double-feature review by the Crow.
[Note: this was meant to be a two-part review, but the second part will be reserved for another day because of how long this ended up becoming.]
Oh man, this was a tough one to whip up. Thanks to not being able to find an appropriate number of images for this post, and being cut down on the technical side of things, this post has taken me quite a while to put together.
While some of the images here are taken directly from the net as-they-are, I’ve put together some original images from pre-existing images available on the internet for your viewing pleasure. (And if you’re a fellow blogger, and are at your wit’s end, feel free to use them! It’s not like any of us own any of these things.)
Originally, this was meant to be a “Corvid Challenge!” — a post in which the Azure-Winged Magpie ‘challenges’ me to explain something, but considering what I’ve read so far, I guess this is better left as a general review.
And while we haven’t yet reviewed a single book (which was my original intention for our first-non-movie review), here we are with our very-first manga review!
I’ve gone over what I know of Itō Junji’s work in our previous review, and unlike usual, I’m going to head straight into this two-part review without beating around the bush too much.
Let’s first take a look at what I thought of Gyo:
GYO | A FEW THOUGHTS
WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS MODERATE SPOILERS
[NOTE: I’d originally written a much-longer summary of the plot, but I thought it wasn’t right to spoil so much in specific.]
Gyo begins innocuously enough: with a young couple on holiday in Okinawa. Tadashi — one of our protagonists — encounters a fast, unidentified object below the waters whilst scuba-diving. Following a narrow escape from the sharks alerted to his presence by his near-collision with the object, the couple return to their holiday home.
Kaori, his girlfriend, is exceptionally sensitive to smell, and throughout their time on the boat, she’s been feeling ill thanks to the scent of the sea. But back at the house, she seems to be especially concerned with even the faintest of off-smells. Her complaints and Tadashi’s reactions to her subsequent demands spiralshah! quickly into a fight.
Kaori storms off, and Tadashi follows her out (I have to point out that it’s strange that I happened to read these two stories one-after-the-other; there’s a bit of a personal story that just happens to line up with what’s going on here in this scene), and they encounter something in the grass outside.
The story ramps up quite quickly from this point. Kaori and Tadashi (in turns) encounter a strange presence in the house — a fish mounted on a set of mechanical ‘legs’. And it smells like absolute death. It’s the reason for Kaori’s constant panic. It’s been stinking up the place ever since they arrived.
And the twist of the knife into this tale? Once Tadashi takes care of the “monster”; or, at least thinks he’s taken care of it, Kaori slips into a fever, and to Tadashi’s surprise — and horror — returns to haunt the pair before making a daring escape back out to sea.
And as he tries to chase his ‘discovery’ down, more fish mounted on legs scuttle past him on the beach.
Slowly, the legged fish start swarming onto Okinawan shores, after Tadashi’s initial reports are dismissed as either a fantasy or a silly prank by the local police. And it’s not just fish the size of what we eat (I’ve become very fond of seafood in general over the past few years), but sharks come to join in on the fun as well.
After our protagonists survive a run-in with one of these robot-legged sharks (RIP Tadashi’s uncle’s holiday home), the pair decide to return to Tokyo, where things are calmer.
…OR ARE THEY?!
I’m kidding. The chaos continues in Okinawa, and apart from Kaori’s fever, all seems to be okay with our two protagonists. Tadashi goes and visits his uncle Dr Koyanagi, a prominent — if reclusive — scientist to whom he relates the story so far.
Upon his return to the flat he shares with Kaori, he finds her hysterical. She swears she can still smell ‘them’. And her paranoia rises continually until she bursts out of the flat, and runs down to the street before being grabbed by Tadashi. A crowd gathers to look at the poor girl screaming and crying in her boyfriend’s arms, until… someone spots something in the air. Something that appears to be a plastic bag. A plastic bag with something squirming inside it.
It’s the first cyborg-fish they’d encountered in Okinawa. They manage to seal it up in a bag to get rid of the incredible stink of it and deliver it to Dr Koyanagi. It’s around this point that even Tadashi begins to pick of on that smell — a smell his uncle said was the same as the smell of his father (Tadashi’s grandfather)’s rotten corpse — and Kaori starts to retreat into herself.
And it’s at this juncture, that I’ll leave the premise at. I’ll talk about the plot a little more, however, but in much broader strokes from this point on. So, before we proceed, here’s another spoiler warning:
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW
Ultimately, Gyo is an example of Science Horror (the lovechild of the SF and horror genres), and it spins a tale that sounds too bizarre to be thought of as viable. I’ve mentioned before how my mum and I share a strange sense of humour, but in this case, I do think that it’ll come across perfectly.
When dealing with the strange and bizarre in fiction, my mum has two theories as to what state the people behind them were in:
- Much drugs. Many WTF?!
- Lots of intestinal gas (I told you we’re weird)
In this case, that second bullet strikes home. This is a story about… Well, let’s just put it this way: the expulsion of certain bodily gases.
But make no mistake: This story manages to take flesh-built whoopie cushions, set them onto mechanical legs, and manages to never be anything but serious about the whole affair. It’s the most mature way I’ve seen anyone deal with fartsthere, I said it! Are you happy now, Azure-Winged Magpie?! in fiction, ever.
And it manages to be a decent story all the way through. I’m not much fond of horror in fiction, but I respect it because of how difficult it is to do right. While Gyo isn’t exactly Uzumaki (which I consider the superior work), it’s a pretty good effort at trying to strike fear into people, and — like I said — works pretty well as an example of SF.
At the heart of the story are of course Tadashi and Kaori. Supporting characters such as Dr Koyanagi (Tadashi’s uncle) and Ms Yoshiyama (Koyanagi’s assistant) pop in to play major roles along with them. To just stay on the topic of the characters for a moment: I felt they were all handled quite well.
Yoshiyama has little to do, but manages to serve both as a plot device, and is granted a little characterisation of her own. Koyanagi is little more… cryptic. He has shades of a generic “mad-scientist”, possibly deceives Tadashi to a huge degree (although we’re never told to think that by the story, I strongly suspect that Kaori’s ‘transformation’ had been started long before Tadashi is told it started — maybe she was even conscious throughout. Koyanagi’s character, and Ms Yoshiyama’s guilt both make it a possibility, as does the mystery of why the creatures from the sea turn on her in the end).
And as for our two main protagonists: Kaori, poor Kaori! What a horrific way to enter a state of undeath. It’s a funny thing to consider her the character one should feel the most sympathy for in this story, but she transcends even Tadashi because of how everything about her is desecrated around the time of her supposed ‘demise.’
Tadashi’s character quickly becomes defined by his constant pursuit of Kaori. It might seem a little bizarre to some, but it completely makes sense in the context it’s presented. I mean… just look at the world these characters have suddenly found themselves inhabiting. Would no one else try to hang on to the one thing that felt constant in the world up until it broke wide open? His pursuit of ‘her’ seems hapless, even stupid, but it could easily be taken as a projection of humanities feelings as a whole in the face of the Death-Stench from the South Seas.
Over the course of the story, we unravel mysteries relating to the Japanese Army’s covert — and desperate — research into biological weapons during the last days of WWII, and a “germ” that seems to exceed our understanding of micro-organisms. And it’s this so-called “germ” which is the true evil of this story.
Like with all horror (even my attempts), the core of the mystery is best left not completely understandable. And Gyo excels at giving us just enough supposition and hypothesising without unravelling the truth behind the germ, and how it imparts something not unlike consciousness to its own characters.
We first find out that the bodies (eventually, humans replace the fish, when the sea-creatures are spent) that are taken by the mechanical contraptions are dead. Their bodies become fuel-cells for the machines, and the machines just continue moving. But then; look at Kaori and Koyanagi — they (and other walkers) exhibit consciousness and self-interest. Kaori, who wailed so much about her bloated appearance once the infection took hold, and screamed at Tadashi about rejecting her for the far-prettier Ms Yoshiyama, switches herself on when she sees Tadashi holding Ms Yoshiyama — while trying to keep her away from the horror Dr Koyanagi’s committed himself to in undeath.
It’s projected as early as the shark which attacked Kaori and Tadashi in their holiday home in the beginning of the story, and the walking fish which preceded it. These creatures consciously hunted our two protagonists. What was it that fuelled their thoughts?
And to compound the mystery: when Tadashi, immune to the virus but on the verge of being smothered by tiny walkers in a storm drain he falls into, looks up at the sky one last time, in the light filtered through the gas being released by all the rotting corpses, what is it he’s seeing? What are these morbid faces and figures twisting in the illuminated mist, and when the gas is lit on fire? Are they ghosts (possibly, and it strangely ties into a concept used earlier for one of the versions of Gojira)? Are they aliens (possibly not, but the idea stands)? Is it nature herself making machines?
We never find out. All we’re left with is supposition and possibility. And all of it are beyond our understanding within the scope of the story.
All the story does is tease us with the prospect of truth, it leads our curiosity in a tantalising way. But it never yields to the age-old failure of over-explaining (I’ve myself been prey to this, and the ONE supernatural horror novella I’d written got chucked out the window when I realised what I’d done; it’s making a strange resurrection soon, though). I admire works that show such restraint while opening up so many possibilities.
And all of that, I consider a hallmark of good horror fiction.
The only issue I have with the story is that despite it’s otherwise ‘natural’ set-up, Tadashi’s uncle, and said uncle’s father (Tadashi’s grandfather, of course) are all too involved into the ‘human heart’ of the mystery. Just cutting out Tadashi’s relation to Dr Koyanagi and setting it up in a different way would’ve been a better way to tell the story, in my eyes. And for that, I’ll have to sadly dock a point, since it’s just too convenient.
The story ends on a decent note. On the one hand, Tadashi joins up with a team of researchers — all of whom are immune like himself — to figure out a possible solution to the invasion of the “germ”, and he gets to spend a final moment with “Kaori”.
Koyanagi and Ms Yoshiyama remain unaccounted for, but at least poor Kaori is finally released from her state of undeath. In the closing moments, Tadashi stares out across the skies, and all there is in the air is the gas, misting over everything, with Kaori lying peacefully next to him, finally released from the smell she hated so much.
It’s not a happy ending, it’s not so much a sad ending, either. It’s an ending.
And those are some of the best kind of endings when it comes to this genre. Excellently written.
THE SAD TALE OF THE PRINCIPAL POST
THIS IS A FULL SPOILER SECTION
Right. This one’s a strange one. It’s too short for me to talk about without spoiling the whole damn thing. In short: a family celebrates the completion of their new house by throwing a party. One of the daughters hears her father screaming for help from the crawl space, and people rush to his aid, only to discover that he’s somehow found himself underneath the “principal post” of the house, and is being crushed by it.
When the family rally to help him, he refuses all help and decides to stay there, sacrificing himself to support the house. And there he stays, without anyone ever finding out how he got there in the first place.
I mean… okay.
A few things I’d like to point out: if he figured out he was underneath the principal post, why did he specifically ask for help in the first place? Or was it that he came to this realisation when his wife said she’d call for the carpenter?
It’s just not enough of a story for me to make any judgements on.
THE ENIGMA OF AMIGARA FAULT
THIS SECTION CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS
While not as short as The Sad Tale of the Principal Post, this is another one I’d like to talk about at length. And batter me with a brick… I actually loved this one.
An earthquake causes a fault to become apparent near its epicentre. And people flock to see the strange sight that’s become exposed by it. This strange sight? “Thousands of human-shaped holes”. Our protagonists: Owaki and Yoshida, meet while trekking to look at the strange phenomenon.
Yoshida soon tells Owaki that when she saw the fault on the television, she spotted one of these so-called “holes” that she was certain was meant for her. And soon enough, one of the people who’ve come to the fault demonstrates how perfectly-shaped for him “his” hole is, and enters it, only to get slowly, but surely sucked into it.
Yoshida is horrified by the prospect of how “her” hole is calling to her, pleading for her to enter it. And despite her and Owaki entering a quick romance, the call of the hole slowly starts to become too much to bear…
Months later, another — smaller — fault is discovered on the other side of the mountain. And there are holes here, as well. But they have no definitive shape, rather looking like squiggly lines across the face of the rock.
So, the research team decides to take a closer look into the holes to see if they can find any connection to the holes on the other side.
And what do they see?
Well, all I can say is whether it’s expected or not makes no difference with this story.
This was originally (as the cover image suggests) meant to be a two-part post as part of a larger series, but it seems I’ve been quite elaborate with Gyo and it’s related stories, so I’ll leave Mimi no Kaidan for my next post on The Corvid Review (and perhaps, in time, I’ll even make up a new image for the cover)
I quite enjoyed these stories, and I have to say that after having also recently read Uzumaki (and having reviewed the movie based on it), I’m quite fond of the work of Itō Junji, and wish I’d read him earlier.
Gyo has instantly become my favourite work of Science Horror in the illustrated medium of comic books/manga, and while I still consider Uzumaki the superior work, and will be taking a look at original manga, soon, I highly recommend this work (Gyo) to anyone interested.
I’ve spoiled most of it, I know, but there’s a charm to piecing through the tale on one’s own that I’ll never be able to translate to you in a review. I also recently watched part of the OVA based on Gyo, and all I can say is: don’t bother. It’s a whole lot of pandering to the masses, and a complete perversion of the original story.
- GYO: 7.5/10
- THE SAD TALE OF THE PRINCIPAL POST: ?/10
- THE ENIGMA OF AMIGARA FAULT: 8/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE
- GYO: 8/10
- THE SAD TALE OF THE PRINCIPAL POST: (⊙︿⊙✿)?!/10
- THE ENIGMA OF AMIGARA FAULT: 10/10
Coming up next:
3 thoughts on “ Review: The works of Itō Junji, Part 1: Gyo (+ related stories) [2001 – 2002] ”