Remina, by Junji Ito

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Publication date – December 15, 2020

Summary: An unknown planet emerges from inside a wormhole, and its discoverer, Dr. Oguro, christens the body “Remina” after his own daughter. His finding is met with great fanfare, and Remina herself rises to fame. However, the object picks up speed as it moves along in its curious course, eliminating planets and stars one after another, until finally Earth itself faces extinction… Is the girl Remina the true cause of the catastrophe? A masterwork of horror from Junji Ito, unfolding on a universal scale.

Thoughts: Ito has earned his reputation as a master of horror manga. His artwork alone can disturb and disgust, but the stories he tells linger with readers, the two combining to create a sense of unease and dread in the dark of night, memories of what was just read creeping back in to fill the hours with shuddering discomfort. There’s something about his work that never ceases to thoroughly unnerve me, whether the horror of the story is related to a dread supernatural presence or the darker side of human nature.  Remina ticks all the boxes that I’ve come to expect in one of Ito’s works.

When a new planet is found, the scientist who discovered it decides to name it after his daughter, Remina. Remina is a shy woman, but finds herself thrust into the spotlight after this, becoming the darling of the media and gaining thousands of ardent fans. But the planet keeps moving ever closer to Earth, posing a threat not just with its proximity but also with its very very strange and creepy surface, and Remina the person is the one blamed for the threat, with people adamant that she, or her family, somehow summoned the planet and caused it to approach Earth. Mass panic grows as the danger looms ever nearer, and neither Remina nor her father may come out of the ordeal alive…

While the planet Remina definitely is a sinister force to be reckoned with in Remina, as it does things that planets are definitely not supposed to do, I found the greater horror to be the way people latched onto Remina the woman as a scapegoat, blaming her for all the ills befalling humanity. Now, it seemed that the planet itself was feeding into humanity’s dark side through all of that, almost feeding on the desperate fear and anger that people felt, even tricking them into approaching it with false promises of safety from the chaos happening on Earth, but frankly, no supernatural force needed to be exerted in order to get people to blame something convenient for their ills. Especially something they once loved; Remina went from a much-beloved idol to a hated pariah in short time, fans turning on her as they felt betrayed by what they assumed she did. You don’t need to bring the paranormal into it, to tell that story. We see it around us all the time, especially when crisis looms.

Remina delivers horror on two levels, and that’s not even taking into account Ito’s unique art style, which can be just as disturbing at times as the story itself. He’s particularly good at illustrating body horror and the grotesque, both of which feature here; if body horror is a trigger for you, then be cautious when approaching Ito’s work. Remina had less of that than other works, at least in terms of “the human body doing things human bodies are not meant to do,” but similar to how one of the frightening aspects of the story was the realistic aspect rather than the supernatural, there are depictions of broken and bleeding bodies in here, some of which involve characters being tortured.

If body horror and violence are not trauma triggers for you, however, and you’re in the mood for something visual and disturbing to bring additional shivers to the approaching winter season, then get your hands on a copy of Remina as soon as you can. It’s delightfully disturbing and tremendously troubling, balancing the weirdly supernatural with the weirdly mundane. It’s a story I won’t soon forget.

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)

Venus in the Blind Spot, by Junji Ito

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Publication date – August 18, 2020

Summary: A “best of” collection of creepy tales from Eisner award winner and legendary horror master Junji Ito.

This striking collection presents the most remarkable short works of Junji Ito’s career, featuring an adaptation of Rampo Edogawa’s classic horror story “Human Chair” and fan favorite “The Enigma of Amigara Fault.” With a deluxe presentation—including special color pages, and showcasing illustrations from his acclaimed long-form manga No Longer Human—each chilling tale invites readers to revel in a world of terror.

Thoughts: If you’re into the weirder side of Japanese media, you’ve probably heard of Ito’s work before. His is the mind and art behind Tomie, Uzumaki, and dozens of other titles that are distinct in style, notable for the merging of beauty and grotesque. It’s not a stretch to put his work firmly in the Weird genre; I mean, Uzumaki is a horror story about a town slowly being overrun by a deadly obsession with spirals. It sounds almost silly, but it’s actually rather horrific, and Ito’s art doesn’t dip toes into the uncomfortable so much as it jumps in and splashes around for a while.

Venus in the Blind Spot is a collection of shorts, most of which are rather horrific, and even the one that’s a little more amusing and autobiographical (Master Umezz and Me) still comes off as a bit creepy due to the level of obsession displayed. Some, such as The Human Chair are based on short stories written by others, and adapted to manga form by Ito. You have ones like The Licking Woman, which sound exactly like a horrible urban legend come to life, complete with a twist that sort of makes sense for a monster story but also lacks context… kind of like a lot of monster stories, especially ones told around the campfire.

But then you get stories like An Unearthly Love, in which a woman discovers that her husband is having an affair… with a sex doll that he keeps locked in a trunk in the attic. In a fit of jealous rage she destroys the sex doll. Later, she finds her husband has killed himself so that he and his ceramic lover can be together in the afterlife. It’s a whole load of WTFery that was nevertheless entertaining to read.

I did stumble a bit over How Love Came to Professor Kirida, though. The best way I can sum up that story is: a woman is in love with a misanthrope who rejects her. The woman tries to drown herself in grief, but lives. The professor is then convinced that the woman’s spirit is haunting him. Also, a parrot might be the conduit between here and the afterlife. Maybe. It’s really not clear. I feel like perhaps the story it was based on might shed more light into the confusing aspects, perhaps something just got missed in the jump to a different medium, but this one didn’t really hold together that well, and honestly, it was mostly because of the parrot. Was it an actual astral haunting? Was the parrot just really good at imitating people? Both? Something else entirely? I couldn’t say. I was kind of just left confused by this one.

But overall, this collection of shorts definitely has some of the best that Ito has to offer, and is a good way to experience his work without committing to the more famous multi-volume works. If you’re a fan of Ito, or if you just want to give some Weird J-horror a try, then Venus in the Blind Spot is a good place to start.

Just… be warned if body horror is a problem for you. He does that stuff a lot.

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)