Horrifyingly Hit Or Miss
Junji Ito is undisputedly the king of horror manga. His books are well known for being both grotesque and shocking, whilst simultaneously well written and unstoppable page-turners. Uzumaki is certainly one of the most famous, but of course you can’t discount No Longer Human, Sensor or GYO, to name but a few of Ito’s excellent stories.
It’s always difficult to keep the momentum going and in many ways, Liminal Zone is a lukewarm experiment with an equal number of highs and lows. This collection brings together 4 different ideas and attempts to flesh them out – ideas that Junji Ito writes in his Afterword were floating around in his notebook for a while. Tellingly, he also writes: “Perhaps I’m tired from drawing manga for years on end.”
While Liminal Zone isn’t exactly tiring, it does feel like tired storytelling at times, with ideas that don’t quite work or have the same pizzazz Ito’s previous concepts had. That’s not to say this is a disappointment, but it’s a surprisingly tepid book overall that’s unlikely to stand out next to his other bodies of work.
The four short stories run for different lengths – which is a definite bonus here. “Weeping Woman Way” is a bizarre concept that’s as strange as it is inadvertently comical. Essentially, the tale revolves around strange weeping women who can’t stop crying, and the journey that our protagonist, Mako, has with her boyfriend Yuzu-Ru.
This is probably the weakest of the bunch, with a distinct lack of development or explanation around Mako’s connection to this. I won’t spoil much more but given there are several pages here dedicated to exposition around the origin of the weeping women, not explaining Mako’s importance to them feels like a missed opportunity to expand on the plot.
“Madonna” is a tasty, slow-burn treat, tumbling head-first into Catholic roots at a private school. For new student Maria, she soon learns that there’s something seriously wrong there, and it seems to stem from the Principal and his wife, known colloquially to the students as “angry witch woman.” Unlike the first story, the narrative here has much more clarity and as a result, flows nicely through to the final pages.
The penultimate tale, “The Spirit Flow of Aokigahara” essentially revolves around the suicide forest in Japan, with a strange cave called Dragon’s Mouth and what may lie inside.
Finally we come to “Slumber” which centers on a guy who dreams that he’s a killer but the killings actually happen in real life. Out of all the stories, this is the least imaginative. Those who have watched Fringe will instantly recognize the premise from season 1’s “Bad Dreams.” And for those who haven’t seen Fringe, the synopsis to that episode reads ‘FBI agent Dunham believes that she is killing random people in her dreams.’ Sound familiar?
Although the narrative quality is a bit hit or miss in this collection, the artwork is still fantastic. The hand-drawn panels are as enticing as they’ve ever been, drawn entirely in black and white. Some of the full-page reveals, complete with accentuated lines and twisted, deformed faces, still send chills while you’re reading. It’s just a pity that this isn’t reflected in the storytelling.
Ultimately, Liminal Zone is an enjoyable but underwhelming collection of stories that have glimmers of promise that are never quite sustained. Fans of horror manga will still find enough to enjoy, but this is unlikely to be a book you’ll return to in a hurry.