Review: Lovesickness- Junji Ito Story Collection
Content warning: suicide
Junji Ito is probably my favorite manga creator, and he is a master of finding terror in the everyday escalating normal situations into something resembling cosmic horror. And that continues to be the case in his new collection Lovesickness, which features the titular story as well as two “Strange Hizikuri Siblings stories and three unrelated horror yarns. Ito dips into every day problems like wanting to be loved or desired, family conflict, and even being stuck a job that literally takes over your life and turns them up to eleven with imagery that will scar your psyche.
A big chunk of this story collection is the Junji Ito horror serial, “Lovesickness”, which is about a foggy town obsessed with fortune telling at crossroads. Basically, you can’t cross the street without a girl covering her face and asking you if she’ll find love or if the cute boy at school likes her. The protagonist, Ryusuke, is thrust into this world as his family returns to the town he lived in as a kid, and he rekindles relationships with some of his childhood friends, including his crush Midori and another girl Suzue. However, “Lovesickness” isn’t a relationship drama or a cute romance, but a visual striking and horrifying story that takes “falling in love will kill you” to its literal extent.
“Lovesickness” is a true masterpiece in atmosphere and escalation. Ito creates tension through wind-swept lines of fog that obscure the people that Ryusuke, Midori, and other supporting characters run into. It’s also a great visual metaphor for the secrets surrounding Ryusuke and the “beautiful boy at the crossroads” that is telling girls to end their lives because they will never be loved. This reminds Ryusuke of an incident in the past when he brushed off Midori’s aunt when she wanted her fortuned told, which led to her committing suicide as well as the death of her unborn child. There is definitely an air of death around Ryusuke throughout “Lovesickness”, and he is pale and withdrawn even if he never becomes like the walking corpses who haunt his town.
Speaking of walking corpses, Junji Ito ramps up the level of danger as well as mystery in the later chapters by seeding in situations where Ryusuke thinks he’s the beautiful boy at the crossroads. Ito fills the page with speed lines and images of blood-splattered women taking revenge on the man that preyed on their weakness at a difficult times in their lives. “Lovesickness” progresses from more atmospheric horror to jump scares and bodies filling the street and the page, but there is a kernel of hope in the midst of the tragedy even if Ito draws parallels between Romeo and Juliet in the relationship between Midori and Ryusuke. This story actually ends up having a good moral in the midst of all the gore and frightening imagery, and Junji Ito gives Ryusuke an arc as he tries to make amends for his past failings. Throw in some satire about celebrity culture, relatable insights into the anxiety of moving to an old/new place, and yet another creepy, obsessive town, and “Lovesickness” is a solid start to this collection of horror stories.
“Lovesickness” is followed by a series of short stories featuring a kooky, creepy family that would make the Addams Family blush. They’re called the “Strange Hizikuri Siblings” and are a group of five siblings named Narumi, Kizuya, Kinako, Shigoro, Hitoshi and Misako, who live together after their parents’ passing. Junji Ito gives them each a distinct design, personality, and even verbal tics with Hitoshi coming off as a fairly normal young kid while Misako runs and acts like a cat sneering and teasing her siblings. The stories featuring the Hizikuri siblings are Ito doing horror comedy like a great sequence in “Narumi’s Boyfriend” where each family member comes up with a gruesome way to kill the man that Narumi has moved in with, and Hitoshi just deadpans that she shouldn’t see her boyfriend any more. This story is basically making life a living hell for nice, normal Kotani and dramatic Narumi, and it wraps up with a necrophilia joke. Junji Ito being both transgressive and funny is a good time, and “Strange Hizikuri Siblings” definitely isn’t filler to pad out Lovesickness and still features horror elements like creepy eyes and facial expressions and a haunted house chase sequence.
The second Strange Hizikuri Siblings story is called the “Seance”, and the basic premise is that the siblings are holding a seance so that their youngest sister Misako will stop throwing rage fits and slashing up the youngest brother Hitoshi’s face. The oldest brother Kizuya also wants to impress his crush (Who already has a boyfriend) Sachiyo, who tries to photograph the spirit world. Junji Ito combines dysfunctional family drama with a touch of the paranormal and little bit of the farcical in this story setting up Kizuya as a terrible person who only pretends to work and uses his role as the eldest brother to abuse and insult his siblings. This story is filled with moments that are both disgusting and clever as Ito manipulates the expectations of both believers and skeptics of the supernatural throughout “Seance”. His art hits that Evil Dead II aesthetic of something being scary or funny depending on the context. I definitely won’t forget the big reveal in this story for a while as well as the Strange Hizikuri Siblings whose lack of decorum in an eerie setting make for a great bit of splatter horror/comedy.
Lovesickness concludes with three standalone horror stories, “The Mansion of Phantom Pain”, “The Rib Woman”, and “Memories of Real Poop”. “The Mansion of Phantom Pain” takes the medical concept of phantom pain to extend to an entire large house as a young man named Kozeki is hired to help run around the mansion of a wealthy family and soothe their son’s pain while the son’s father and other workers are basically dying from sepsis. The concept might seem farcical, but Junji Ito uses thick dark lines and waves to show how much Kozeki and his fellow workers suffer transforming and live-in healthcare job into a nightmare. “Phantom Pain” is a unique take on the haunted house story and also has a running theme of tension between social classes as these working class people must risk life and limb and literally die while working for something that is probably imaginary. “The Rib Woman” takes aim at body dysmorphia when its protagonist wishes she looked like her classmate, a beauty queen and goes to a quite sketchy plastic surgeon to get one of her ribs removed. Junji Ito channels the anxieties crafted by the beauty and diet industries through creepy side effects and the appearance of a character that symbolizes the consequences of the classmate’s plastic surgery. A story that starts as a day at the beach erupts into chaos with bones flying everywhere. Finally, “Memories of Real Poop” is a very short, slight story about a boy who buys what he thinks is fake poop in front of his friends and gets secondhand embarrassment from it. It’s definitely the weakest of the Ito stories in this collection, but fits with the gross-out approach to horror in “Seance”.
Lovesickness features yet another Junji Ito horror epic in the story that shares a name with a title, but it also shows off his gift for dark humor in “The Strange Hizikuri Siblings”, Gothic horror with a late capitalist twist in “The Mansion of Phantom Pain”, and social commentary with jarring images in “The Rib Woman”. It’s yet another example how he’s the master of building up his plots from regular to horrifying and finding the monstrous in all of us from ordinary people looking for love to sociopathic siblings and even workaholics and beauty queens.
Story: Junji Ito Art: Junji Ito
Story: 8.4 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.7 Recommendation: Buy
Viz Media provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review