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.

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.

Panorama of Hell by Hideshi Hino

What is Panorama of Hell about?

Panorama of Hell tells the story of a mysterious unknown painter who uses blood to paint his “Hell Paintings”. These paintings of his are depictions of a kind of hell on earth, although his own surroundings seem to be just that.

We join him at the point in his life where he is creating his masterpiece; a masterpiece that requires him to get large quantities of blood from his body. He achieves this through self-cutting and drinking Hydrochloric Acid.

After he briefly introduces himself, he goes on to describe the stories behind each of his paintings. Panorama of Hell is cleverly structured into an anthology-like structure. Each part reveals more about himself, his family and his surroundings that inspired the paintings. As he makes his way through each painting we are able to build up the bigger picture of his and his family’s troubled past.

From the bowels of Hell

This Horror Manga is not for the feint of heart; it is violent from start to finish and shows some pretty nasty scenes throughout. I found myself growing accustomed to the violence in general after a few pages, but now and again something would happen that would make me think again.

It’s hard to imagine a place described in this story as actually being a real place. The guillotine overlooking his house; the train that carries the severed heads off into the sunset; the river of blood and corpses running parallel to the train’s tracks. What I can imagine though, is these visions he describes being amplifications of fears and real-life traumatic moments. Like how we always seem to remember things from our childhoods being much bigger than they were.

This manga deals with the subject of domestic abuse quite heavily too. Within the context of the story’s brutal canvas, the history of his parents’ and grandparents’ abusive nature is particular hard to read at times. It pretty plainly discusses the fact that financial and life pressures, along with their own upbringing, leads each new generation into abusive life styles.

Dark beauties hidden within

At the risk of sounding morbid, I will say that there is a beauty in many areas of Panorama of Hell. I loved the idea of the blood drops across the train tracks causing blood-red flowers to bloom. Flowers he describes as being “Crimson Flowers of Hell” that glisten in the sunrise. The very idea of there actually being a sunrise gives me hope for this character.

As with most other manga, it is shown completely in black and white. The depiction of such huge amounts of blood throughout Panorama of Hell intrinsically link the colour of crimson blood we hold in our mind, with the black of night. Every panel feels drenched in blood, with it often being hard to tell where the blood stops and the shadows begin.

Drawing from Hideshi Hino’s own life

Key parts of the artist’s life greatly inspired parts of Panorama of Hell. Hideshi was born on the Japanese-occupied east coast of China in a town called Qiqihar. He manged to narrowly escape as a young child with his parents towards the end of the Second World War. I believe that the horrors of that time had to have affected the young Hideshi at a deep level. It is no wonder that he is exploring the subjects of Hell and violence in such a visceral way.

I don’t believe that the horrors of war can be captured fully in any art form – whether it be manga, film, or painting. But I do feel that the aspects of war that seem to have inspired this work, have helped birth one of the darkest depictions of everyday horror I’ve read yet. When I say “everyday horror” I mean that many of the violent actions in the story are well within the realm of real life, as opposed to fighting mythical beasts, monsters or demons.

In Summary

Panorama of Hell is a fascinating character study of the mysterious painter and his family history that has shaped him. In the first pages he just came across as this demented psychopath with no redeeming qualities. However, with each new chapter and each new painting, I found my empathy for him growing.

If you are feeling particularly brave and think you can stomach it, you should try and read Panorama of Hell by Hideshi Hino. It is a reading experience you wont be forgetting in a hurry.