Halloween Horror: Junji Ito's Gyo

Pictures of ghosts and goblins and horrors so menacing only comics could contain them will haunt you all month long with our annual Halloween Horror feature. Join us as we try to scare you with posts relating to our favorite comics designed to put a chill up your spine or scratch that itch you get whenever someone mentions Boris Karloff! We'll be at this all month with a variety of posts. You can find them all--along with entries from past years--at this link. But don't blame us if you can't sleep after reading them....

Written and Drawn by Junji Ito
Published by Viz Media
Junji Ito’s drawings are nightmares brought to life. In Gyo, he wastes no time in twisting nature into something unrecognizable and frightening. The opening of the comic seems more like a comic book adaptation of Jaws, with a diver exploring sunken ruins while trying to avoid predatory ocean-dwelling creatures. But these dangerous creatures follow Tadashi and his girlfriend Kaori to the shore and their house that they’re staying at. Remaining in the shadows, the threats remain just barely out of site, scuttling around in the corners and crevices. The only way that Tadashi and Kaori know that these creatures are there is the putrid smell that’s everywhere. When they finally manage to trap one, the creature is unbelievable; a fish with insect legs. 

Ito’s artwork makes it impossible not to be both repulsed and fascinated by these invading creatures. As more of these fish hybrids swarm onto land, overtaking first Japan and then the rest of the world, Ito’s horror creates a dizzying experience. Like his Uzumaki, the terror Ito creates is intensified by his unwillingness to play coy with his story. His vigor for the portrayal of the unnatural creates images that makes you confront his brand of terror. He doesn’t hide the way that the world is changing but the tension he creates by constantly dreaming up new horrors to draw make you hesitant to turn the page because you just don’t know what new abomination you’re going to see next.

Much like Uzumaki, Ito twists the world in Gyo so that nature becomes the horror. The virus that malforms the ocean life to have the insect-like legs mutates to also twist the world and humanity into something unrecognizable. Ito’s unflinchingly depicts this world as overrun by this unnatural sickness. His fascination with the horror of the natural world becoming the monster that stalks mankind is a supernatural man versus the world story. That the monsters are on one level so recognizable and yet so alien intensifies the visceral gut reaction you have to have reading Ito’s comic.

And for Ito, the horror never ends. The shock of Gyo more than the monstrous creatures and the desolation of humanity is the ending and the bleakness of it. There is no “and then they lived happily ever after” in Gyo. There’s no salvation or redemption for the world. Of Ito’s two main characters, Tadashi and Kaori, he gives their story a conclusion but it’s hardly an ending for the conflict in his comic. At least through Gyo and Uzamaki, that’s a trend in his comics that’s a fascinating one. The characters’ stories in both books reach a point where they’re done. There’s not any more story to tell about Tadashi and Kaori. He gives them a life to live and they do just that. But he introduces this horror into the world, the twisted absurdity, and instead of solving it and restoring the world to what it was, the nihilism of the new status quo in his stories just shows that the horror goes on and on even after we’re done with it.