Zombie Maria by Atsushi Nakayama

The Zombie Maria is about two characters – Misao and the titular Maria. Misao is introduced at the very start as he is attempting to hang himself in a nearby, off-limits forest. He is about to go through with it, when he is approached by what he assumes is a monster. This “monster” is in fact a zombie, and her name is Maria.

Instead of being a typical mindless flesh-eating zombie, she is instead fully in control of her thoughts and actions, and actually stops the boy Misao from committing suicide. What is interesting to me, is the fact that the Zombie Maria is as scared by the fact that Misao is committing suicide as he is of coming face to face with the undead.

As the story progresses through its fifty five pages, Misao attempts more times to commit suicide. However, Maria wont let him. She instead does her best to instil in him the value of human life. Through their encounters they start to become friends and later discover that their paths just may have crossed before.

A Zombie with a lot of heart

The Zombie Maria was a story I stumbled upon on Facebook. I had never before heard of it, or its artist, but I’m glad that I did. Although Maria is an undead zombie, she is the character who values life the most. When she is trying to frighten Misao, it’s all done out of love and her desire to keep him alive.

This love and protection that Maria holds over Misao is endearing. Not only that, but it meant that this story’s ending caught me off-guard. When I learnt just how these two characters knew each other before this, it made for a weird mixture of feelings of both sad and uplifting. Sad through the unveiling of Maria’s story, but uplifting for the legacy that she ultimately leaves behind.

This story packed quite a bit in the way of morality and messages to the reader in its short span. Lessons of being honest and trustworthy with your friends. Of also valuing the delicate lives of both yourself and those we hold dear.

In Summary

I love The Zombie Maria. It was one of those rare gems that show themselves every once in a while. The story is quick to read through and the artwork has a friendly manga-face feel to it. But every now and again, typically when Maria is scaring Misao, Atsushi Nakayama pulls no punches in depicting her as the scariest of undead.

Portus by Jun Abe

What is Portus about?

In Portus by Jun Abe, we step inside a world that feels to me like a cross between the films Ring and Videodrome. It follows a schoolgirl, Asami, and her investigation into the mystery surrounding her friend’s untimely death. Although considered a suicide, Asami finds reasons for this to not be the case.

The mystery stems from a computer game called Portus, and the rumours surrounding it about a hidden level contained within. This hidden level is rumoured to be a place that can kill you in the real world. Like with most urban legends, there are some that believe the legend and some that don’t. However, by the end of this horror manga, all people involved will discover the truth about Portus.

Early in her investigation, Asami is dragged into the game’s grasp and has her own life placed on the line. In order to be free from this curse Asami, along with two of her school teachers, must solve the mystery and put an end to Portus’ terror once and for all.

Urban Legend

Urban legends are always fun to explore, but even more so when it’s brought up to modern times. Here we are treated to a contemporary urban legend, fuelled by the classic trope of a cursed idol – the ancient artefact that is taken and must be returned to break said curse.

This felt like a refreshing change for me from the other Horror Manga stories I have been reading recently. I’m not saying that those other stories are bad – just that Portus felt uniquely different in its approach to horror. It took a medium that I was very familiar with – game consoles – and injected its horror into its very mechanics. Cool stuff.

Moments of shock

What made this story stand out as being particularly creepy, and even sad at times, was the fact that the main protagonists are of school age. The main girl is 17 years old and is investigating the apparent suicide of her friend of the same age. Like with Jisatsu Circle, this story contained a particular darkness that isn’t present with other types of main characters.

I found it particularly shocking when I turned over one page to a full-page panel of one girl cutting her own throat – drawn in all of its gory details. This level of shock is prominent in this story but never outstays it’s welcome. The horror here is always in service of the story and is not always related to gore.

Later on we come face to face with the root of the curse’s horror and the true evil that one person unleashes on others. I find the scariest horror for me is when it is within the realms of possibility – to think that some people in our world are actually capable of what’s on the page is chilling.

Summary

Portus by Jun Abe was a really enjoyable read for me. The subject matter was an interesting left turn from what I have become used to in Horror Manga. I am loving discovering fresh artists such as Jun Abe and will endeavour to find out more of his stories going forwards.

Not for the easily shocked, this is a tale of an urban legend with a modern spin on it. Much like many of the Japanese horror films that have been popularised in the west in recent years. Portus may feel both familiar and completely new to you.

Fuan no Tane by Masaaki Nakayama

Fuan No Tane is a collection of short horror manga stories by artist and writer Masaaki Nakayama. These stories attempt to delve directly into the part of the brain that works to unnerve us. And in most of the stories here, it manages to accomplish just that.

How short is short?

Up until now, when I have talked about short manga stories, they have been in the region of about 20 to 40 pages. This was my understanding of how short ‘short manga’ was. But it turns out that you can get just as effective in the story-telling with only two or three pages. That’s right – two or three pages for a complete, self-contained, horror story.

Masaaki Nakayama has managed to concentrate down all of the unease that comes from this genre of manga. He has then squeezed that unease, along with some added angst, into these bite-sized pieces of horror. These pieces seem to be inspired from ghostly encounters of people that the author knows. Not only that, but throughout the collection you will see photos of real-life places. These places have also formed the kernels of ideas for different stories throughout.

Fuan No Tame is divided into three volumes, with each of those volumes split into distinct sections. Each section focuses on a particular area of things that tend to unnerve the majority of people. These range from stories about unwanted visitors to hallucinations; From unnerving places in public to home invasion. There was the odd story that I simply didn’t understand. Perhaps they got lost in the translations? But the majority I did understand, and was suitable creeped out by them.

Sowing the seeds of fear

Fuan no Tane (Fuan’notane) translates to “Seeds of Anxiety” in English – and this really is what it accomplishes for the most part. Many of these stories feel like introductions to larger stories that never get told.

A perfect example of this is actually the very first story ‘The Playful Man’. This tells of a strange man who turns up outside a school’s doors at 6pm, greeting any who are leaving from after-school detention. Although initially only hearing rumours, the main girl discovers this man, and is trapped within the school as he screams at her from outside: “Let’s play! Let’s play!”.

Another I found particularly terrifying is during an innocent game of hide and seek. One child leads another into the trees claiming “I know a place where they’ll never find you”. When they arrive the real visage of the guide is revealed and we never see the child again.

This unique way of telling short stories was completely new to me when I started reading. I just love the whole concept that this manga pursues.

Self-contained horror

There are also some stories within this manga that feel completely self-contained – not needing any further resolution. These were often the most interesting for me and have described a couple below.

One story that sticks in my mind, also happens to be the first panel that I saw from this collection. ‘Look’ is the story of a road safety sign, designed for children, that seems to take on a vindictive life of its own. I realise how that sounds, but it really is one of the most original premises for a story ive seen in a while – as are many contained in these volumes.

Another, from the second volume, is a story called ‘Agreement’. In Agreement, a man waits anxiously with his camera for the sunrise on New Year’s Day 2000. However, a strange man arrives minutes before the sun’s appointment and makes the photographer question life in general. This story is not actually horror, but it formed a unique feeling in me. It had a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy about it. I can’t really describe it any further without ruining that ending for you though.

In Summary

Although the stories in Fuan no Tane are very short, they more often than not hit their mark in conjuring up feelings of unease within me. I think that not knowing where these characters end up, for the most part, is a big component of that – leaving their stories open-ended and without conclusion most of the time.

Because of the fact that these volumes’ stories are so short, I found myself finishing one and thinking “Just one more wont hurt”. Before I knew it I had read through the entire first volume – somewhere in the region of 130 pages.

This horror manga is a perfect read whether you have a couple of minutes or an hour to spare. Proceed with caution, kids!

Fashion Model by Junji Ito

What is Fashion Model by Junji Ito about?

Iwasaki is a screenwriter, who is currently working on a script for his film-making friends. In a chance reading of a fashion magazine he comes across the portrait photo of the creepiest looking model you could ever hope to see. After this brief encounter with her visage, Iwasaki is unable to get her face out of his mind. Everywhere he looks; every time he tries to sleep – there she is, in his mind’s eye. And every time he imagines it, she becomes more and more distorted and demonic.

After some success with their film, Iwasaki and his friends begin casting calls for the lead in their next feature. And guess who’s profile picture comes up in the three envelopes they open? Yep – you guessed it – that creepy model whose name, they discover, is Fuchi. Fuchi is not picked for the lead, but is instead chosen for another part,  in the hope that her professional model prestige will help elevate their own status.

Fuchi seems immediately fond of Iwasaki and spends most of her time gazing across at him. During filming of this new feature they all head up into the mountains for filming and Fuchi is pretty much the butt of their jokes. Not just that, but she is shunned to the side in favour of the lead actress. But it isn’t long before Fuchi takes matters into her own hands and lashes out at those who shun and mock her.

Sometimes monsters need love too

Fashion Model introduced me to a sort of recurring character of Ito’s – the horrifying-looking model, Fuchi. She had previously featured in one of the stories in Souichi’s Diary of Curses: ‘Rumours’. then later she appears in a bonus short manga at the end of the Shiver Selected Stories collection in ‘Fashion Model: Cursed Frame’.

Fuchi towers over all other people around her, and somehow manages to keep it secret about how she is in fact a flesh-eating monster. It’s not until they are driving up to the mountains and Fuchi, trying to fit in with the others, begins laughing along with them. It is here that they all notice her huge set of layered teeth in her mouth.

Despite knowing where this story ends up, and what Fuchi ends up doing, I still can’t help but feel sorry for her. Just because of her looks, she is teased and critiqued behind her back. They just can’t believe how she has managed to become a model. And all because she doesn’t fit in with their typical ideal image of a model.

It’s because of other people’s attitudes towards her that I can’t help but root for Fuchi. The horrific things she ends up doing towards the end seem to be out of an unrequited love for Iwasaki.

In Summary

What I find most interesting with this horror manga is not the story itself, but rather the character of Fuchi. I actually feel as though Fuchi is the main character and not Iwasaki, as it first seems. It would be interesting to see more stories about her – or even have her mentioned, or ‘pass through’, future manga volumes by Junji Ito.

This was an enjoyable story from the Shiver Selected Stories book, which you can buy today.

Shiver by Junji Ito

What is Shiver by Junji Ito about?

In Shiver by Junji Ito, we are pretty much confined to the back garden area between Yuji’s bedroom window and his neighbour Rina’s. They are both children who look to be in their early teens.

Yuji notices Rina one day as she is pointing out of her window – into the adjoining garden between them. The strange thing that he notices, however, is that she seems to have holes all over her arms. Not only this, but Yuji also sees a strange-looking doctor enter the house each day. This doctor’s entrance would then be met with screams from the girl.

As we progress through this short horror manga, we discover the curse of a jade carving of an insect. This insect was brought back from World War 2 and was kept by Yuji’s grandfather. As the apparent curse had taken his life, infecting him with countless holes over his body, he discarded the Jade piece out of the window. This is the very window that Yuji now looks out from.

Cursed Bodies

The most effective horror manga for me is the kind that effects the characters personally. Most often through a physical manipulation of their body throughout the story. Junji Ito is widely known as the king of the body horror sub-genre, and this creepy little tale can help to show why. Something as simple as a hole is made grotesque when it effects a person’s body. And how he manages to capture that idea on paper is a testament to his skill.

Even though at its core it is simply a story of a cursed trinket, the way in which the curse takes effect is unique to Ito’s imagination. Reading the artist’s commentary at the end of the book gave insight into the origin of the idea. Through reading a book about insects and how they breath, he was able to conjure up the unforgettable vision of the cursed people with holes all over their bodies.

We all have access to the same information, especially with the World Wide Web, but it’s fascinating how certain people can take that same information and run in completely different directions.

In Summary

Shiver is the second story from his collection of the same name. You can buy this collection directly from Amazon today. Although this wasn’t my favourite from that collection, I still enjoyed the read and might even recommend it as a good introduction to the artist himself.