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 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.
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.