Book Review | Gyo by Junji Ito
This will contain spoilers for the Gyo collection by Junji Ito and possibly other works of Junji Ito, as they may be used for comparison.
Gyo starts with this couple, Tadashi and Kaori, on vacation. They are staying in Tadashi’s uncle’s beach-side home, enjoying the sea and sun. However, it isn’t long before something goes awry. Tadashi goes in for a kiss, and Kaori rejects him because she can smell the fish on his breath. It turns out, Kaori has a super sensitive nose. They have a bit of a squabble, and Kaori, determined to go back to Tokyo, leaves the house.
This appears to be the start of a dramatic romance novel (or manga, rather). Unfortunately for Kaori and Tadashi, this isn’t a Shojo Beat manga. While Kaori is out on the street, having a fit, she catches a whiff of something… something she can only describe as death and decay. The smell is absolutely overwhelming. Where is the smell coming from, you may ask. A fish. A dead, rotten fish on a pair of pointy, robotic insect legs. It attacks anything with a pulse, and so begins the invasion of dead fish on insect legs.
As goofy as it sounds, I thought the concept was super interesting. These insect legs are actually manufactured robots that use bodily scents to function. Ito focuses heavily on the scent and frequently refers to it as a death-stench. The process of death gives these creatures life. Death and decay, these processes we associate with the end of life, create it.
However, once the decay process is complete, the mechanical legs have no power source, but, like any living creature, their survival instinct pushes them to continue. Once the bodies have rotted away to nothing, the legs attach themselves to the nearest living beings, including household pets and humans. Then Ito presents us with the great moral question: what is life? Tadashi watches soldiers mowing down many of these human-robot-hybrids, and he meets a man attempting to create a circus where he tortures these creatures for the amusement of others. It’s all grotesque and horrific, and in some cases, the regular humans seem to be much more monstrous than the monsters.
Ultimately, though, I didn’t think the story was all that interesting. Despite how long it is, I feel it could have dwelled longer at some points and on some of the aspects of the world. For example, it is revealed that the decaying creatures may have some sentience. They are humanized for just an instant. An instant, and then it is over. The art was good, and the concept kept me reading, but it felt… superficial. Still, I would recommend it to any body-horror manga reader.
This was my least favorite of the three (Gyo, Tomie, and Uzumaki). Is it still worth reading? Of course! It’s Junji Ito, and I don’t think if you are a Junji Ito fan that you’ll be disappointed. Even if you aren’t a Junji Ito fan, I still believe this is worth reading if you like body horror. However, I don’t think I would put this in my top three as far as my favorite Junji Ito manga is concerned.
Have you read Gyo? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!