By Orrin Grey
Ito, Junji. Fragments of Horror. Viz Media (2015). Hardcover: 224 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1421580791.
Let me just get this out of the way before we start the review: For my money, at least two of the greatest masters of the Weird tale who have ever lived are alive today and working in comics. One is Mike Mignola, and the other is Junji Ito. This is not just Junji Ito’s first horror collection in eight years, but it’s also the only collection of his unrelated horror shorts that’s widely available in print and in the English language right now. That, in itself, is enough to make Fragments of Horror a cause for celebration and the fact that it’s in a gorgeous hardcover edition that looks spectacular on the shelf alongside Viz Media’s other recent Junji Ito releases Uzumaki and Gyo makes it doubly so.
Honestly, if you’re a Junji Ito enthusiast, then just knowing that there’s new work out there is probably enough to get you ordering. If you’re not, then it’s probably because you haven’t yet been introduced to his work. While Uzumaki remains his towering masterpiece and an indispensible piece of modern Weird fiction, there are much worse places to make your introduction to Ito’s work than in the pages of Fragments of Horror.
In his typically self-deprecating author’s note at the end of the book, Ito wonders whether his horror instincts have returned, but it doesn’t take much reading to find out that they have. In fact, Fragments of Horror reads very much like what it is: a return to form. In this volume, you’ll find a cross-section of just about everything you can expect from Ito’s work, from the sublime to the grotesque, and from the serious to the silly. There’s a poignant tale right next door to a ludicrous one. Almost all of them contain Ito’s trademark talent for a perfectly-timed panel, the equivalent of the jump-scare reveal in a movie at just the right moment but all the more impressive because Ito allows it to linger.
While Ito has better stories in other books, this is a great collection and an admirable sampling of what makes a Junji Ito story stand out, whether it’s being terrifying or just ridiculous. “Futon,” the first story in the book, is a pretty perfect primer of what you can expect from Junji Ito, all in a compact eight pages, while stories like “Dissection-Chan” and “Blackbird” feel like classic Ito tales. There’s even a touch of his tendency to repeat characters, as the couple from “Futon” show up again in “Tomio – Red Turtleneck.” “Magami Nanakuse,” meanwhile, is a perfect example of one of Ito’s sillier stories.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how well Fragments of Horror stacks up next to Junji Ito’s previous horror collections. For those of us who have already been indoctrinated in the cult of Ito, each new story is a treasure. For those who haven’t yet had the pleasure of discovering him, this will serve as a fine introduction. What is important is that the people at Viz Media seem to know the importance of the occasion and have treated Ito’s first collection in almost a decade with the reverence it deserves. The edition is beautiful and sturdy, and just seeing pictures of the cover online cannot possibly do it justice. Once you’ve held it in your hands, you’ll know that this is a special book, one that deserves a special place on your shelf.