Its been great seeing Junji Ito getting more widespread attention over the past few years. Classics such as “The Enigma of Amigara Fault” have become ingrained in internet culture (for better or worse), and an interesting selection of his one-off stories got the anime treatment in Crunchyroll’s recent Junji Ito Collection.
Yes, I know Collection was extremely hit or miss and had way more misses than hits, but it still exposed Ito’s ideas to a wider audience than those of us lucky enough to happen across one of his works by chance.
Many of the most identifiable stories from Junji Ito were written over a decade ago, but Ito made a resurgence in the dedicated horror genre with the eight stories that make up Fragments of Horror. After the eight-year hiatus from horror manga, both fans and Ito himself were concerned about what to expect.
Ito even goes as far as positioning Fragments of Horror’s afterword as an outlet to share how anxious he was about getting back into horror. He shares his own concerns and recalls his editor’s remarks at his first draft of “Futon” (which isn’t a high point of the volume) questioning whether he could really do it again.
Regardless of how you feel about Fragments of Horror as a whole, “Blackbird” completely reaffirms that Junji Ito still has an incomparable knack for crafting horror.
Taking place after a birdwatcher (Kume) rescues a wounded man (Moriguchi) in the woods that’s been on the brink of death for nearly a month, “Blackbird” offers an incredible amount of dread and enough open-ended questions to keep us wondering about the true nature of story without feeling lost.
Moriguchi, under tremendous mental stress from his month of clinging to life, pleads with his rescuer Kume to stay with him for the night. The real horror begins that night when an unexpected visitor arrives.
Even this silhouette of the woman creates an intense feeling of discomfort. The woman’s human-but-not-quite figure is a classic technique of Ito’s: making the familiar seem odd and out of place.
This feeling of unease hs only amplified once it’s revealed that the woman had been feeding Moriguchi while he was in the woods. In reality, this woman kept Moriguchi alive by feeding him strange clumps of raw meat and warm, blood-like liquid directly from her mouth. Moriguchi hoped that the woman would leave him alone after he was free from danger but her repeat visits to the hospital late at night only serve to unnerve both Moriguchi and Kume overtime until Kume finally files a police report after witnessing the woman feed Moriguchi a human eyeball.
Moriguchi’s comparison of himself to the woman’s “chick” is a bit too on the nose but is still great nonetheless. We then get the suggestion that perhaps the woman kept Moriguchi alive in the same way while he was a baby abandoned in a park for over a week. An absolutely bone-chilling moment that really ups the ante of the story, and that’s saying something since a just one page earlier the woman straight up transformed into a bird monster right in front of Kume.
“Blackbird” is also a great showcase of Ito’s ability to develop relationships between characters in a short amount of time. Kume and Moriguchi’s friendship feels realized and their shared experiences with the woman strengthened that before undoing both of them. And their back and forth before Moriguchi departs for Tokyo was a sweet goodbye before things really jump off the deep end in the story’s final arc. For just a moment as Moriguchi boards the train there’s a feeling of relief rught before we see the woman follow Moriguchi’s train towards Tokyo.
Years later, Moriguchi’s corpse is discovered and the mystery surrounding the woman takes another mindbending turn: The time travel element that’s added with the reveal that the “meat” being fed to Moriguchi by the woman during his time stranded in the woods was a perfect match with his own DNA could be a turn off for some. However, I feel this escalation is an incredible amplification of the cosmic horror element and the core theme of isolation surrounding Moriguchi’s character.
The fact that in the end his flesh was the only thing keeping him alive in those times of desperation, even from the time when he was a baby, solidifies a far deeper level of loneliness and isolation within Moriguchi. No parents, no friends, no lovers – no one but himself… and the everpresent woman. There’s also a nice paradox created by this revelation, where the only reason Moriguchi was able to survive the month before being discovered by Kume was due to him slowly being ripped apart by the woman in the future… truly terrifying stuff.
Why Moriguchi? Who else has fallen victim to this woman? How could something like this ever exist? As these questions race through our minds, Ito closes the story with Kume being captured by the woman – appearing in her true Blackbird form – ready to start the cycle all over again.
In the end, while we’re left with a good amount of questions this doesn’t detract from the story. If anything our questions about the nature of the woman go hand in hand with the cosmic horror elements at the core of Ito’s works. There are things that exist far beyond the comprehension of mere humans, and we should hope to never encounter them.
“Blackbird” is not only the best story in Fragments of Horror it is one of the very best one-off stories Ito has ever created.
Final Grade: A
I like anime, manga, music, and video games a whole lot. I never know best.