As a self-proclaimed writer, I normally get asked, “Who’s your role model when it comes to writing?” And for the longest time, I didn’t really have a solid and definitive answer for those people. I would pretty much just name any authors that came to mind. I didn’t really know what I was even looking for in a role model. Did the author have to be successful? Did he/she need to have sold millions of copies of their books? Do I have to love all of his/her works? I didn’t know. But, I didn’t realize that a role model can work just like ‘love at first sight’ supposedly does. Why do I say that? Because that’s how I found mine.
Now, for those of you who aren’t overly familiar with the anime and manga world, you might not know who this person is, but I’ll explain the reasoning behind my choice so that everyone can better understand regardless.
My role model for a couple of years now has been Mr. Junji Ito, a Japanese mangaka who specializes in horror stories.
If you don’t know, that’s my favorite genre when it comes to story-telling (whether that’s in the form of anime, manga, films, books, video games, you name it). But, like many out there, for many years now I’ve been thoroughly disappointed with the lack of good horror films that have been coming out. The two exceptions that I can think of are Muschietti’s IT from last year, which I was pleasantly surprised with, and then Krasinski’s A Quiet Place from earlier this year, which isn’t even technically classified as a horror story in the first place. Those have been the only two that have made me successfully shiver or feel scared for the characters on-screen. That’s literally all I look for when it comes to the movies, and I’m almost always let down now.
On the other hand, books are very different. I have quite a few authors that I greatly admire, the obvious ones being Mr. Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. My newest addition to this list is Clive Barker, who has been writing for many years now, but whose works I was only just recently (and thankfully) introduced to. His style is probably the closest literature-wise to what I look for within the horror genre. But I guess I can talk about him and his stories a different time. Today’s spotlight is focused on someone else entirely.
Which leads me back to Mr. Junji Ito. To those who are familiar with him, there’s really no need for introductions, as his style is very unique and very difficult to forget. For those here completely lost as to who he is, well, as I mentioned before, he’s a mangaka (an author/writer of Japanese comics [manga]).
I first came across his work when I was reading Ishida Sui’s Tokyo Ghoul back in 2014. I was caught up in the manga and was craving something truly creepy to fill the empty void of having to wait for new chapters to be published. That’s when I found a manga called Uzumaki.
My first thoughts on the title, as lame as it may be, was, “Is this related to Naruto at all?” HA-HA-HA. What a cute and insanely naïve child I was. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.
I was very puzzled, yet intrigued by the synopsis and was even more confused when I actually started to read it. The art-style was something that I wasn’t used to (seeing as I had only read shounen and romance manga, and one seinen up to that point; all which shared similar styles). But although my head was spiraling around, I was immediately sucked into that world. I was charmed by the abnormal plot, the unnatural attributes of some characters, the uncomfortable feeling the atmosphere of the story gave off… All of this coming from black and white words and drawings. I felt utterly disgusted by particular scenes and insanely worried about others. I was scared for the characters. I was anxious to reach the end.
Upon finishing it, I didn’t really know how I felt about it. Did I like it? Did I even understand it? All I knew was, “I NEED MORE.” And that’s when my Junji Ito obsession began. I read everything that he’s published that is readily available to me online or in person; even his more obscure works like Ito Junji no Neko Nikki: Yon & Mu (Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu). I devoured his works like a starved animal, becoming more insatiable the more I read. I just couldn’t believe that another person could make me have so many new and irrational fears without me really understanding why.
The unshakable fear, the indescribable confusion, the intense discomfort, the inconceivable unease, and the genuine disgust that Mr. Junji Ito made me feel during, and after, each story is exactly what I desperately sought from the horror genre. I wanted to feel those emotions that are so often hidden deep within me, where only particular situations could ever help them emerge.
His characters and settings might not be the most entertaining I’ve ever come across, or even the best stories I’ve ever read (I actually haven’t rated any of his collections anything higher than an 8/10), but the feeling he invokes in me and the atmosphere he creates with pen and paper is unmatched.
People turn to horror stories not for the character development nor for the special interactions, but for that creeping sensation like the creature or killer is lurking directly behind us and is only inches from grabbing us. We look for that heart-pounding, nail-biting, not-gonna-be-able-to-sleep-with-the-lights-off-tonight horror stories that make us get an adrenaline rush from start to finish; and Junji Ito does just that for me.
I know that he’s not a story-teller for everyone and that not many may understand his charm the way that I do, but I can guarantee you that anyone who has come across at least one of his works can agree on one thing: What the hell was going through his head when he wrote this?