Comics Reviews

REVIEW: Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection

Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection exposes fans to Ito’s earlier works, but also focuses on something less associated with horror – relationships.

WARNING: The following contains brief discussion of suicide and self-harm.

Junji Ito is Japan’s most celebrated horror mangaka, having created major hits that spawned successful franchises in other media within the country. These include iconic works like Tomie, Uzumaki and Gyo. Ito has even adapted other iconic stories into manga, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human.

What makes Ito an iconic mangaka within the horror genre is not just his distinct art style, but the various subgenres of horror his stories tend to explore. Ito has done everything from heartbreaking ghost stories to cursed towns to encounters with malevolent spirits, and even stories about tragic romances and toxic relationships. The tales featured in Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection also delve into each of these different horror subgenres, but with one recurring theme: relational tragedy.

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In Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection, readers get a glimpse into his earlier works and how his art and storytelling have evolved over time. Some of the stories featured in this collection include “Bio House,” “Face Thief,” “Unendurable Labyrinth” and “Village of the Siren,” all of which portray encounters with really creepy people. The most frightening of these is “Bio House,” in which a strange man invites his female assistant to his country home to indulge their weird tastes in unsavory meals. However, it turns out he wants something more out of her than she’s willing to give.

The other three stories follow a similar theme while dealing more with supernatural entities. In “Face Thief,” a transfer student encounters a demonic classmate who becomes obsessed with her appearance and wants it for herself. “Unendurable Labyrinth” features two high school girls who go hiking and encounter some monks who are not as benevolent as they appear. The same is true of “Village of the Siren,” which is being held hostage by a malevolent mayor.

Other recurring themes present in Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection include familial abuse, tragic romance, grief and suicide. Of the four themes, tragic romance tends to dominate this collection as seen in stories such as “Where the Sandman Lives,” The Long Hair in the Attic” and “Scripted Love.” Familial abuse is explored in “A Father’s Love” and “Bullied,” while grief is the topic of “The Reanimators Sword” and suicide is touched upon in “The Devil’s Logic.” The story that incorporates all four themes is the titular “Deserter,” which takes place during World War II with an unexpected twist.

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Ito’s artwork in Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection isn’t consistent compared to his later works, though this is expected considering some of these were published very early in his career. Still, it’s interesting to see how he established his unique style of visual storytelling and how he’s refined it over the years. While Ito’s earlier works are a bit more raw in their composition and layouts than his more polished later works, they are all still visually frightening to look at. Even early on, Ito still excelled at depicting horrifying imagery, contorted body poses and facial expressions.

In the less frightening stories like “Deserter,” the artwork focuses more on capturing emotion than horrifying imagery. In that particular story, Ito succinctly captures the cruelty of the elder Adera sibling while his sisters are depicted as being uncomfortable with his tactics. The deserter himself, Saburo Furukawa, is also depicted as wearing his shame on his face, but without Ito revealing its full depth. This proves highly effective for the big reveal that comes in the story’s finale.

On the whole, Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection may be a bit less shocking than some of the other volumes in the Junji Ito Story Collection series, but they are every bit as poignant. The horror is more nuanced compared to some of the other volumes, but the stories are still highly engaging and fronted by characters who are easy to invest in.

For more information on the warning signs and prevention of suicide, click here. If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you live outside the U.S., click here for a list of international hotlines.

KEEP READING: How Junji Ito’s Deserter Showed Glimpses of the Famed Mangaka’s Future

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