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Black Paradox Manga Review

5 min read
BLACK PARADOX © 2009 JI Inc./SHOGAKUKAN

Creative Staff:
Story & Art: Junji Ito
Translation & Adaption: Jocelyne Allen
Touch-Up Art & Lettering: Eric Erbes
Cover & Graphic Design: Adam Grano
Editor: Masumi Washington

What They Say:
Four strangers meet through a website called Black Paradox with one goal in mind – to end their own lives. But in search of death, they toe the line between our world and the next, finding a new sinister new purpose for their existence. What lies beyond that dazzling new world? …perhaps it is a fate even worse than death.

From horror mastermind Junji Ito, Black Paradox dives deep into the subconscious, emerging with more questions than answers; offering humanity a future that is more akin to purgatory than paradise.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
It’s that time of year again folks – Junji Ito and Halloween have become synonymous at this point. VIZ Media and Crunchyroll alike have become huge proponents of exposing the western world to Ito’s works, and this year is no different. Alongside countless video of Ito reacting to horror art and fawning over cats, it’s almost impossible to avoid his presence this time of year.  Back in July, VIZ released The Liminal Zone, another short-story collection from Ito, and now we have Black Paradox released just days before Halloween. With such a large catalog of his work now published in English, how does Black Paradox stack up against previous entries in the Itoverse? While still a worthy read in its own right, Black Paradox falls short compared to the laundry list of captivating comics under his belt.

The story follows a group of four downtrodden souls, Maruso, Taburo, Pii-tan, and Baracchi, who were brought together through a website called Black Paradox. This strange, suicide meet-up forum is the catalyst for their destined deaths, but reaching their objective won’t be so straightforward. The group discloses their reasons for wanting to end it all, each one more peculiar than the last. For such a grim premise, the first chapter is one of the silliest setups I’ve seen from Ito’s works, which goes a long way considering the array of strange characters across his works. But after their first suicide attempt goes horribly wrong, they witness an otherworldly occurrence that ties them to a new, dreadful destiny.

BLACK PARADOX © 2009 JI Inc./SHOGAKUKAN

While gazing at death’s door, Pii-tan recalls what he saw as a “dazzling world full of light”, and from that ethereal plane, he regurgitates a strange gem they come to call Paradonite. The alluring aura of this gem and its place of origin is enough to put their deathly wishes on hold as the group attempts to delve deeper into this mysterious phenomenon. But the more they come to learn about this mystifying gem, the more they are cursed by its wide-reaching appeal.  Soon enough, the Paradonite becomes a worldwide phenomenon that beckons both scientific curiosity and unquenchable greed. Whether they like it or not, the Black Paradox quartet become conduits for humanity’s morbid curiosity, bringing them vast riches as well as visceral ruin.

Black Paradox borders on the edge of sci-fi as much as horror, posturing the question of what lies beyond the world of the living. While the premise is alluring, it, unfortunately, falls short of a satisfying conclusion. The Paradonite and “dazzling world” are strong narrative devices, but the story seems to crawl forward despite the short page count. By the story’s end, we’ve come a bit closer to understanding Paradonite and “the dazzling world”, but not enough to itch that uncanny curiosity. While I do like the significance of the narrative as it relates to each of the characters’ death wishes, Black Paradox leaves several loose ends. The Black Paradox website was the catalyst for the entire story, yet it is all but abandoned once the narrative shifts focus to the Paradonite plundering. And despite the significance of the “dazzling world”, it’s mostly left up to our imagination what lies beyond the hellish gates to the other side.

Ito’s character writing has never been his strong suit, but the protagonists of Black Paradox are especially unappealing. Horror stories often rely on at least one character to root for, but the Black Paradox group is more pitiable than likable, and some of them are just downright awful. The Dr. Suka character in particular is as conniving as they come, a two-timing mad scientist with no concrete goals aside from seducing women and then sacrificing them for science. There’s neither redemption nor consequence for the main cast either. Their original motivations are tossed aside and what’s left at the end are but ghoulish husks of the characters we met in chapter one. Black Paradox seems perfectly content ending in a way that leaves much to be desired.

BLACK PARADOX © 2009 JI Inc./SHOGAKUKAN

When neither the story nor its characters are enough, you can often rely on Ito’s art to do the heavy lifting. And while Black Paradox offers a plethora of satisfying page-turns and grotesque monstrosities, they still pale in comparison to some of Ito’s more iconic horrors and hellscapes.

Originally printed in 2009, this edition of Black Paradox comes with a bonus, full-colored story titled “Mystery Pavilion”. At just four pages in length, “Mystery Pavilion” is understated and undercooked, the only standout element being the Cormorant monster on page two.

The hardcover of Black Paradox comes in a black, matted finish, with the title and author name lettered in a shimmering, holographic print. The cover image features the main characters trapped within a Paradonite gem, offering a brief look into that “dazzling world”. VIZ never cuts corners on their Ito hardcovers and Black Paradox is no less deserving of a spot on your bookshelf for its tantalizing appearance alone.

BLACK PARADOX © 2009 JI Inc./SHOGAKUKAN

In Summary:
I’m a huge fan of Ito and have collected his stories for many years now, which makes me feel the need to be all the more critical of his abundant output of work. That is why, for me personally, Black Paradox is by and large one of Junji Ito’s weakest long-form stories I’ve read. It’s not lacking enough to dismiss it entirely – there are plenty of frightful sights to be seen, and if you don’t take the characters too seriously, it’s a fun, yet flawed read.

Content Grade: C
Art Grade:
A-
Packaging Grade:
A
Text/Translation Grade:
B

Age Rating: Teen+
Released By:
Viz Media
Release Date:
October 25th, 2022
MSRP:
$19.99 (hardcover) / $9.99 (digital)