Monday, October 13, 2014

Review: GYO

There are few horror manga that are as well-known (or as best-selling) in the US than Uzumaki.  Of course, Junji Ito didn't stop with that series.  Along with writing some more mundane manga about cats, he also wrote today's selection.  Why don't you hear it about as much as Uzumaki?  Well, there are many reasons...

GYO (Gyo Ugomeku Bukimi), by Junji Ito.  First published in 2002, and first published in North America in 2003.

Tadashi and Kaori are supposed to be enjoying a relaxing vacation together on the sunny beaches of Okinawa.  It would be perfect, if Kaori didn't keep smelling a strange, rotten-fish smell wherever they go.  Soon, bizarre fish start to emerge from the ocean, with spidery legs, strange biomechanical tubing, and reeking of death itself.  As larger and larger creatures begin to rise from the waves and others being to submit to the same strange condition, the invasion threatens to destroy the island and all who live there.  The only hope for humanity lies with Tadashi and his scientist uncle to find the cause so that they can find a cure.

I really have to wonder what happened to Junji Ito between Uzumaki and this series.  While it occasionally went into some silly directions, Uzumaki is a masterpiece of moodiness, imbued with a constant, creeping sense of paranoia and dread.  With Gyo, Ito tries to replicate that same mood, but it's always undone by the very premise of the story.

Ostensibly, this should be a very scary story.  You have freaky undead fish on spider legs, pumping out a concentrated cloud of decomposition gas.  This condition affects everything from the tiniest fish to the largest sharks.  The condition can spread to humans with only a scratch, turning them into swollen, pustule-covered freaks.  This should be unnerving, nauseating, and fearful.  So why then do I find myself wanting to laugh at the whole thing?  Maybe Ito shouldn't have made one of the symptoms uncontrollable gas.  You see, when a person is infected, they literally start spewing the corpse gas from both ends, meaning that they are belching and farting almost constantly.  It takes willpower to not revert to childish giggles because it's just so basic and juvenile, something that appeals to the kid within us that still thinks fart jokes are funny.

It's not helped by the fact that our two leads aren't terribly interesting or sympathetic to begin with.  Tadashi is a very passive character, always reacting to the events around him but unable to contribute anything to help anyone.  Kaori is downright unpleasant even before she becomes a rotting gasbag.  She's always unhappy, always fighting with Tadashi over petty things, and always complaining about the smell.  She's said to have a sensitive nose, so she spends most of the story yelling about the terrible smell as she showers over and over to try and make it go away.  I honestly couldn't care less if these two survived the invasion, and I very much doubt the story would suffer for their loss.  The only person with any sort of useful input is Tadashi's uncle, and he's sort of...well, odd.  Maybe it's the fact that he conveniently knows the history of this strange plague, or how unaffected he seems to be when part of his own body is threatened by it during his research, but I can't help but get a bit of a mad scientist vibe from him.

I'll give Gyo this much: its pacing is relentless.  The threat constantly builds upon itself, with little sign of stopping at the volume's end.  Crazy things just keep piling upon one another, with practically no lulls in the story to let some of the insanity soak in.  Maybe that's what keeps this story from achieving the close, clinging sense of madness that defined Uzumaki.  The story never stops to reflect on the madness happening around it or to let the tension build to the next horrible sight, and it suffers all the more for it.

At the very least, the quality of Ito's art hasn't suffered over the years.  The characters are all very realistic looking and generally well-drawn, but they do suffer from a strange sort of stiffness.  Maybe that's just a side effect of most them spending the whole volume with their mouths agape.  The fish creatures are also well-drawn, and he does try to create some visual atmosphere by gradually filling the town with thick, dark wisps of corpse gas.  It's a shame that he doesn't take more advantage of the seaside scenery.  After all, this is series about the ocean literally invading land, and yet most of what we see are bland, anonymous apartment buildings and plain, boxy interiors.  Ito might not have lost his skills, but he does seem to have lost his skill or desire for visual atmosphere to go along with his stories.

The artwork is alright, but Gyo is simply too ridiculous to maintain any sense of horror the story might have held.  It's best to just throw this one back on the shelves.

This series is published by Viz.  This series is complete in 2 volumes, and both are currently in print. 

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through!

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