Written by: Ike Beal
Body horror is one of those horror niches that’s hard to get behind; it’s uncomfortable, grimy, and difficult to stomach- even at the best of times. Its title explains itself, body horror is the manipulation and contortion of the human body; something so familiar being twisted and deformed. Many creators are defined by their work in their work in perhaps the most primal sub-genre in all of horror, none more-so than Junji Ito, infamous for making the human body his grotesque canvas.
Gyo is one such work; one filled to brimming with some of the most disturbed imagery to grace manga outside of his most famous work, Uzumaki. Ito’s signature attention to detail shines brilliantly in Gyo; bustling cities drawn from dozens of perspectives, undersea-horrors and terrestrial-terrors rendered brilliantly with a sense of scale and style guaranteed to dazzle and revolt in equal measure, all brilliantly hatched and stipples by an expert hand. Gyo’s art shines and creates a world that is grounded in realism that manages to reach into surrealism.
The plot, while weaker than the art, is respectable for how strange it all is; fish, urchins, and all manner of sea-life rise from the briny depths to terrorize the land of the rising sun- flocking to shore in great stinking waves, trampling hapless residents and launching Tadashi and his girlfriend Kaori into a twisted journey to find the truth and escape the horde. By the concept alone, one might raise their eyebrows in disbelief, but this is only the start of the bizarre journey- trust me, it gets weirder. For someone unversed in Japanese culture, this manga is a trip, and for those who are, it’s equally bizarre.
I wish I could have such glowing enthusiasm for the other components of Gyo, namely the characters, who suffer from the breakneck pace by having little development and depth. Small plot-points make the characters more likable; like Tadashi’s many attempts to rescue those doomed to a horrible fate, but it’s not enough to drive any sort of empathy- Ito conducts the roller coaster, the audience is only there for the ride.
The plot itself also suffers from the pacing, as critical components of clarification and motivation is lost to constant world-building and horrific encounters. There’s not enough down-time to let the story sort itself and allow the audience to catch up before the plot completely flies off the rails into tragedy and unrelentingly horrific imagery. Gyo has style, but little substance to hold up its substantial plot: one tying damned spirits, super-weapons, infectious bacteria, and World War II together into a plot that needed desperately to be lengthened to make more sense- exposition dumps can only provide so much.
Gyo escapes the territory of novelty by sheer force of artistry and imagination, but only barely; crafting something so damn weird it’s worth experiencing for the ride alone. Don’t expect to be too attached to the seat, though, the horror’s what the journey is all about and Gyo has it in spades.
Order it right here.