First, let it be known: In the past year, Dark Horse has been my favorite US publisher of manga. SURE, other companies have put out some really fantastic stuff this year (Vertical : Buddha, Ode to Kirihito, Viz: Phoenix, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Drifting Classroom, Death Note, ADV: Cromartie High School, TokyoPop: Dragon Head) and jeez, what an amazing time for manga in English these days... But the really cutting edge and scary shit seems to keep coming out from Dark Horse. Shall we review this ? :
- Lullibies from Hell by Hideshi Hino : After the publishing deluge of both amazing (The Red Snake, Bug Boy, The Living Corpse) and awful books by him, I thought I might be all HINO'd out. However, this collection turned out to be one of the best selections of his short stories to date. For those on the fence about Hino, this is the one to pick up.
- Octopus Girl by Toru Yamazaki : I don't even know where to begin. The manga is a super smart & sassy parody of shojo, horror and gag manga. Each volume has been just slightly less satisfying that the first, but Octopus Girl is probably my FAVORITE comic that's come out in 2006. MY FAVORITE.
- School Zone by Kanako Inuki : This ongoing haunted school tale is a little dense (and freaky!), but really satisfying if you take the time to dive in. As out-there as this manga gets, it's one of the best at describing the overwhelming terror of childhood! (Here's an excellent interview with her)
- Mail by Housui Yamazaki : I've only heard bits and pieces about this one but it seems like a psychological, metaphysical Kairo meets CSI... maybe?
- Ohikkoshi by Hiroaki Samura : Just got it this weekend - Looks like Blade of the Immortal, except it's about students, dating and slackerdom. The story itself kind of blows and feels confusing and aimless, but at least the art is cool.
- The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service By Eiji Ohtsuka : Another cool 'horror' entry, this one is sortof an ensemble comedy, except with Buddhist rites, misplace bodies and Veronica Mars-esque private investigations.
Junji Ito's MUSEUM OF TERROR!
At FBF, I basically gushed to the marketing dudes about how great this series is going to be. Let me tell you-- SOMEHOW (how EXACTLY does this stuff work?) Dark Horse was slick enough to snap up the rights to the entire Museum of Terror series (Kyoufuku no Hakubutsukan). This is a 15 book (!!!!) set that includes basically ALL of Junji Ito's notable short horror comics, along with the entire Tomie series. In case you're wondering, the scanlation we did (Falling by Junji Ito) should be included in the 5th book. (And YES, like good little moral scanlators, we'll be taking ours down once that book gets released in English!).
When I spoke to the guys at Dark Horse, I told them they deserve medals for putting out the Museum of Terror series, and I asked if they were planning to actually do the whole thing (Fuck, pleeez not another fiasco like the 2 year delay by Viz midway through the publication of Phoenix!). They told me this sobering state of affairs:
They want to put out all 15 volumes, but the first two books are NOT SELLING WELL.
Looking at their release calendar, you can see that while some other series are scheduled through next March 2007, there is no release date for Museum of Terror 4. SHIT!! They were actually quite surprised to hear that everyone WE know loves Junji Ito, is hungry for more comics by him, and that the imageboards are FULL of people passing around bootleg pages of Uzumaki and Gyo. Has anyone else picked up the recent Museum of Terror 1 & 2? Let's do a quick recap on what's come out so far and why the books coming next are the ones we HAVE to make sure get released!
Museum of Terror 1: This collection includes most of the original Tomie stories, and gives a really amazing peek at Junji Ito's earlier art style. The lines are clear, and the characters are depicted in a deceptively simple and beautiful manner. But the story itself is a twisted virus-meets-vengeful ghost tale about a girl (Tomie) that never dies. More than that, she provokes the intense desire and fixation of the men she meets, which invariably ends in them murdering and mutilating her.
It's an amazing manga full of SICK STUFF and the plot and scares are very visceral; The story also hints at and vaguely throws around some gender politics (and gender violence!) in the subtext. With Tomie, Junji Ito doesn't just spin one linear tale, but a sortof MYTHOS around Tomie that unfurls with each chapter. Like, hmmmm-- is she like a parasite that encourages being killed and mutilated as a form of her own propagation? Is she more like a virus that infects and changes to suit the weaknesses of her 'hosts'?
Admittedly, it can get repetitive, but especially with the first volume, it's really effective in a big dose. The last panel of the final story in this volume is SO. FUCKING. CREEPY. I yelped like a scared kitten and just threw the damn thing on the floor.
If you feel like you've seen Tomie around before, it's probably because the now-defunct publisher ComicsOne originally released some of Tomie in a two volume set. Yeah, previous to the Museum of Terror edition, the Tomie comics were VERY out of print, and cost a ridiculous amount to track down secondhand. Like a lot of ComicsOne editions, their printing of Tomie was shoddily translated, edited and the visual touch-up (signs in English, sound effects) were really awful. The company basically (as the rumor goes) packed up shop, stopped paying their bills and disappeared. The pieces and rights were later acquired by DR.Master and some of their more successful stuff got assimilated into the new company's catalogue.
Museum of Terror 2: The SECOND volume is also entirely Tomie stories, but it's mostly previously unpublished stories from when Junji Ito revisited the character in 1999 & 2000. You can feel him really escalating the limits of the Tomie 'mythos' here, with the depravity hitting really nasty levels... Making SAKE out of Tomie's mashed up flesh? Slashing her face over and over with a RAZOR? It gets ugly, but I found it really fascinating to see him draw these stories in his later style-- the more detailed, shakier line style he explored in Uzumaki and his newer comics. I am ready for a new subject after hundreds of pages (and more than a dozen variations) on the Tomie tale, but it's pretty fucking sweet to have the entire story in 2 hefty volumes.
As a final note note, the ordering of the stories in these two volumes reflect Junji Ito's own choice of how he wanted the chapters to be presented.
The next volumes are where the full potential and impact of this undertaking are going to be felt for manga/horror fans. The next 13(whoa!) volumes collect Junji Ito's SHORT STORIES, like those in the very out-of-print, funky-ass collection Flesh-Colored Horror, which was also doomed to be originally published by ComicsOne and include one of my favorite horror stories ever, his Dying Young.
Not to shill so hard for one specific publisher-- and we DO buy and support quality titles from all the major and indie publishers! -- but this is a series that NEEDS support so that you can have one whole shelf of your dorky comic bookcase (you have one, DON'T LIE!) filled with about 5000 pages of JUNJI ITO!
As a final note in this epic missive (and we're only at installment 2 out of 7!), I did come in contact with the holy grail of new(ish)horror manga at the Shogakukan booth in the Japanese area of the book fair: Junji Ito's newest book, Hellstar
NEXT UP: Trans-Europe Express 3: A preponderance of Maruo!
Edit (10/27) : I've since found a few good links about the stuff we talked about in this post. Check out this review of Hino's Lullabies from Hell and their take on Museum of Terror Volume 1. Also, Scott at AICN did a line by line comparison of the Dark Horse vs. ComicsOne editions of Tomie. Very interesting stuff!!