Tadashi and Kaori are taking a vacation at Tadashi’s uncle’s beach house in Okinawa, but things quickly turn into a nightmare. Tadashi is peeved by how close some sharks get to him while he’s out scuba diving, yet when they return to the beach house, Kaori can’t stop complaining about an awful death smell. Tadashi tracks the stench to a very strange creature he finds in the house — a fish with mechanical, buglike legs. He kills it and puts it into a plastic bag, although it keeps moving and keeps trying to come after them.
After that, things get worse. A great white shark with legs comes onshore. (Junji Ito, the creator, said that Gyo was inspired by Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, and he wanted to do “Jaws on land.”) More and more sea life with legs come onshore, but instead of being like something out of an evolution textbook, they look creepy and they bring problems wherever they go. Tadashi and Kaori try to escape inland, and Tadashi talks with his scientist uncle about what’s going on. The uncle theorizes this could be a response to germs (specifically biological weapons) the Japanese Imperial Army made during World War II. In other words, the fish and shark with legs are not trying to attack anyone — somehow it’s the germs that’s causing all this.
The uncle loses his arm to this experiments, and soon his arm is running around with legs and carrying that awful stench. Then animals are getting the creepy bug legs and smell, and then people are. Whatever is causing it, it’s out of control.
Gyo is the kind of horror that’s creepy, supernatural and sometimes outright gross. This is a manga that’s more about the feel of not being able to escape a nightmare than it is the details of what exactly is causing all this. In other words, don’t come here for folklore or mythology, but come here for being pulled into a very primitive part of your brain. This is part of what makes Junji Ito such a powerhouse in Japanese horror. Even when it’s getting into stories with out-of-this-world scenarios, as he is here, his pacing, art and sense of mounting dread all still make it very readable.
Gyo was originally published as a two volume manga, but is now available as a single omnibus volume. It includes two short manga works at the end — the first, “The Sad Tale of the Principal Post,” is an example of absurdist art. The second bonus story, “The Enigma of Amigara Fault,” is longer and very successful at creating a sense of unease and claustrophobia. It’s one of his strongest and most popular short stories. Both of these short stories are also available in Ito’s new manga short story collection published in America, Venus in the Blind Spot.