Gyo volume 1
by Junji Ito
English Adaptation by Yuji Oniki
BW, 200 pgs
$9.99 US / Higher in Canada
One of the great things about my gig here at comicreaders.com is the very fact I have access to a wide variety of comics. When I buy comics I need to be selective because my money can only go so far. I will admit to you too that I’m a very cautious shopper. I’m more apt to buy a new series written by a writer I’ve enjoyed in the past then branch out and try a comic from someone with whom I’m not familiar. I don’t have that worry when reviewing comics. I can pick and choose whatever I want without thinking about my pocketbook. In doing so, I’ve been able to make some fantastic personal discoveries. I’m talking about the cool comics that grab you by the short and curlies of your interest and don’t let go. These are the comics for which I get up on my soapbox and shout. These are the comics I want you to read.
Gyo is that kind of comic.
Written and illustrated by Junji Ito, Gyo is a comic that has the word cool written across it in big, bold, flashing letters. It’s a horror comic of the highest degree (the best damn horror comic I’ve read to date…period), telling the tale of strange fish that start crawling out of the sea on their own legs. Yes, on legs.
The setting is the city of Okinawa. Tadashi and Kaori are on holiday, a trip that quickly takes a rotten turn when they discover a four-legged fish wandering around their room. Although certainly strange, the fish seems harmless enough except for its awful stench. Kaori has a sensitive nose, and as she complains and complains about the putrid stink, her mood sours and Tadashi works desperately to calm her nerves. Kaori isn’t the only one getting on edge. Her constant exclamations and repulsion at the smell really drove home in my mind the stink of this critter. I was on the edge of my seat, crinkling my nose and wondering, as was Tadashi, what kind of fish has legs.
Junji Ito knows horror. He’s been in the business since 1986 when he entered Halloween Monthly’s horror manga contest. He won the prize in 1987 with his manga Tomie, which is about a beautiful girl who instills such jealousy in men that she is murdered by them, only to be reborn again from the scraps of flesh which remain. In 1999, Tomie was made into a movie, one of seven films and five made-for-TV specials to be adapted from his work. Despite all of these accolades, Ito’s manga remain relatively undiscovered in Japan. Gyo, his most recent manga, was published second last in the 300 page Spirits Weekly. His horror collections are only available at specialty stores or by mail order.
In reading this first volume of Gyo, I’m amazed Ito isn’t more widely recognized. He knows all about pacing, giving the reader a little at a time, making his characters, and therefore the reader, anticipate the monster around the corner. The monster in this case is fish, but Ito’s use of sound effects and panel layout really make the tension thick. After Tadashi and Kaori’s initial encounter with the fish, Ito pulls the focus out to the city of Okinawa where we see other people encountering legged fish. These anomalies are turning up in fisherman’s nets and on beaches. And speaking of beaches, it is at one such sunny paradise where a giant shark crawls out of the sea!
You’re probably thinking, “That sounds absolutely silly”. You know what? I thought the same thing when I picked up this book and read the story summary on the back cover. Walking fish? I thought this comic would be, at best, a B movie treatment, a laugh and scares book, heavy on the laughs and light on the scares. Gather around the campfire, kiddies. Gyo is heavy on the scares and light on the laughs. It’s a story that exposes the monster hidden in the ordinary. His drawings, however, are anything but ordinary.
Ito’s art really sealed the deal in this comic. His characters talk about the stink of these fish, but that’s something the reader can’t experience. What Ito does, therefore, is show us in great detail the pure wretchedness of these legged creatures. This comic is filled with detailed illustrations showing the legged fish, legs that certainly don’t look like they belong on that fish. You see, the fish appear to be dead, mouths hanging open, eyes glisteningly pale. The legs keep on moving, however, propelling these foul critters around. Ito ups the gross factor with the big shark. Big shark means bigger pictures, meaning more grotesque imagery. This book made me feel slimy, unwashed as if I had just gutted a school of fish myself.
The idea of walking fish is silly, but Ito doesn’t treat it that way. He nails you with solid horror pacing, vivid images, and then ups the ante even further with an explanation as to what has caused the fish to take to land. It’s creepy ass stuff, my friends. Ito doesn’t try to force scientific explanations down your throat. He knows the unknown is scarier, so he gives us a taste of an explanation so the visceral and disquieting effect of the story isn’t weakened. The first small fish was creepy cool, the big shark was downright awful, the explanation was chilling, but what happens next is horrific glory. I won’t say more because there is nothing worse then having a good horror experience ruined. Just buy this damn book and drop me an email when you’re done. (Chad Boudreau)