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.

Hell Baby by Hideshi Hino

Hideshi Hino’s Hell Baby Horror Manga is one of the saddest Manga stories I have read so far. Although the titular ‘Hell Baby’ is grotesque and brutal in her approach to all things, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her from start to finish.

What is Hell Baby Manga about?

On a dark and stormy night, somewhere in Japan a baby is born; a beautiful baby girl. However, so to is a disfigured and slightly demonic twin. Instead of taking this baby in too, she is instead dumped in a bag at a huge dump known as The World’s graveyard.

It is in this ‘graveyard’ that Hell Baby dies and is subsequently resurrected by mysterious converging flames. Despite being taught nothing of the world, this child still manages to cling to her life by preying on the dirty insects and small mammals of the area.

Her deep-rooted desire for family, and the guidance of a mystery figure, lead her into the nearby city. It is here that she begins unleashing her own hell on the inhabitants whilst in search for something she is missing. This something just may be the very family, the father, who left her for dead.

A goodness in the grotesque

In all of the Horror Manga stories I have read, the more grotesque characters tend to be the evil ones; the antagonists. Whilst the more good-natured people generally tend to be on the side of good. But with Hell Baby, sort of like with his Panorama of Hell, Hideshi Hino turns these ideas of good and evil on their heads.

The Hell Baby, as it is called throughout the story, is no more than an unfortunate soul dealt a rotten hand in life. Not only that, but her own father chooses to abandon her for dead rather than feel ashamed by his second-born. The real evil one here, in my opinion, is that father.

The disowned child lives only the way she could to survive. Her learned actions then carry her through to the vicious attacks she performs later on. Although you can’t forgive Hell Baby for what she does to innocent bystanders, you do still have to look at it from her perspective. Here is an unfortunate girl who was cast out and left to fend for herself, looking for the missing love wherever she can find it.

Right to the bone – In Summary

This Manga story was a quick read for me – about fifteen minutes in total. I loved revisting the style of world that I had come to love from Hino’s other work. This is a lot smaller in scope, but no less accomplished in it’s whole. The artwork is just as graphic and raw as I remember from his style. He also retains that more cartoonish character look that he has over most other Mangas.

If you have a short wait, such as on your daily commute, why not give Hell Baby a read? If you are fed up with that commute, maybe you’ll feel a little better about it after reading about this girl’s life.

Manhole by Tetsuya Tsutsui

What is Manhole manga about?

Manhole is a horror manga story that follows two police officers of Sasahara city. We follow them as they investigate a recent deadly viral outbreak in the area.

It all begins as a naked, distraught-looking man crawls up out of a manhole in the centre of a busy area of the city. He mumbles as he wanders forward, before coming into contact with a student further up the street. Unknown to the student, he has just been infected by the naked stranger, and he will unknowingly begin the spread of the virus.

The virus shortly becomes more and more out of control. However, Police Officers Mizoguchi and Inoue are on the case to reclaim their city from under it’s shadow. But will they discover the truth of the origin of the virus?

A great partnership

I absolutely love the scenes between the two protagonists, Mizoguchi and Inoue. Mizoguchi is a stern man who at first came across as a bit of a dick. But soon enough I couldn’t help but warm to him. It is pretty obvious he does have an affection for his partner, the seemingly-timid police woman Inoue.

There are some genuinely funny moments throughout the Manhole manga, which contrast well with the overall tone of the story. And the comedy is always in how these two lovable characters play off each other. One particular moment when Mizoguchi sends Inoue into a potentially-infected tight space. Only to be told afterwards that he had called in professionals to go in. Her reaction is great, along with her attitude that follows.

It was great to see how Inoue doesn’t remain in a rookie partner role for the full story too. Later she must take on certain parts of the case herself, which allows her full spirit and tenacity to shine through the once-thought-to-be timidness.

A well thought out story

I really enjoyed how different elements of Manhole were connected as the story progressed. Stories from the past get shown to be catalysts for some of the recent events. This never seemed contrived either. The story felt very well thought out and its consistent pacing highlights that fact. Some of the stories I’ve read recently seem to increase the graphic depiction of horror towards the end – it didn’t feel that Tetsuya Tsutsui did this with Manhole.

Don’t get me wrong – I do love stories that get more extreme as they go on, but there is definitely a time and a place. Here, I felt that the story itself is the most important element, and it always felt like it was treated as such. I don’t mean that stronger horror manga have any less of a story – just that Manhole didn’t tend to lean on certain tropes.

The way the detective story was structured also impressed me here. It’s not written as a straight-forward linear narrative. Instead, we sometimes inter-cut with different aspects of the investigation. Sometimes this lets us learn more about the virus’ origins before our hero partners do. This, along with some tasteful use of flashbacks, make for an intriguing tale that hits the mark again and again.

More detective story than horror

There are many aspects of horror within the Manhole manga story. However, it didn’t come across as a typical horror manga. What it felt more like for me was a really interesting detective story with elements of horror mixed in. When our heroes are confronted by victims of the plague, those victims are drawn in very detailed and horrific ways. But it was a far cry from the more graphic horror manga like work by Junji Ito or Panorama of Hell by Hideshi Hino.

Summary

Manhole is a thoroughly enjoyable horror manga from artist Tetsuya Tsutsui. It is a well-crafted detective story with well-thought-out character development. Although it keeps itself in the horror manga genre, it never just goes all-out in graphic violence just to serve that genre. It always remains grounded and takes you through one of my favourite stories of recent times.

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.

Hideout by Masasumi Kakizaki

What is Hideout Manga about?

To say that Husband Seiichi and Wife Miki have an unhappy life together would be putting it lightly. Since their son – Ju – tragically died, each has blamed the other for his death. We join them as they are attempting to make amends by way of a holiday together on an island resort. The tension between them is palpable as Miki really can’t bring herself to be nice towards her husband.

However, little does Miki know, that Seiichi has other plans for her. It is on this island that he plans to murder her and bury her body in the island’s forest area. He just can’t take her incessant blaming of him for their son’s death anymore. But things take a drastic turn when he manages to fail at this attempted murder. This is then subsequently followed by him chasing after her into a nearby cave.

Soon after entering they are attacked and chased deeper within and down into an old war bunker where a beast-like older man makes his home, and his family. This twisted idea of family life is repulsive and scary to Seiichi. However, the longer he spends amongst these dwellers, the more he perhaps finds this to be the kind of family unit he was missing.

In this cave, their fates become sealed forever – from which neither of them will ever be the same again.

Attention to detail

The first thing I noticed about the Hideout Manga was the level of detail that the artist and writer, Masasumi Kakizaki, had put into each and every panel of the story. It’s a level of detail that really helps drive home every sharp edge of the cave. I got a feeling that each and every crevasse was painstakingly crafted right there on the pages.

Set in contrast to those caves, are the scenes in which we see the events leading to the troubled present. Whereas the present-day cave scenes are predictably dark and morbid, the flashbacks are set against a much fairer palette. These lighter panels give Hideout a good pacing. My eyes never got tired of having to look at the darkness of the caves. It felt perfectly edited to drive the story forwards without losing its dark momentum.

Interestingly too, was how the artist decided to draw Ju as a baby. Whereas the whole manga is drawn as you would expect, the full-page image of Ju as a newborn is drawn in a more classically shaded style. This gave the impression that the only real innocent one in this story is Ju.

The cave as a metaphor

I found it interesting that the author, Masasumi Kakizaki, chose a cold, dark cave in which to explore the story between this once-happy couple. It felt as though the cave was a metaphor for that very marriage that itself had become dark and uninviting.

Early on I felt certain that the wife was the bad person and the Husband was our hero. Well, except for the whole attempted murder thing. However, what I found most intriguing was the fact that neither of them are, or become, the good one between them. Instead, we see just how bad they each become as by the end of the story they both have sins to pay for. Of course they each believe they are the one in the right, but the fact is, is that they’ll both have blood on their hands.

In Summary

Hideout is a Horror Manga that deals with the dark premise of losing a child. However, despite this, and the subsequent descent into what feels like a path into hell, the story felt very balanced overall. Don’t be expecting too much of a happy ending where everything is all sunshine and smiles by the end. Some characters do get what they want, but it’s just at what cost it takes to get it.

Depending on what perspective you take, some people may find happy endings in Hideout. But from an outsider looking in, this is a grim – but powerful and absorbing – tale of families and their loss.

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.