Used Record by Junji Ito

What is Used Record manga about?

Used Record is a short horror manga story from famed Mangaka Junji Ito. It follows a girl who sneaks an old record out of her friend’s house, after that friend refused to let her make a copy.

The song on the record tends to emotionally move all who hear it in a very deep and powerful way. You could say that they become obsessed with it.

The story takes place over the course of about an hour or so by my guess. What we see is the havoc that is caused between a selection of unrelated people that the main character, Nakayama, crosses paths with.

More haunting than horror

This short manga contains no graphic horror elements, save for the killing of one character with a rock. Instead it focuses more on the haunting aspects of the record itself. This untitled record could be considered a song from beyond the grave. As the short story progresses, we find out a little bit more about the origin of the record, which up till now has been a mystery.

Although the story is a short one, it still feels like it has a big history to it. I couldn’t help but allow my mind to wander around the mythology of it. How had this record made its way from its unusual recording to the main characters? If there were more recorded at the same time, where are they and what effects are they having on the people who have them?

In Summary

Used record is the first story in a collection of short stories by Junji Ito. This collection is called Shiver, and is available to buy here. Although Ito is in his prime with his more grotesque depictions of horror, this story is a good example of his ability to tell a spooky tale without all the gore.

Like with some of his more famous works, this one deals with the idea of obsession. Like the men who obsess over Tomie, or the people of Kurouzucho who become obsessed with spirals in Uzumaki. But unlike those larger overarching stories, Used Record tells it’s story in a very condensed format, ideal for a quick 5 minute read.

The Enigma of Amigara Fault by Junji Ito

The Enigma of Amigara Fault is the first horror manga I ever read, recommended by a friend at work. Like with almost all of his stories, Junji Ito left me slightly haunted and disturbed when I finished this one.

What is The Enigma of Amigara Fault about?

It tells the story of two young people who meet as they climb up the Amigara mountain to see a recently opened fault line. On arrival they discover many other people who have had the same idea. They have all come to see the curious human-shaped holes in the recently-revealed rock face.

As the story moves forward, people start to find the holes that they believe have been specifically created for them. With each moment that passes the inexplainable force that pulls them to their holes becomes too overwhelming. Once people enter they are never seen from again. At least not until a later discovery finds them as changed people at the end of their horrific destiny.

The horror is in the psychology of people

I believe that this story explores something that classical Freudian psychoanalytic theory refers to as the Death Drive. Simply put, this is a person’s unconscious desire towards self-destruction and death. Junji Ito, in his unique way, explores this through his characters being drawn towards their holes by their own curiosity. Their conscious minds will know that certain death will await them if they enter, but they do it any way.

Like with all of his work that I’ve seen, the art style is great and the stories have a dark Lovecraftian flavour to them. This story takes about five to ten minutes to read through and may just leave a lasting mark on you.

Where you can read it

The Enigma of Amigara Fault was released as one of two extra stories in the Gyo collection, which I definitely recommend you buying. Not only will you be supporting the artist, but you will also get to read even more of his dark works.

Human Chair by Junji Ito

What is The Human Chair about?

The human chair begins with a lady asking a furniture salesman about buying a chair for herself. After a passionate talk about the importance of a good chair, he takes her into a back room to show her one particular chair.

He then goes on to tell her the story of an author, Togawa Yoshiko. Yoshiko had a large, soft writing chair bought for her by her husband. Soon after she received a manuscript amongst her letters, telling about a carpenter who would hide himself inside peoples chairs he had crafted. The manuscript is later followed up with a letter, declaring the story to in fact be false.

But as the story continues, the author’s paranoia gets the better of her, eventually uncovering a frightening truth about her writing chair. But the discovery is too late, however, as the chair had plans for itself and its owner all along.

Based on a short story of the same name

In 1925, the short story “The Human Chair” was published in Kuraku literature magazine by Edogawa Ranpo. In Junji Ito’s manga adaption, we only learn of the chair’s rough history. About how it was once part of an inn but later bought by the Lady’s husband in a sale. The chair’s history is actually described a bit further in the original short story. However, in the context of Ito’s interpretation, this isn’t as important. Instead he uses the basis of the original as a spring board from which to explore darker realms of the tale.

Like all of Junji Ito’s one-shot stories, The Human Chair is short – at just 29 pages – and to the point. The story moves along nicely at a good pace and ramps up quickly in the last 8 or 9 pages. Sometimes a short horror manga is all you need and this one is definitely one of my favourite go-to stories.

In Summary

Human Chair is a story I will find myself revisiting now and again. I love how Junji Ito manages to find horror in the everyday things. Like with his own cats in ‘Yon and Mu’ or everyday shapes, such as spirals in Uzumaki.

His artwork in Human Chair is just as great as I have come to expect – detailed and demanding of multiple read-throughs. And although the dimensions of the chair don’t seem to allow for some of the story’s actions to be possible, I’m happy to suspend belief for the pleasure of being creeped out by one of my favourite authors.

Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito

Fragments of Horror features a hallucinogenic futon; a woman obsessed with being dissected and a twisted author looking for the perfect facial tic. All pretty much par for the course in Junji Ito’s world of Horror Manga.

I really enjoyed reading these stories and did so one at a time, letting each one sink in before moving to the next. I read one per journey travelling to and from work last week (some pages did get me odd looks from other train passengers). There is a lot of stuff here for fans of Ito’s other works like Uzumaki and Gyo, but I think this could also serve as a good introduction to him too.

Calmer Tales (relatively speaking)

Stories like Futon and Gentle Goodbye are relatively tame compared to his more infamous tales.

Futon is the shortest story of the book at just eight pages long. While it does deal with what are called ‘Dark nature spirits’ haunting a man from above his bed – with an excellent two-page-spread depicting said spirits, there isn’t any really scary horror in there. In fact just as the story was getting going it was over.

With the latter, Gentle Goodbye, it is a slower-paced story about a woman entering into a new marriage. Within this marriage is a family who have found a way to bring back their recently-passed relatives into what they call ‘After Images’. These after images are essentially ghosts but this isn’t written as a scary ghost story. Instead it deals with the idea of the loss, and the worries of losing, loved ones around us. It was nice to read this one as a mental break between two of the collection’s most horrific stories.

Dark side

On the other side of the Ito scale are stories like Dissection-chan and Blackbird.

Dissection-chan has a super simple premise, which also happens to be the most twisted idea in my opinion. A young woman, who has sneaked into a medical university dissection room, almost manages to get her wish of being dissected by pretending to be a cadaver. We then see how she has had this fascination from a young age and whether or not she gets her wish fulfilled.

Junji Ito has himself named one of his biggest influences as being H.P. Lovecraft. In Fragments of Horror this is most evident in the story Blackbird. In blackbird a hiker is discovered in the woods after being left injured on the ground for a while. He then goes on to tell the story of how a strange woman would come to him when he was hungry, to feed him as a bird would. She would regurgitate food into his mouth and he, starving at the time, would accept. The story then continues into an almost mind-bending conclusion that manages to come back round on itself.

In closing

There are four other stories that I haven’t mentioned here and will let you discover for yourself. What I will say is that my favourite story from Fragments of Horror is one called Tomio * Red Turtleneck. In this the eponymous character, Tomio, spends the entire story trying to keep his loosened head attached to his shoulders. How he gets in that state, I’ll let you discover for yourselves.

Now there’s an enticing premise if ever I heard one.

Black Paradox by Junji Ito

What is Black Paradox about?

Black Paradox follows four characters who meet on a group suicide website. We join them as they are meeting in person for the first time, in preparation for performing their suicide together. After their failed attempt, one of them starts regurgitating large shiny balls that he says are from a “Dazzling world”. Yer I know – stay with me.

As the story progresses, we discover that this Dazzling World is in fact the spirit world. The shiny balls that they are able to acquire from this spirit world become very sort after in the real world. They end up calling this material ‘Paradonite’. Paradonite has huge amounts of stored energy within, as some find to their horror.

As each of them learns their own access points into the spirit world, a doctor tries to capitalise on it. He helps them to fulfil their odd destinies as a way to help the future of the human race. Within his mansion, he sets up an underground lab where these events are studied and ultimately normalised.

Body Horror

Black Paradox is a good introduction to the body horror artwork that Junji Ito is famous for creating. It’s a bit milder than a lot of his stories, but there are still some things in here to keep the most ravenous of Ito fans placated.

Each of the four main characters accesses the spirit world through the manipulation of a particular body part. Piitan’s Pylorus, the body part that normally connects the stomach to the small intestine, connects him to the spirit world. The other characters later discover that they too can access that world, but in even more stranger ways.

One person’s face is their gateway and must have it removed before it destroys her. Another has a small tumour in their brain which must be removed. While a third accesses it through their own shadow. If I only say one thing about Junji Ito, it’s that he has an imagination like no other.

Are people just resources?

Interesting in Black Paradox is its looks into the darker sides of human nature. The side that will try to advance through the pain of others. Once the first of the four starts uncontrollably regurgitating the Paradonite, one of them immediately wants to use its high value for their own financial gain. Then later, once the doctor has them all under his roof, he uses them simply as a means to get hold of more of the material “For humanity’s sake”.

However, after seeing a vision of the world’s future, one of them learns how the continued mining for Paradonite is actually detrimental to the future of humanity – real people, specifically. But with the planet’s growing reliance on the material for its energy, the doctor keeps them on the path that may ultimately lead to destruction.

I couldn’t help but find parallels between our own world and the future Paradonite-dependant world of Black Paradox. The way in which the materials are used for the apparent greater good, but at the expense of many real people in the process of acquiring it. Whether such parallels were intended by Junji Ito I don’t know, but anything that sheds light on such things is a good thing in my mind. I wont spoil the story by saying just how they are affected, but affected they are.

In Summary

Black Paradox was a very enjoyable read for me. Although not specifically a horror manga story, it does have many elements and drawing styles that veer on that side of the road. It felt to me to be like an origin story for this group of four, who ultimately refer to themselves collectively as Black Paradox. I’d even go so far as to say that this was Junji Ito’s ‘Fantastic Four’.

She is a Slow Walker by Junji Ito

The story centres around Shinichi and his girlfriend Yumi. We join then in mid argument about what the best type of zombie is – slow or fast. Shinichi is of the opinion that faster moving zombies are the better ones. Whereas Yumi is a firm fan of George A. Romero and favours the classic slow-moving zombies. Not two seconds after storming out in anger, Yumi runs back in, having just been bitten by a zombie.

It turns out that the world outside has quickly evolved into chaos, with infected attacking the living right outside their door. They lock themselves inside in the relative safe, but Yumi is already bitten and they both suspect she’ll soon turn.

Once she inevitably turns, luckily for Shinichi, she is of the slow-moving type. She would be happy with herself with that, I think. But she’s not only slow, she’s extremely slow; taking ages to move even an inch. After Shinichi has a close call after overestimating his own safety, the two of them reach their final destination. The ending is a complete left turn and I couldn’t help but smile at it.

Part of the I am a Hero universe

When I first read ‘She is a Slow Walker’ I thought it was it’s own story in it’s own little universe. But I have since discovered that it is, in fact, part of the much larger universe from the manga ‘I am a Hero’.

‘I am a Hero’ is a long-running zombie manga about a man finding himself trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic zombie world. I haven’t read it yet but I was vaguely aware of it.

What Junji Ito’s story does is focus in on one couple and their particular story, within the overarching ‘I am a Hero’ world. Presumably this is separate from the main narrative of ‘I am a Hero’. I haven’t read it yet so can’t confirm this.

Injecting humour into the horror

It takes a special kind of person to find grotesque gore funny. I think I may be one of those people. Although things don’t go great for our characters, this story does has a good level of humour, especially at it’s conclusion.

This one isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s also not one of Junji Ito’s most graphic works. ‘She is a Slow Walker’ is a fun little story that you may not have come across from Ito before now.

Hellstar Remina by Junji Ito

What is Hellstar Remina about?

One evening, while watching the night sky, an astronomer discovers a mysterious new planet that seems have just appeared from nowhere. He soon believes that it has appeared from out of a distant wormhole sixteen light years away. He names this new planet Remina, after his only daughter.

The girl Remina, who coincidently is the same age as the planet – sixteen* , becomes an overnight star due to her new namesake. Fan clubs are popping up all over the world and people scramble in the streets just to see her. The world is obsessed with Remina.

*The new planet is sixteen light years away, which means it takes the light sixteen years to get to us. This means that at the point of it appearing to the astronomer, sixteen years would have passed since it actually appeared.

In the night sky

While the world is obsessing over the girl, the planet is observed as taking a strange, irregular path across the distant sky. Not only that, but the stars it seems to come into contact with disappear as the planet approaches. It isn’t long until the planet stops still completely, which leads the astronomers to hypothesise only one thing. They believe that this can only mean that the planet is now heading straight for Earth.

As the planet becomes larger, as it approaches Earth at speed, the population’s thirst for the girl’s love quickly becomes a thirst for her blood. She becomes the sole target of a full-on witch hunt, as the people believe that killing her will stop the impending doom that the new planet threatens.

What follows is an extremely harrowing experience for Remina and the few who are still trying to keep her safe. The growing hordes of angry people stop at nothing to get hold of the girl and hold her accountable for their fate.

A microcosm of organised religion

What I found most interesting about Hellstar Remina, was the people’s actions and beliefs towards the girl. When the new planet was a thing of awe and wonder, she was revered as such. However, once the planet seemed to pose an immediate threat, they direct their fear and anger directly at the only thing they could seemingly control – her. All of this because her father named the planet after her.

There is no evidence to support a connection between Remina the girl and Remina the planet. However, cast-iron beliefs are held that destroying her will destroy the planet. Even within the mobs of people there is a small sect of believers, dressed in spiritual robes, who believe that sacrificing her in a particular way will stop the planet.

To me this story is like a microcosm of organised religion, taken to the extremes in a way that only Junji Ito knows how. That’s not to say that I believe organised religions are bad – that’s not what I am saying. What I am saying is it’s interesting how an organised group of people come together under a common belief, to perform an act that they all believe will save them. Even though there is never any proof in this – they are all acting on faith.

Mob Rule

The most shocking things in this story are not necessarily what the mysterious planet does, although it does get crazy. For me, the most shocking actions come from the people and what they put this girl through. Remina gets beaten, dragged through the streets and strung up on a crucifix – as seen in the opening pages.

Whether they love her or hate her, people’s emotions are always taken to extremes by those who are near her. It’s often hard to remember that Remina is a sixteen year old girl. But when you do, it makes her struggle all the more harder to endure at times.

Summary

Another great story from Junji Ito – not that I’ve ever found a bad story of his. Less on the usual body horror front and more of a look at the human psychology surrounding the story’s events. A world-eating planet and the things people will do to try and stop it. All in all a good afternoon read that you could finish within an hour.

Army of One by Junji Ito

Army of One is a oneshot manga story by Junji Ito, featured at the end of his 5 part series, Hellstar Remina. Something about this story makes me want to re-read it again and again.

What is Army of One about?

Army of one follows some friends trying to organise their school reunion in the midst of a new killing spree. The killing spree involves victims being found in different places all sewn together. The number of people found sewn together grows exponentially as the story quickly moves forward.

Gather round, people.
All together now!
Nobody likes a lonely only
Everyone’s your friend, everyone’s your friend.
When you join hearts and sing – Army of one,
We’re an army of one!

The mysterious radio broadcast

Michio is a boy who hasn’t really left his bedroom for seven years. He prefers the solitary lifestyle in his family home. When he is called upon one day by a girl from his school year, he reluctantly begins mingling with his school peers once again – albeit briefly. The girl, Natsuko, is organising their school year’s reunion and coming of age party, which by definition will involve a large group of people. This can only end badly.

It isn’t long before some of those friends start to become victims of these “stitch murders”. People quickly realise that the safest place to be is alone.

An interesting spin on a horror trope

Normally in horror, of most kinds, the safest place to be is together. As soon as someone goes off alone, more often than not, they are picked off. Army of One spins that on its head, however, in that the victims are all people who go off in groups. It is actually safer to be alone in this world, which I think would have interesting consequences in the wider world had this been a larger story.

It is touched upon with the mention of phones soon to be cut off and networks potentially going down. If everybody was afraid to be in groups just imagine what that would do to society. Families would start becoming separated; people would cease going to work; people would be afraid to even go shopping. The world would go to hell.

In Summary

This is one of my favourite stories by famed Mangaka Junji Ito. It has great pacing and creates an interesting world, which I’d have loved to see expanded upon. That being said, Ito does use the lesser page count – thirty seven pages by my reckoning – to great effect. He gets straight into the situation of the “Stitch Murders” and escalates it at a really good pace.

You’ll never want to be in a group again.