Grotesque Anatomy
Thursday, September 18, 2003
  GYO 1 Review
GYO coverHigh expectations can be a curse. I came into GYO, the latest horror manga by creator Junji Ito, expecting to be disturbed by what I read. Ito's previous manga—UZUMAKI, TOMIE, and FLESH-COLORED HORROR—were all genuinely unnerving. GYO, on the other hand, is unsatisfying.

The premise of GYO—legged fish begin emerging from the sea—sounded silly when I first read it, but then again, how scary does a comic about a town's growing obsession with spirals (UZUMAKI) sound on the face of it? (What, they all become obsessed with Spirograph?) Alas, my first reaction proved to be accurate in this case: GYO just isn't scary. Perhaps the cultural connotations are different in Japan, but for me, seeing a shark crash though someone's door is amusing rather than frightening, since it brings to mind the old landshark skits from Saturday Night Live.

panel from GYO 1
Because the horror isn't as strong in GYO, the weakness of characterization becomes more evident. Looking back at Ito's earlier works, it's probably safe to say that characterization was not a strong suit of those works either. The characters were there mainly to serve as fodder for the events that befell them. When the events aren't very frightening, the sparseness of characterization becomes glaring. The players in this tale all feel like stock characters from a campy 50s horror movie: The stalwart, stoic hero; the hysterical female; the mad scientist and his lovely assistant. Even the visual depictions feel tired, since the characters resemble protagonists from Ito's earlier works. The character who receives perhaps the greatest amount of attention in this story is the girlfriend, Kaori; much space is devoted to depicting just how whiny and selfish she is. Unfortunately, this also means that she becomes an entirely unlikable character. By the time misfortune struck Kaori, I found myself thinking that her boyfriend should just leave her. Instead, Tadashi sticks with her, risking his life in the process. I felt like a cross between a Springer audience member and an obnoxious movie-goer in a bad horror flick, mentally shouting out: "Leave her, you fool! She never treated you well, and now she's going to get you killed!!"

I've been reflecting on my different reactions to GYO and Ito's other works, trying to figure out what makes one horror story work while another one fails. I'm not sure I've arrived at a definitive answer yet, but here are some of the thoughts I've come up with:

If you've been hearing good things about Junji Ito and are looking to try out some of his horror manga, I'd recommend passing on GYO and checking out UZUMAKI instead.

Second Opinion: Randy Lander from The Fourth Rail seemed to like GYO much more than I did, giving it a 9/10 rating.

Misc. Details: Published by Viz; 200 B&W pages; $12.95 US. 

Like Unto A Thing Of Irony!

Iron Fist

by John Jakala

Main Blog

Prophecy or Foreboding?
DC Solicits for December 2003
Hurry Up, Order, and Wait
Da Goon
You Get What You Pay For
Manga Marches On
The Fantastic Kurt Busiek
Hello World