a story that feels at once unique and very familiar. While there is no one world myth that Ito is using here, it's not hard to see folkloric and ancient world elements throughout the piece. The jumping-off point is the ancient practice of professional mourning: practiced around the world in antiquity, with China being the closest documented home of the practice, professional mourners were people who could be hired to wail and lament at funerals, sometimes to make the departed look more well-loved than they actually were in life. When a young couple stumbles upon a wailing woman at a funeral in rural Tohoku, they're told that she's a “Weeping Woman,” a local professional mourner, although the man who explains it to them is surprised that she's there; the custom, he tells them, died out long ago. While exploring the area, the young woman begins weeping uncontrollably, and this leads the couple to a mysterious village known as “Weeping Woman Way.” There they discover that the Weeping Women are equal parts psychopomp (spirits who escort the deceased), banshee, and even have a hint of La Llorona about them…and that two hundred years ago, one of their number saved the region from a devastating drought with her tears. While the story doesn't follow any established mythology, it does use the fear inspired by some of them (perhaps specifically the regional legends linking La Llorona to La Malinche) to draw a parallel to male fears of female tears. Its familiar elements blend well with Ito's brand of everyday horror, and I know I won't be referring to the dark lines beside my cats' noses as “tear tracks” (Ito's stated inspiration for the piece) ever again.

In both development and inspiration, "Weeping Woman Way" is the strongest of the four tales included, but all are interesting in their own rights. "The Spirit Flow of Aokigahara" is a very different take on the so-called Suicide Forest, turning it into an unsettling purgatory of people addicted to the strange powers that come from a mysterious cave within. There are records of icy caves in the forest, which lends an uncomfortable air of possibility to this story; in Ito's versions, the caves serve as the entry and exit points for the souls of the dead as they glide in an endless loop through and underneath the woods. Their path is marked by a path of perfectly smooth, white trees, like rocks battered smooth and round by relentless tides. That the tide is in this case made up of endlessly circling ghosts is both fitting for the setting and an explanation for legends of spirit activity in the forest, which date back to before its present reputation. The protagonists of this piece are heading to Aokigahara in order to die together (he has a terminal illness) when they discover the spirit flow; while their goals nominally change once one of them has “bathed” in it and begun to change, the horror comes from the idea that they're only being tricked by the ghosts of the place into thinking that what they're doing is anything remotely akin to “living on.” Obviously, this piece comes with a content warning for suicide, but its power is really in the way that the characters are able to fool themselves in their own minds.

"Slumber" is probably the weakest of the pieces, although its plot of a deranged therapist who links with others to share his crimes is an interesting one. It mainly stumbles in the way that it doesn't quite explain enough about the real killer's powers of the mind; it's one thing to suggest that he can share his dreams with people on the edge of waking, but without any backing up of that, it just feels more like a gimmick than a solid plot device. (The presence of “Joker the Ripper” doesn't help.) That's not a mistake Ito often makes, and it's a shame that it pops up here, because this story did have potential. "Madonna" could easily have suffered from the same issue, but its slightly longer page count gives Ito more time to build towards a terrible reveal. The story takes the mythology of both Lot's wife and the Virgin Mary as its base, and while I enjoyed the way Ito plays with both, I'm also not Christian, and I suspect that devout followers of that religion may find the story uncomfortable. The basic premise is that high school girl Maria has just started at a Catholic school with a major obsession with the Virgin Mary, whom they worship as a goddess in her own right. This stems from the male principal's obsession with her; he's desperately searching for her reincarnation to marry. If this sounds highly suspicious, well, go with that instinct, but there is something admirably bizarre about the way he melds Old and New Testament stories to craft his delusions.

In his afterword, Ito talks about creating these stories during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic and how they were also his first works done for a digital publication, which removed the need for a set number of pages. It's clear that he's not entirely comfortable with the stories, but despite a few missteps, this really is another solid piece of horror despite Ito's concerns. He has a true talent for making the everyday upsetting, and this book is no exception.

Grade:
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+

+ Good use of myth and folklore, all stories make the mundane alarming.
“Slumber” is a bit weaker than the others, it does show in the pacing that this is Ito working without page limits for the first time.

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Junji Ito

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Liminal Zone (manga)

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