When it comes to body horror, nobody does surreal and grotesque better than Junji Ito. For the past three decades the Japanese manga artist/writer has created the most bizarre and affecting tales of madness and mutation – all fuelled by a love of Lovecraft and horror manga masters Hideshi Hino and Kazuo Umezu. Ito’s most famous works – Tomie, Uzumaki and Gyo – contain, respectively, a seductive schoolgirl who tends to lose her head and return from the dead to drive others to suicide; a town gripped by an obsession with spirals that starts to physically mutate them; and a plague of rotting sea creatures that walk onto land with mechanical legs, causing madness and death (all three have been adapted into feature-length films).
So it only makes sense that he’d tackle the most famous body horror story of all: Frankenstein. Though Viz Media is taking advantage of this year being the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s tale by releasing a gorgeous hardcover translation of the manga, Ito originally created it in the ’90s, when it was released in three parts, from ’94 to ’98. Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection adapts the original novel, so absent are the popular trappings of the Universal movie, such as Gothic castles, elaborate experiments with electricity and those familiar bolts and box-shaped head.
The story begins with the crew of a ship on a voyage to the North Pole spotting a gigantic figure on the ice, shortly before rescuing a near-death Victor Frankenstein, who was in pursuit of the thing he created years earlier in Germany. Victor recounts how his experiments in re-animation led him to grave-robbing body parts and stitching them together to create a powerful monster that escapes, learns of its hideous nature and enacts horrible revenge on its maker after an attempt to make it a mate fails miserably. When it kills Victor’s loved ones, the “modern Prometheus” embarks on a mission to destroy it.
Ito’s major contribution to the story is his particularly grotesque rendering of the Frankenstein monster. Particularly tall, lanky and misshapen, with sickly-stitched skin and malevolent eyes, it’s a disturbing thing that elicits less empathy than previous versions, particularly when he depicts it eating a bear or terrorizing its human victims. Ito puts his own sickly stamp on the story, making the monster both downright terrifying and physically iconic in its own right.
But this represents only about half of the 400-plus page Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection, which also contains a six-part story about a boy named Oshikiri, who realizes that his house contains a portal to another dimension that’s letting through other versions of himself and his friends. With its mutating bodies, some mad science involving a growth serum, and murderous revenge, it’s a good fit with the Frankenstein story, and Ito unfolds it in a particularly intriguing way that won’t be spoiled here. On top of this there are some other short Ito tales, including one about children turning into dolls.
If you haven’t guessed already, all this makes Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection an absolute must for both fans of Ito and Shelley’s immortal monster saga.