Review by Frank Plowright
It doesn’t take a great deal of search time online to discover those who were disappointed with Junji Ito’s return to shorter horror stories from lengthier serialised material. They have a point, but approach it from the other side, however, knowing nothing about Tomoe, and what you have is a memorable selection of squirmy tales covering several forms of horror. It’s creepy and it’s well drawn, and the wraparound cover homage is great, encompassing elements from every tale within.
Ito’s art is very western influenced, lacking most of the visual shorthand associated with Manga, but there is a problem. It’s not exclusive to ‘Tomio: Red Turtleneck’, but particularly affects that story as the characters look more like young teens than adults living together. That many of the cast look young and helpless, of course, only accentuates the horror of the threats they face, and Ito spares no ink in providing that. We’re presented with hallucinogenic visions, houses that see, ghosts, a woman with a most perverse desire, and plenty more over eight stories.
In the manner of the best manga horror the themes are simultaneously terrifying and demented, and Ito doesn’t shy from the seamier sides of desire, but when you know her purpose, the sight of an alluring naked woman rubbing herself against house support beams lacks eroticism. The imagination in play here is far greater than just creating mood, which is easily achieved, and the ghouls are embedded into the strips. There’s no sudden transformation of a butler into a vampire here. The creepiest is the final story, the hook of which is a young girl unable to make the simplest decision until her father hires a woman who whispers into her ear. Dissect it logically and you’re left with the inexplicable, but as a mood piece it’s fantastic.
A few stories are let down by weak endings, but they’re not the point of what Ito’s doing. Over the preceding pages he’ll have the hair on your neck standing on end, and isn’t that what horror is all about?