For those seeking to indulge in the spooky imagination of Junji Ito, the renowned “Stephen King” of Japan, his collection Lovesickness serves up an extra delectable treat that will whet voracious appetites for past and present fans. Marketed as a collection of ten stories, two of them are actually segmented into multiple chapters and drawn out as mini-novellas that occupy more than half the book.

The titular “Lovesickness” centers on a young boy named Ryusuke who returns to his hometown of Nazumi to discover a series of suicides among girls. What could possibly drive them to take their own lives? They wander through an ancient folkway in hopes of receiving an auspicious “crossroads fortune” from a mysterious handsome young man. Those who receive an ill-fated pronouncement on their love life kill themselves. This rash series of incidents propels Ryusuke to investigate these mysterious deaths. Combining the allurement of mystery, folklore, superstition, and urban legends, Ito unpacks a tale that crosses the realms of unrequited love and relentless passion, ultimately unleashing the deadly effects of human obsession.

In another twisted story, dark humor runs rampant in the dysfunctional family of orphaned brothers and sisters in “The Strange Hikizuri Siblings.” The grotesquely drawn siblings include an overweight, gluttonous brother, a fiendish, pigtailed young daughter, and a morbid young boy who may harbor a deadly secret behind his diffident facade. Their activities are equally outlandish: Their elder sister Narumi is driven to emotional distress when her siblings accuse her of indulging in a secret love affair; a dinner of conversations revolves around inventive methods to punish Narumi’s secret lover; and the family conducts a séance to conjure up their deceased parents with riotous effects.

Rounding out these protracted stories are shorter self-contained one-shots. “The Mansion of Phantom Pain” features a sickly, incapacitated boy confined to a mansion, whose pains are strangely connected to remote areas of the house. A woman considers undergoing surgery to remove her ribs in exchange for a beautiful physique in “The Rib Woman,” but at what cost?  The one story that doesn’t quite hit the mark is “Memories of Real Poop,” though some readers may still enjoy this lighter slice of edgy humor. Human obsessions with love, beauty, vanity, and greed permeate these gruesome stories—their plots often rising to a hyperbolic and feverish pitch.

From fog sketched panels and haunting sound effects to characters driven mad with desperation, Ito’s visual narrative images produce an eerie atmospheric mood and tone in “Lovesickness,” signifying the intoxicating spell under which the young girls have been bewitched. The abnormally drawn Hikizuri siblings wearing exaggerated facial expressions in the second story present a bizarre spectacle akin to the Addams Family.

Although not as prolific as previous collections, Lovesickness compensates by offering two extensive stories that afford more time for character development and will complement manga collections for readers with a penchant for the macabre tinged with black comedy.

Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection
By Junji Ito
VIZ, 2021
ISBN: 9781974719846

Publisher Age Rating: 16+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation:  Japanese
Character Representation: Japanese

  • Jerry

    | He/Him Information Strategist, San Francisco Public Library

    Reviewer

    By day, Jerry Dear, APALA member and Information Strategist at the San Francisco Public Library tackles research questions in the Periodicals department. He also teaches in the Library Information Technology department at City College of San Francisco. By night, he serves the Asian American community and ventures into the vibrant literary arts and graphic novel scene. In whatever time remains, he indulges in comics, anime, manga, and Asian American literature and film.

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