Story/Art: Junji Ito
Translation/Adaption: Jocelyne Allen
Lettering: Eric Erbes
Cover & Graphic Design: Adam Grano
Editor: Masumi Washington
What They Say:
A haunted house opens on the edge of town… those who enter may never return.
Beware comedic duo Tasogare Kintoki, their awkward routine will leave you laughing yourself to death.
A street performer turned rising star, Yu Kanade has a song so intoxicating that all who listen are driven to the brink of madness…
Enter the world of Junji Ito’s SMASHED, a Twilight Zone-esque compilation of stories, each more bizarre than the last. Whether exploring an urban legend or dealing with beasts not of this world, each chapter will leave you with more questions than answers, and above all else, severe feelings of dread.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Junji Ito has become a household name for horror fans in the West as of the past few years. Collaborations with VIZ have brought a plethora of his short stories in beautiful hardcover compilations to American fans since the release of his infamous Uzumaki in 2013. Following the publication of last year’s Frankenstein collection, we arrive at SMASHED, his newest collage of short horror escapades.
If you’ve kept up with these releases in any capacity, SMASHED retains a similar formula with a new batch of scares to consume. Across 13 unique stories, Ito showcases his prowess as manga’s contemporary Kazuo Umezu, a legendary horror mangaka whom Ito takes much inspiration from. Each narrative has everything you’d hope for and expect from Ito at this point – cryptic world-building, masterful art, succinct story paneling, and brilliant “page-turn” reveals of the most twisted creatures you’ve seen on paper. It’s safe to say that Ito has a method to his madness. In terms of SMASHED, it’s a bit of a mixed bag – a few of the concepts feel half-baked, while others stand as some of the strongest work he has created to date.
First, let’s get some of the blemishes out of the way. While Ito’s short-form storytelling makes for easily digestible content, sometimes it comes as a detriment to the pacing. The biggest offender of this is “Roar”. Two teenagers lost in the mountains while hiking come across a baffling phenomenon – a mysterious roaring sound leads them to a riverbank where they witness a violent flood, carrying debris and screaming villagers along with it. The flood disappears in an instant, leaving no trace of it ever happening. Completely bewildered by the experience, they camp out in hopes of discovering the aftermath of this disaster. Along the way we’re given brief backgrounds of our characters as they discover the truths of this phantom flood. Just as we get to the climax of the story, it’s washed away as quickly as it came. As interesting as the concept for “Roar” was, it felt like there was more to discover in terms of our characters’ connection to this unnatural disaster. As much as mystery makes up half the fun of a horror story, the rushed nature of some world-building aspects are lost in favor of keeping things brief.
Luckily, that isn’t the case for a majority of these tales. “Ghosts of Prime Time” and “Splendid Shadow Song” offer two different perspectives on viral media with insidious underbellies at the root of their popularity. “Ghosts of Prime Time” follows comedy act Tasogare Kintoki – a pair of strange women with an unfunny performance that somehow leaves their viewers busting a gut, quite literally. “Splendid Shadow Song” showcases a singer whose chart-topping song endlessly echoes in the minds of all who hear it. Both stories escalate in satisfying ways; the former spurred on by supernatural meddling, while the latter is the result of a woman’s unfortunate curse spreading across the airwaves.
SMASHED brings a nice blend of stories that scratch different itches of the genre. “The Mystery of the Haunted House” features a gory creature that to me, might be the most unsettling character Ito has ever conceived – that full-page reveal still raises the hair on the back of my neck. Gore and guts abound, SMASHED also touches on some of the more neurotic elements of what makes horror so thrilling. “Library Vision” follows Goro Shirasaki, a man obsessed with a massive library he inherited from his deranged father. Traumatized by his dark family past, his wife is left to witness him consumed by his books, feverishly memorizing their contents from cover to cover. My personal favorite of these trauma-riddled tales comes from “Earthbound”. People known as the ‘Earthbound’ begin springing up one after another – they stand like statues in seemingly random locations, bound their unwillingly by dark secrets from their past. These types of stories really bring out the profound anxiety Ito can instill, despite the lack of conventional horror tricks.
We’re even given a taste of lightheartedness in the form of his reoccurring Soichi character. “Soichi’s Beloved Pet” takes notes from Ito’s autobiographical Cat Diaries, which further depicts the artist’s unfavorable disposition toward felines. Aside from Soichi, a few more characters from previous stories make cameos throughout SMASHED. It comes as a treat for reoccurring readers and also builds on the ever-expanding lore of his twisted universe.
And last but certainly not least, we have the title story, “Smashed”. This one dons the collection cover for good reason – it’s one of the strongest works he’s created in a long time. Deep in the jungles of South America resides a tribe that pray to a mysterious plant, harvesting its divine nectar in the process. This nectar, with its out-of-this-world taste will leave you begging for more. But there’s a catch… when eating the nectar, it’s imperative to not be “noticed”, or suffer the consequences. A man named Ogi brings a bottle of this nectar back to Japan with him, confiding its secrets with his friend Sugio. When Sugio and friends return to Ogi, they find something perplexing – all that remains is the jar of nectar, and Ogi’s corpse plastered like a gory pancake on his apartment wall. Sugio and company, unable to shake the temptation of this sinister nectar, split the remaining bottle between each other. What follows is a descent into graphic mania, as one by one, the nectar claims another victim. As we dive further into a senselessness slaughter, the origin of this ethereal plant is discovered – its appearance coming only second to the level of cosmic terror reached at the climax of Ito’s Uzumaki. It’s an exhilarating ride that proves Ito’s ability to create unknown terrors on par with the likes of H.P. Lovecraft.
Despite some shortcomings with pacing and a few awkward translation choices, SMASHED is another must-have for those deeply fascinated with Junji Ito’s craft. An abstract mix of horror both otherworldly and all too familiar, SMASHED stands as another strong chapter in the devilish delights of horror manga.
Content Grade: A-
Art Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A
Text/Translation Grade: B+
Age Rating: Teen+
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: April 16th, 2019