Fragments of Horror (Junji Ito)

Junji Ito | June 16, 2015 | 224 pages
Junji Ito | June 16, 2015 | 224 pages

Recently, I wrote my first graphic novel review on RVGFanatic. It was for the rather bizarre and unsettling Summer Spirit. And now, on Halloween night, I proudly present to you, dear reader, RVGFanatic’s first manga review. As many of you know by now, in 2019 I rediscovered my love for reading. I never got into manga, however, until quite recently. And being that it is Halloween, I can’t think of a better manga artist to feature than Junji Ito. He’s sort of like the Stephen King of the manga universe. Late last night I read through Junji Ito’s Fragments of Horror in one sitting. I’ve heard a lot about Ito and my first experience with Ito did not disappoint. A collection of short horror stories, all told through the manga medium, it left me feeling a little unsettled and I felt an undeniable urge to peek over my shoulder. If you have never read any of Junji Ito’s work before, it is my hope that after this review you might rectify that!

Warning: Disturbing imagery ahead...
Warning: Graphic and disturbing images ahead…
Here's my jack-p-lantern for Halloween 2021!
Here’s my jack-o-lantern for Halloween 2021!
Yes, I tried to copy the 1978 Halloween pumpkin!
Yes, I tried to copy the 1978 Halloween pumpkin!

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Ito opens up Fragments of Horror with Futon. From the title and first page, I knew I was in for one hell of a ride. And even though Futon is by far his weakest story of the lot (mainly because it is the shortest tale and feels undercooked), it still made for an intriguing and creepy read while it lasted.

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Futon had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it was definitely underdeveloped as it’s only 8 pages long short. Had Ito given it more time to marinate, it could easily have been a 5 star tale. Thankfully, Ito does not repeat this mistake as the rest of the stories in this book receive at least 30 pages of attention.

Ito's Afterword confirms what readers felt
Ito’s Afterword admits as much
Now let's get to the good stuff!
Now let’s get to the good stuff!

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Young Megumi and her dad, recently divorced, live in a house that was selected to be a registered national tangible cultural property. It’s a massive house containing 11 rooms. One day a mysterious woman arrives at their door and she’s smitten by the structure.

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Did I say smitten?? More like obsessed. I got the heebie-jeebies when she said “they’re very sexy.” Who talks like that about a house?! Mad weirdness be going on…

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It’s often been stated that Ito is a brilliant panel composer. He has a way of making the reader cling to a page’s last panel before the dramatic reveal on the following page. This here being a perfect example. As the reader, you instinctively know what the mysterious woman’s request will be. You also know that her request, which will be foolishly accepted, will lead only to ruination and ultimate misery.

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I knew it! This is classic horror 101. We feel helpless as our characters spiral into madness. I won’t spoil what happens next (or for any of these stories) but suffice it to say, this book isn’t titled Fragments of Happiness

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Ito recycles his characters from Futon for this ghastly tale of abomination. Tomio, that lying cheating son of a bitch, and his girlfriend Madoka are going through a rough patch in their relationship. Tomio cheats on Madoka by sleeping with a woman who is rather peculiar, to say the very least…

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There is one scene here in particular (don’t worry I won’t spoil the reveal) that is SUPER disturbing. It left me wanting to gag and puke. Ito is one sick bastard, I’ll tell you that!

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By far the “gentlest” story of the collection, Gentle Goodbye (fittingly titled) is a somber tale of family ties and how people grieve through loss and hardship.

Competently constructed but not my favorite story
Competently constructed but not my favorite story
Now THIS... this is what I'm talking about!
Now THIS… this is what I’m talking about!

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Dissection-Chan is, simply put, the stuff nightmares are made of. I love that it feels so much like an unsettling urban legend you might have heard sitting around a bonfire while shooting the shit with your friends back in the day. During a routine practice session, a group of medical students make the horrifying discovery that one of their cadavers isn’t quite dead just yet…

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The sheer demented ludicrousness of Dissection-Chan is deeply unnerving. It would be crazy enough if she had an obsession to dissect others, but to be obsessed with the dissection of her own body? Yikes! Couple that with the way Junji Ito drew her haunting face and you can’t help but feel a little perturbed.

Even her "HO HO!' sends chills down my spine
Even her “HO HO HO!” sends chills down my spine
Fast like a cockroach...
Fast like a cockroach scurrying away with the light on…
C-R-E-E-P-Y...
Gives me the willies!
Yup, just like something from Creepypasta
Like something from Creepypasta
Reminds me of the Slit-Mouthed Woman
Reminds me of the Slit-Mouthed Woman
AKA Kuchisake-onna
AKA Kuchisake-onna
How ominous...
How ominous…
I felt a little sick to my stomach reading this
I felt a little sick to my stomach reading this
It's the same med student we followed earlier
Why do I get the sinking feeling that this is bad news
OH SHIT
OH SHIT
UH OH
UH OH
That's not creepy at all
That’s not creepy at all
Better watch yo back, son
Better watch yo back, son

Dissection-Chan was by far my favorite story of this book. It’s fascinatingly eerie and gave me major urban legend vibes. I loved it! You gotta read it to find out what happens next. Easily one of the spookiest stories I’ve read in some time!

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Fragments of Horror peaked at Dissection-Chan as far as I’m concerned. But Blackbird is definitely a strong follow-up that is very disconcerting in its own right. In fact, it’s my second favorite!

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One day a young man’s hiking in the woods when he runs across a fallen and injured man named Shiro Morguchi. Poor Shiro was out hiking alone when he fell and hurt himself so badly that he couldn’t move from his spot. He survived by rationing the food in his backpack for a month (!) before being discovered.

The good Samaritan decides to keep watch
The good Samaritan decides to keep watch
Ah, just another quiet night
Ah, just another quiet night
WHAT IN THE -- !
WHAT IN THE — !

Junji Ito flexes his sinister brilliance with this twisted tale. Really creepy stuff that will stay with you long after finishing the book.

Not one of my favorites; this one was just alright
Not one of my favorites; this one was just alright

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Magami Nanakuse is something of a prolific writer of trashy pulp fiction. Kaoru Koketsu is a quirky woman who enjoys her alone time and writing. She is such a big fan that she jumps at the chance to meet her hero, Magami. Well, you know what they say: Never meet your heroes.

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This one is definitely dark and weird. It’s more methodical than things that go bump in the night. Not bad, but not on the same tier as the previous two stories.

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Fragments of Horror concludes with Whispering Woman. This was a strong entry to close things out. Just from the artwork and title page alone, you know this is going to get pretty fucked up fast.

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Sometimes my wife accuses me of analysis paralysis, especially when we play competitive 2-player board games such as Splendor and Azul, but this young lady takes it to the extreme! So much so that Paul F’N Heyman would be proud.

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The caretakers constantly quit after a short while because they cannot handle Mayumi’s maddening indecisiveness. Until one day a mysterious woman named Mitsu takes the job and surpasses all expectations. On one hand, Mayumi’s dad is very grateful and appreciative.

Addressing the pink elephant in the room
You damn right there is
Gotta pay attention to the red flags, people!
Gotta pay attention to the red flags, people!
No we dont, sir...
No we don’t, sir…
Read the book yourself to find out what happens!
Read the book yourself to find out what happens!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Two months ago I had no idea who Junji Ito was. Now that I’ve been exposed to the world of manga, and having read one of Ito’s works, I am freaking HOOKED. This guy is amazing. The artwork, the panel layouts and the stories are all so haunting and have this urban legend quality to them. It’s perfect to read during Halloween season or during the autumn and winter months of the year. I can’t wait to read some of his other books such as Shiver and Smashed.

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I’m not ashamed to admit that while I read Fragments of Horror late at night with nothing but a flashlight, I was genuinely creeped out. Some of the imagery is so disturbing that I know they will remain with me for the long haul. The way Ito builds up tension in his stories is masterfully crafted. Like a skilled composer, Ito weaves his way through to the very psyche of our minds and souls. He holds our emotions in the dead center of his palm, and you can’t help but enjoy every second of it!

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While Fragments of Horror isn’t a perfect 5 star read due to a few weaker entries such as Futon, most of the stories are effective in taking you on this wild and satisfying ride. If you like tales of the macabre and don’t mind reading and seeing some truly fucked up stuff, then this is the book for you. Hell, it’s worth buying for Dissection-Chan alone!

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Typically, this time of the year on these colder and longer nights I love few things more than firing up horror movies galore and reading paperbacks from hell. I’ll have to add a new tradition to the mix: reading Junji Ito! His dark imagination and insidious creativity knows no bounds. Yup, when it comes to chills and thrills, Mr. Ito has got us covered! In blood and severed body parts, most likely.

4Stars

Tetsuwan Atom (SFC)

Pub: Zamuse | Dev: Minato Giken | February 18, 1994
Pub: Zamuse | Dev: Minato Giken | February 18, 1994

25 years ago today, Zamuse released Tetsuwan Atom (AKA Astro Boy AKA Mighty Atom) on the Super Famicom. While the game itself is a mere footnote in the annals of SNES lore, there’s no denying the immense popularity and impact of the source material. Today we celebrate the titular science fiction superhero by looking at his one and only Super Famicom game.

A LONG AND STORIED HISTORY

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Created by Osamu Tezuka, Astro Boy began as a manga series in 1952. Astro Boy is even older than another iconic Japanese legend: Godzilla. It is the 10th best selling manga series of all time, having sold over 100 million copies.

It began its anime run in 1963
It began its anime run in 1963
And once again in 1980
And once again in 1980
10 years ago in 2009, it even had its own movie
10 years ago in 2009, it even had its own movie
There will even be a live action movie in the future
There will even be a live action movie in the future
Astro Boy will appear in Crystal Crisis April 23, 2019
Astro Boy will appear in Crystal Crisis (April 23, 2019)
Crystal Crisis is a puzzle game akin to Puzzle Fighter
Crystal Crisis is a puzzle game akin to Puzzle Fighter
Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo... a gem
Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo… a gem
Welcome back Kawase!
Welcome back Kawase!

On a side note, Nicalis just announced the 20th and final character for their upcoming puzzle game, Crystal Crisis. It is none other than Kawase from the super quirky Super Famicom cult hit, Umihara Kawase.

Umihara Kawase Fresh hits the Switch April 25, 2019
Umihara Kawase Fresh hits the Switch April 25, 2019

I can’t wait to play both Crystal Crisis and Umihara Kawase Fresh on my Switch this spring. Funny that both releases will be just two days apart. So many good games and not nearly enough time!

Cant wait. The hype is real
Can’t wait. The hype is real
See you soon Astro Boy!
See you soon Astro Boy!

BACK TO TETSUWAN ATOM…

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*cue Movie Trailer Voice Guy*

In a time of hostility and turmoil, only one hero has the courage…

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… and the will of a nation’s indomitable spirit…

HE IS…

ASTRO BOY! TETSUWAN ATOM!
ASTRO BOY! TETSUWAN ATOM!

Based off the classic manga and anime series by Osamu Tezuka, this is an action game featuring 8 levels. Some are straight platforming romps while others have you taking to the skies. Let’s check out the first 5 stages.

LEVEL 1

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Typical easy introductory level. His movement is a bit stiff and his punch lacks range so there may be an adjustment period.

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Beware of giant boulders! The first boss is a piece of cake. Use the Air Dash to quickly defeat it.

LEVEL 2

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Unspeakable horrors lie inside this fright-filled haunted house. But judging by the terrible lightning outside, you just MIGHT be safer inside…

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Perhaps I spoke too soon! Crawl in that little space there so that the chained ball will sail safely over your head.

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Luckily, you’re armed with super strength. And staying true to form, your bright eye lamps are put to use whenever in the dark. This spirit boss requires several Air Dashes before submitting to the foul night.

LEVEL 3

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Showing off his flight powers, this stage curves around. Kill everything on the first floor. Don’t bother punching here as the Air Dash proves to be most effective. Once you kill everything, repeat this process on the second floor. The third floor is where you’ll face the boss. His second form is a tough little cookie!

LEVEL 4

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Despite being an android, Astro Boy can brave the waters with no electrical issues. The spike sections are tricky. Occasionally, the water current flows in the other direction and the force is incredibly strong. The school of fish zooming by is a lovely visual effect when these tides occur.

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Relying on your Air Dashes much? Well this stage disables that ability so you must rely instead on your swimming and flying prowess to help see you through. The boss of this level is one bad mutha! Watch out for its long limb and electric bolts. Save that energy tank power-up at the bottom there until you’re down to your last heart.

LEVEL 5 (AND BEYOND)

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Platforming rule #11 dictates that there must be some kind of auto-scrolling stage. Many hazards attempt to put you down for the count. Later levels incorporate the Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 special effects.

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES

  • You begin with 3 hearts. Along the way extra hearts can be gained. Each heart accounts for two enemy attacks. Health refills and 1-UP’s are also scattered throughout
  • The default controls are awkward (B = jump, A = punch, X = charges the flight meter). Thankfully, it’s adjustable
  • The flight meter must be charged before you can fly, and during flight slowly decreases. Pressing A during flight executes the powerful Air Dash. This attack grants you temporary invulnerability. Press A during an Air Dash to cease abruptly. Otherwise you’ll zip across until your meter is fully depleted

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A living legend through the ages
A living legend through the ages

Astro Boy has been around for nearly 70 years now. He’s often considered as sort of the Mickey Mouse or Super Man of Japan — that’s how big and influential he has been in the anime and manga fandom. His place in pop culture history has been cemented with a long and storied legacy… one that continues even to this day. Tetsuwan Atom on the Super Famicom is a decent game, if not leaning toward average. It’s nothing special, nor anything you should actively seek out. But for huge fans of Mighty Atom, it might be worth a look if nothing else than morbid curiosity. It’s certainly playable, but it’s nowhere near essential. At any rate, happy 25 years to the Super Famicom game. You may be largely forgotten, but you’re honored on this milestone day nonetheless.