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.

Jisatsu Circle by Usamaru Furuya

What is Jisatsu Circle about?

Saya and Kyoko have been the best of friends since early childhood. They have seen each other grow into the young women they are today, which is where we join them.

The story opens as a large group of High School girls line up on a train platform’s edge and jump together into an oncoming train. This mass-suicide is survived by only one person: the aforementioned Saya (Kyoko was not in the group). Up to this point Saya and Kyoko’s friendship had become fragmented and as a result of her struggles, Saya had found solace in a girl called Mitsuko.

Mitsuko had offered comfort to Saya, as well as the other girls, and taught them to embrace their desires to self-harm. She then led the charge for the girls to all jump in front of the train.

As the story progresses we see just how much Saya’s life has spiralled since her friendship with Kyoko began breaking down. Her father’s mental breakdown; her self-harming; selling her body to substitute her father’s income. The depiction of Saya’s life is done with a brutal honesty that made me root for Saya all the way to turn it all around.

The Suicide Contagion

The character, or persona, of Mitsuko seems to me to be a dark internal part of these girls’ psyches. Almost as though ‘Mitsuko’ represents the point at which they have seemingly reached the point of no return in their mental state.

Mitsuko is initially represented as a single character that Saya tried following into death. However, it is later revealed to be more of a persona that was taken on by the lead girl. A persona that seemed to ensure that death’s grasp was truly upon her. I remember reading about the death drive theory not long back and that’s what this feels like to me.

In classical Freudian psychoanalytic theory, the death drive (German: Todestrieb) is the drive toward death and self-destruction.

The Death Drive, Wikipedia

There is a possible supernatural flavour mid-way through the story. However, this is never expanded upon or confirmed. This is when an online forum is found discussing the group suicides, with comments seemingly added by the late victims. I was relieved, however, that the story didn’t go down that route. We remain grounded in the real horrors of the story. Those horrors being the struggles of becoming an adult and dealing with any number of pressures thrust on you in life.

Full Circle

This story doesn’t have a monster to defeat or a single person to save. Instead it treats these issues as ongoing struggles that repeat themselves over time. All of the girls who have had Mitsuko “awaken” in them have all fallen to her powers. Always leaving one remaining from the current leader’s group to lead the next one.

The only issue I had with the story, if I’m honest, is the lack of hope that the story seemed to have. Now I’m not naive to think that this story could have a happy ending in the classical sense. However, the deaths of certain characters, along with many faceless others, seemed to be inevitable. It would have been nice for someone to have been able to claw their way out of their seemingly-sealed fate.

Summary

Although I’m lucky to have never had suffered with any of the illnesses represented in this story, I still appreciate it for how it treats the subject matter. The things that these girls do are never glorified. If anything, this felt almost like a warning to always watch out for your friends. Kyoko mentions about how when Saya was going through the early stages of these feelings, she was too preoccupied with a fleeting love affair.

This, she admits, was an error that she came to realise all to late.

Dragon Head by Minetaro Mochizuki

Dragon Head is a brutal, honest portrayal of a cataclysmic event and the effects it has on those left alive. Teru Aoki and Ako Sato are two such survivors, thrown into this new world crying and screaming, without a clue of where to go next.

What is the Dragon Head manga series?

Whilst heading into a tunnel, a train is derailed and trapped inside – killing all but three of the passengers. These are the aforementioned Teru and Ako, along with a third – Nobuo Takahashi.

The story then follows these characters as they struggle to come to terms with the situation they have been placed in. Teru and Ako eventually form a partnership, whilst Nobuo quickly begins to break down. Convinced of some entity out in the darkness of the tunnels, Nobuo ultimately falls prey to his own delusions. This leaves the two friends to escape from the tunnels, leaving Nobuo to his own insanity.

From there Teru and Ako’s journey takes them across very harsh landscapes and across the paths of some very violent adversaries. Although initially naive, they eventually toughen up to meet the demands of their new life. This adaption often comes at a price – the price of leaving behind the people they once were to become people they may not like to be.

A bleak vision of a post-apocalyptic world

Minetarō Mochizuki never lets you forget the world that you are in – many of the panels throughout each issue are of rubble; debris; dust; fire. The characters don’t find themselves travelling across open fields or down quiet desolate streets. No – this world is claustrophobic; it’s dirty; it is bricks and mortar with shards of broken metal between. It’s violent and unforgiving and all must learn to adapt.

Dragon Head can be a tough read to tell you the truth, not tough as in graphical violence as such, but instead in its dark vision of a bleak post-apocalyptic world. If you don’t mind your stories dark every now and again, then this one is definitely worth your time. Just don’t be expecting any smiles from these characters, unless it’s the psychopathic grin of someone trying to kill them.

In summary

Dragon head is an honest and brutal story about young people forced to come to terms with, and survive, an apocalyptic event. As you can imagine it isn’t for everyone and I think you’ll know if it’s for you within the first couple of issues. What I will say though is at least give it a try – I’m still yet to come across anything quite like it. Despite it’s darkness and apparent lack of hope, I thoroughly enjoyed it for the unique story it is.

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.