Deserter by Junji Ito
VIZ Media (December 2021)
392 pages; $18.99 hardcover, $11.99 ebook
Reviewed by Danica Davidson
Deserter is a short story collection by Junji Ito, one of Japan’s most famous and successful horror manga creators. While you can see how he’s improved over time, the essence of his horror work is still here, and this is still definitely a worthy read.
The first story, “Bio House,” has shakier artwork than we’re used to seeing from him, but it still gets across all those gruesome vibes he’s so good at creating. In the story, a girl who likes eating exotic foods — like insects or snake blood — bites off more than she can chew when she finds someone into foods even more exotic and skin-crawling. All of the rest of the artwork in this book is improved from here, and it’s not as if this artwork is in any way bad. It’s just that Ito is such a phenomenal artist that you can tell this is an earlier work.
In “Face Thief” there’s some difficulty telling characters apart, but then it becomes clear this is the point of the plot, as a character is literally able to steal other people’s faces.
“Where the Sandman Lives” has an author who insists his dream self is trying to take over his life. The images of the dream self doing this are visceral, imaginative, and downright amazing, making this a particularly creepy story.
In “The Devil’s Logic,” an otherwise happy girl suddenly commits suicide. And when her friend tries to figure out why by listening to a recording of her before her death, he finds himself in over his head against a terrible power.
“The Long Hair in the Attic” opens with a girl being dumped by her boyfriend, and ends with a terrifying discovery in the attic.
“Scripted Love” is another story where a man dumps his girlfriend, but this time she’s not about to let him get away with it.
“The Reanimator’s Sword” is about death and immortality, and what it takes to bring someone back from the dead.
“A Father’s Love” is about a family with a strict father. The two older sons commit suicide, and the youngest daughter may as well unless it’s figured out what is driving them to hurt themselves.
In “The Unendurable Labyrinth,” two young women end up lost in the forest. They come across some ascetic monks, but these aren’t your usual Buddhist monks. They hide a fearsome secret.
“Village of the Siren” gets into some Western mythology, and a Japanese man claims to be the reincarnation of a magician from Europe.
“Bullied” is about the cycles of bullying, and unsettling for its realism.
The final and titular story, “Deserter,” is about a military deserter hiding in Japan years after World War II, because the people hiding him convince him the war is still going on.
While it’s listed as his earlier work, this is not amateurish. The stories still get across Ito’s penchant for supernatural, creepy horror. People who are already his fans ought to check it out, and horror fans who haven’t read Ito ought to take a look at his work.