Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is highly considered as a classic, receiving a multitude of adaptions in the 200-plus years since its publication. Some good, others…well not so good. Personally I’ve never read the book, I do own it in a really cool Penguin Classics Edition. Alas, I have yet to even open it. Instead I bought Junji Ito’s Frankenstein! Like my previous ComicTober piece (Dissolving Classroom) the cover interested me, and I needed an excuse to pick it up.
Ito’s Frankenstein was released by VIZ in America for the first time in 2018 as a 200 year celebration of its name-sake. Much like his previous work it took years to be officially translated into English, as Ito’s Frankenstein originally published in 1994-1998. But hey, at least we finally got it!
As previously stated, I’ve never read Frankenstein, meaning I had to use Sparknotes for the overall plot summary. Essentially, Ito keeps the plot the same as the famous novel, with only one story beat changing. That moment is the creation of his monster’s companion. Although Ito changes the moment, it all ends the same. Meaning not much has changed, instead Ito does his own interpretation while adding in his famous horrific art.
Hundreds upon thousands have written books and more on the themes and story within Frankenstein, so we won’t go into that. But, Ito’s telling is a fantastic read by itself, keeping a slow haunting pace throughout that draws you in. Ito’s longer stories usually are a slow burn, so this pacing makes sense, while working magnificently for the story being told. Moving from story to art, it was a smart decision to go with Frankenstein instead of Dracula, or the likes. Opposed to other classic stories Frankenstein relies on body horror, which works perfectly in conjunction with Ito’s work.
The decaying features portrayed on the monster is graphically horrifying. Anytime the panel focuses on its face you can see all the finer details of the sewn faces, and liquid pooling around the eyes. Even a panel showing the monster peaking in (seen above) is simply horrifying. Ito’s strongest artistic values are constantly on display, as something simple as a sleep deprived Frankenstein looks frightening, yet realistic. Ito doesn’t spend much time showing the building of the monsters, which would have worked well if he did. But, the moments spent on the body cutting and rearranging is gruesomely fantastic.
One panel Ito adds the chopped pieces in the foreground as Frankenstein works in the background giving a great visual tease of the monsters body parts. Subtle moments of horror like this works wonders, while building to the monsters full reveal, which is fantastically done. It’s been said that Ito focuses his story around one gruesome page/panel; if that’s the case Frankenstein’s would center around the monsters face reveal. Ito builds the tension by having multiple silent pages as the monster rises, until it finally turns showing it’s face in all the terrifying glory.
Ito’s re-telling of Frankenstein clocks in at only 186 pages, about half of the hardcover. That in mind, VIZ added ten short stories to add in a larger page count. With six focusing on student, Oshikiri. Let’s quickly look at those.
I’ve stated it multiple times, and will reiterate it again: Junji Ito’s short stories are fantastic, maybe even better than his long running work. That out of the way, first up is Neck Specter, which exudes my statement. Neck Specter follows Oshikiri after he kills and buries his friend, thing is, now he sees people necks (and legs once) extend to great lengths. This supposed hallucination is due to him killing his friend out of jealousy as he was growing fast. Short, simple, yet amazing.
Bog of the Living Dead continues the weird life of Oshikiri, whose class is tasked with cleaning the haunted bog. Yes, it’s the same character as Neck Specter, but it never references that story. This is weird, especially with how Neck Specter ended, but weirder things have happened. Plus, not to spoil, but it’s explained why later. Compared to the last story, Bog of the Living Dead isn’t amazing, yet isn’t bad. At most it’s readable, which is all you can ask. Sadly it’s missing Ito’s gruesome creations.
The third story, Penpal revolves around Oshikiri trying to befriend Satomi, a lonely girl that spends her time painting and writing herself angry mail. Much like the previous story Penpal relies less on visuals, more on story. Luckily the story is pretty great with a few twists and turns.
Have you ever heard footsteps in the middle of the night? If so, you may have a version of you from an alternate dimension stalking your halls. Well, at least that’s what Intruder is about. Everyone’s favorite student that lives a horror film come to life, Oshikiri has said problem. Luckily he befriends Kamiyama, Watanabe and Koizumi at the local library, who say they have connections with alternate dimension frequencies. Although Intruder’s art never reaches the horrifying manners seen in Ito’s work, the story may be one of the most unique, and fun.
The Strange Tale of Oshikiri and The Strange Tale of Oshikiri: The Walls, are the final stories of Oshikiri that sort of explain everything that’s been transpiring. Okay, it doesn’t out right explain what has transpired, but Oshikiri references the past stories, while seemingly saying all the stories happened in alternate universes. Yeah, that may sound like a crappy explanation. But hey, I’m a sucker for multiple universes. Plus, it wraps up his story pretty nicely!
The Hell of The Doll Funeral centers around a family and their daughter that becomes a doll. The story doesn’t live up to the others, but ends on a great horror page. The final horror short story, Face Firmly in Place works really well. Instead of relying on supernatural, or other-worldly, Ito tells a more grounded story. At least as grounded as Ito can get. And hell, it works amazingly. The final two stories Boss Non-Non and Hide-and-Seek With Boss Non-Non are a cute little tribute to Ito’s dog that passed in 1998.
Junji Ito’s Frankenstein and the smaller scale stories are a great read, especially for October. Out of all the Ito Manga I’ve read it would be the easiest to recommend. So, what’re you waiting for? Go read it!