Saturday, January 6, 2018

'Gyo' is nightmarish but not horrific

Gyo (Viz Media, 2015)
Story and Art: Junji Ito
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

While vacationing in Okinawa, young couple Tadashi and Kaori are set upon by bizarre, murderous fish with legs. Soon, all of Japan is under attack by the mysterious creatures from the sea.

Junji Ito has the honor of having written and drawn some of the very few (perhaps the only?) comics that are scary on the level of the pure written word, movies, and live performances, with "Uzumaki" being his masterwork. While 3-8 page comics stories can sometimes come close to competing with other genres with the level of horror they might inspire in readers, so far no other long-form comics I've come across have managed to do so. That includes "Gyo."

"Gyo" was originally published in serialized form in the Japanese anthology title "Big Comics Spirit" during 2001 and 2002. It was Ito's final excursion into horror before taking a decade-long break from the genre (returning to horror by writing and directing a film adaptation of his most famous series, "Tomie" in 2011, and afterwards to comics). The art is as solid as in any of Ito's prior work--with some scenes being every bit as nightmarishly disturbing as the best found in his "Flesh-Colored Horror" anthology. Unfortunately, that's as far as it goes.

There is nothing in "Gyo" that rises to the level of dread, and outright horror that leaped off page after page. The best we get here is creepy transitioning into disgusting, but no actual horror; "nightmarish" is the best way to describe the events of "Gyo", I think. This may stem from the fact that a character we're supposed to feel sympathy for is so annoyingly, repulsively neurotic that the reader is almost delighted when she suffers her predictable fate. (All I could think about while suffering through her hysterically berating her very patient boyfriend over and over and over was, "The sex must be great"--but I'm not sure he getting much of that, so I don't know where their could possibly have been a relationship between these two main characters.)

Art-wise, "Gyo" is up to the high standards of Ito's other works. The illustrations are crisp, and even the most chaotic, bizarre scenes flow clearly and are easily followed by the reader. Further, his style remains a nice bridge between "manga" and more western-looking art, so even those who claim to hate Japanese comics should be able to enjoy his work. (Just know that there are better examples of it.)

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