I’ve been thinking a lot about horror this week, and as such I’ve also been thinking about the last time I felt shivers down my spine and felt my full body shudder after reading something. The author that evoked such a visceral reaction in recent memory was none other than Junji Ito, a mangaka that was recommended to me by one of my friends. They had been talking nonstop about the sheer creepiness of his stories. When I asked where should I should start, I was recommended Shiver and I will pass on that recommendation to you.
A lot of American horror is predicated on (questionably) defining morality and punishment: you have done something wrong (or perceived wrong) and you will pay a price for it. You didn’t listen to directions, you got greedy with your goals, you did something that some institution did not like, and the consequence is this horrible thing.
Junji Ito’s takes on horror in Shiver lack such predilections, instead the stories in the collection are surreal nightmares, bizarre imaginings of terrifying things that manifest from the subconscious and urban legends. At the end of each short, Ito provides commentary that explains his inspiration, and he talks about things like the holes that insects have on their abdomens, a model in a magazine that radiates an odd aura, a dream he had when he was a kid. Benign things, small things that he manages to twist and wrap into something truly terrifying.
There is such an artistry to the twisted body horror he is able to display, the way he makes the acts of standing, sleeping, breathing, and sweating horrifying speaks to a very primal instinct, a jolt to the nervous system that skips right from uncanny valley to physical discomfort. But there is still a sophistication in examining why these things manage to perturb us, an exact science in the way he finds the exact things that make us uncomfortable. Ito can reverse engineer a clear mental image in mind and construct an entire narrative that perfectly justifies its wild existence.
Horror at its best is supposed to be exhilarating, an injection of adrenaline. Junji Ito’s style of horror is a series of what-if questions that slowly transmogrify to the pages that we eventually read. There isn’t a deep meaning, no complex morality, just a thought experiment gone awry in the best possible way. I think the ten stories in Shiver provide a fantastic sampling of Junji Ito’s body of work and a great jumping off point for a different variety of horror than you may be used to. And if you need a sampler of the sampler, you can read a preview on VIZ’s website right now.