Shiver: Junji Ito Selected Stories Vol. 1
Junji Ito (Writer and Artist)
December 19, 2017
Junji Ito’s work was some of the first manga I ever came across. When I was 12 we moved to a new part of London, one that was utterly detached from the place I’d grown up. But it was right next to a comic book store, a place I would spend most of my afternoons and weekends. That’s where I would pick up Tomie, one of the most well-known entries in Ito’s horror back catalogue. The timeless tale of a deathless young woman who drives any man who meets her to madness, I adored the book and reread it till the spine fell apart. Ito’s stark linework and bleak-yet-beautiful storytelling sucked me in and most importantly left me rooting for Tomie. Too often I’d seen men destroy women but now I was seeing a young woman destroy the men who would’ve likely hurt or disappointed her.
There was something in it that spoke to me on a primal level and cemented me a lifelong Junji Ito fan. So it was with utter joy that I jumped into Viz’s gorgeous English language reprint of 2015’s Itō Junji Self-Selected Masterpiece Collection. The original title isn’t an overstatement. All 400 pages of Shiver: Junji Ito Collected Stories are a complete delight, and each story is a testament to Ito’s horror chops. The anthology stacks nine of Ito’s favorite tales together including one new story from 2015, each bookended by the author’s personal annotations and process sketches.
“Used Record” spins the tale of a vinyl recording that captured the ghostly vocals of a recently dead jazz singer. It’s a wonderfully atmospheric vignette that perfectly showcases Ito’s skill as a storyteller focused on youth and in particular young women. The titular tale “Shiver” is one of Ito’s most visually horrifying stories about a cursed artifact that causes anyone who owns it to become covered in holes. It’s a fantastic example of the author’s power in taking a chilling image and turning it into a visceral, frightening story.
Ito’s annotations are a joy and add an extra layer of pleasure to the experience of reading his comics. The annotations on “Fashion Model” are a perfect example, highlighting how a simple moment of observation in the author’s life can transform into a nightmarish horror story. Exploring the idea of what constitutes a monster story, this short focuses on a group of young teens aiming to make a successful film who hire an actress who may or may not be an otherworldly creature. Once again an atmospheric experiment, what should be a simplistic tale takes on a haunting quality after the protagonist sees a terrifying model in a fashion magazine and becomes slowly more and more obsessed until a fatal meeting in the real world.
One of my all-time favorite horror comics, “Hanging Balloons” is an exercise in artistic vision and unique storytelling. There’s honestly no other story quite like “Hanging Balloons.” Ito’s horrifically surreal imaginings are quite frankly the fucking best. When her best friend hangs herself, Kazuko is devastated along with millions of fans who followed her best friend’s music career. When a spate of copycat suicides begin, the police assume that it’s just depressed teens. But the reality is far more terrifying as huge balloons with the faces of their victims begin floating around Japan, hanging the people they share a likeness with from strings that hang from their ghastly necks. I love this story with my life and live to write something half as affecting and memorable.
“Marionette Mansion” takes another creepy cliche–puppets–and turns the terror up until it’s deafening. Following three young siblings growing up in the back of their father’s travelling puppet theater, “Marionette Mansion” explodes your idea of what a haunted house story can be as Ito creates something truly nightmarish. It’s a uniquely scary story that will stay with you long after you finish reading. For fans of Ito’s iconic Tomie series, “Painter” is a sweet treat, another visitation of Ito’s genre-defining femme fatale who’s once again terrorizing useless, flighty male artists with her haunting beauty.
Sleeping is often seen as the sibling of death. In “The Long Dream,” Ito plays on the idea of sleep as a transformative state, one that can change us wholly, and even more terrifyingly a place in which we can live entire lifetimes in one night. A highlight of the book, “The Long Dream” follows the thread of the stories in Shiver, playing on some very mundane human fears but elevating them to something entirely original in vision and scope.
Ito’s curation is part of the experience of reading the book, and as we get closer to the end the stories get more horrific, with some of the most memorable imagery saved for the final few stories. In “Honored Ancestors” we meet a young man whose family is cursed with a violent spell that means that the surviving member must keep every ancestor alive in an incredibly macabre fashion. Once again focusing on a female protagonist, we join our young heroine as she battles against amnesia and the horrifying legacy of her new beau’s family.
Easily the book’s most disgusting entry, “Greased” explores the small apartment above a barbeque shop where the proprietor’s family lives. The restaurant below leaves the home dripping with grease, but it’s when the owner’s son Goro begins to gain an addiction to oil that the story really takes off. The heart of the story is Yui, the long-suffering daughter and sister who gains a strange ability to gauge how much oil and grease are in the air. It’s better to not know the full oddity that is “Greased” before reading because it’s a visual journey that will take you a long while to shake.
The book’s only completely new story is “Fashion Model: Cursed Frame,” another story featuring the monstrous woman from Ito’s “Fashion Model.” This story centers on a beautiful young woman who has a devastating fear of photographs that don’t feature her entire body. Embarking on a career as a model, she’s promised that her photos will always be full body shots. But slowly that promise is broken, and when she meets the titular Fashion Model her fears become reality. It’s a wonderful final tale from a delightful collection that finally sees nine of Ito’s short stories officially translated into English rather than in the wilds of internet fan scans.
Shiver is the kind of book that’s a pleasure to read. From content to cover design to paper quality to printing, everything about Shiver is exciting and ultimately satisfying.