Review: “Deserter” by Junji Ito

Posted: February 11, 2022 in Review, Scary Stuff
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As many of you know, I’m a big fan of manga author Junji Ito. While sometimes his stories can be hit-or-miss with me, there’s no denying the man has a distinctive style that aims to bring out the full horror of whatever story he’s drawing. And his latest release in North America is Deserter, a collection of some of his early works dating back all the way to the late 80’s. You can bet I was curious. What was Junji Ito, the author and illustrator behind such terrifying stories as Uzumaki and Remina like during his early days? I was determined to find out.

Now, as I said, this is a collection of the author’s early works, and with just one exception, the stories are presented in the order they were chronologically published in. And that really gives you a clue on Ito’s evolution as an artist and storyteller. For example, the artwork is a lot rougher and feels more rushed in the earlier stories in the collection. You can see more of a reliance on thicker brushes and the characters are a bit more sketch-like. Ito’s famous for purportedly spending up to ten hours a day on a page with pen and paper, making his artwork as dark as possible. If I had to guess, this would be from the days he couldn’t afford to do that, or wasn’t yet at that stage, and that explains the roughness we see.

The stories in the earlier sections are also pretty rough around the edges. The first, “Bio House,” feels shocking for shock’s sake and has a rather slap-dash kind of plot, while “Where the Sandman Lives” makes little sense. Others, such as “Face Thief” and “The Devil’s Logic” have good concepts behind them but the payoff is either a rushed conclusion or a story that feels like its potential wasn’t fully reached.

It’s not that they’re bad, they were good enough to be published. They just remind me of some of my earliest horror writings, when I was realizing you needed more than a monster to tell a horror story but I didn’t yet have the tools to write a truly scary story. That’s how those stories feel to me.

However, once you get to the last five stories, you can see Ito really gaining experience and the stories improving in quality. “A Father’s Love” still is a little rough in the art department at times, but it has a compelling stories and characters you really feel for (ooh, I shipped those two young kids!). “Village of the Siren” is a bit long-winded, but it has a really cool idea and the artwork to match. “Bullied,” which is a famous story of Ito’s that I’ve been waiting to get to America, is a terrifying story of karma and psychological trauma built around childhood guilt. And the titular story, “Deserter,” is a meditation that asks, “Who is really doing the haunting? Who is really trapped in a haunted house?” I was in awe of that one.

Overall, I’m conflicted on what score to give the collection. On quality alone, I’d give it a 3.3 out of 5. However, the value of the book and how it shows Ito’s evolution is a 4 out of 5. I’ll meet it halfway and award Deserter by Junji Ito a 3.6. If you’re new to Junji Ito, I wouldn’t advise checking this one out till you’ve read some more of his work, particularly Uzumaki or Remina. However, if you’re already familiar and want to consume more of his work, I would totally recommend it just to see how the author evolved and to read those last five stories.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Life is crazier than the Joker right now, but I’m hoping have some good news in the near future. Either that or you’ll hear about my attempts to open the gates of Hell just so I can get some peace and relaxation.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, good night and pleasant nightmares.

Comments
  1. Hope it’s crazy-good life and not crazy-otherwise life!

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