Gyo Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, November 21, 2005
Release Date: Friday, August 01, 2003
Translated by:Yuji Oniki
What They Say
Something is rotten in Okinawa... the floating stench of death hangs over the island... What is it? A strange, legged fish appears on the scene... so begins Tadashi and Kaori's spiral into the horror (and stench) of the sea. Here is the long-awaited new horror manga series from the Eisner-nominated creator of Uzumaki, Junji Ito.
Sometimes land sharks really do come knocking at the door.
This is an older, large format title published right at the beginning of Viz's reorganization and switch to straight-to-graphic-novel format, and it just missed the smaller size and lower price point.
The cover features a wraparound image taken from the book's title page, which we see inside reproduced in black and white. I don't really care for the cover illustration at all, because it's simply two pieces of artwork from the manga stuck together and colorized against a black background. I have no idea what the original cover looked like, nor if the coloring was done for the American edition or if Ito colored it himself (most likely the case since it looks painted and not Photoshopped), but it's not that appealing and isn't really a good representation of how the artwork works inside. The big fish is eye-catching, though. While I like that all the title and graphic elements are printed in relief, I hated the fact they were placed directly on top of the illustration in an extremely large size, which makes the front cover look cluttered and hard to read. The back looks really good though, they use a white box to contain all the elements, and the illustration even interacts with the box a bit.
The extras within the volume are few and far between. We get a black and white title page with the cover artwork reproduced, a page that has some of the interior panels reproduced but barely visible across from the table of contents that, while simply plain text, does have a nifty fisheye effect applied to it. After the first chapter title spread, we get a blank page with a small circular picture of Kaori on it, then at the very end there's a small paragraph about Ito, and the last page features editor's recommendations. And that's it. We don't even really get chapter title page bonus images, as those are generally large images tied in with the action that's occurring when the chapter starts. While I don't really care for the cover, I don't hold the lack of extras against the series since the original probably didn't contain any, plus this was printed a few years ago when extras weren't really commonplace.
The translation is good, there were no spelling or grammar errors, and everything read really well in English. The Japanese sfx are deleted and entirely replaced with English sound effects. They match the original sfx somewhat stylistically, but not as well as some recent efforts in other companies. Overall though, I prefer this method to giant English overlays or sfx with no translation or explanation made.
I really, really like Junji Ito's artwork. This is one of his newer works, and he's definitely evolved a lot since the days of Tomie. While his character designs tend to be plain and somewhat unremarkable, they're either different enough or there's few enough characters that there is never any confusion as to who's who. His backgrounds are very detailed and appear in every panel (which was sort of impressive), and there are never blank panels featuring a simple character reaction shot. On the contrary, his artwork, particularly in this series, is more about getting a reaction out of the reader instead of seeing the character's reaction. The artwork particularly shines when he renders his creatures. While the fish are "alive" in the beginning, they look grotesque not only as fish, but with the legs attached to them as well. There's something extremely absurd about them in the really normal environments that they appear in, and he also does a good job of drawing them in extremely large groups. When the start to rot, and when the disease spreads to the humans, the artwork gets really, really detailed and grotesque, showing mutations and rot in a highly rendered and detailed style. Also important, though embarrassing to talk about, is the way he renders the stink lines in the air and also coming out of the creatures. They become a really important and permanent part of the story, and they're integrated quite gradually so that you don't even notice them taking over the once normal environments.
While scuba diving on a beach vacation, Tadashi notices something shooting past him in the water faster than any living creature should be able to move. Before he has time to consider this, however, he is spotted by some sharks and has to surface and be pulled aboard a ship by his girlfriend, Kaori. Kaori has a rather sensitive nose and the smell of the sea makes her ill, so they decide to go back to land. When they get back to their room, they have a fight about Kaori's insistence that he constantly be clean so she doesn't need to smell him. In the midst of this fight, Kaori is attacked by an unfamiliar creature that Tadashi captures and kills, and they're both surprised to find it's a fish that's apparently sprouted legs and obtained some sort of horrible stench. Tadashi puts it in a bag so it can be researched, but the fish somehow inflates the bag and goes after Kaori again, and before it can be captured it floats back out to sea. While Tadashi watches the bag float away from the beach, he notices several more of the legged fish running up onto the land.
The fish creatures start ambushing and overrunning the costal town, and before Tadashi and Kaori can hightail it out, they are ambushed in their vacation house by a mutated shark and barely escape with their lives. When they get back to Tokyo, Kaori insists she sees the fish and smells their stench everywhere, while Tadashi has to continually reassure her that nothing's wrong in Tokyo. He goes to his scientist uncle, Doctor Koyanagi, who seems intrigued by the mutated fish and regrets not having a sample. Luckily, on the way back from the lab, the fish in the inflated bag reappears and starts chasing Kaori around again, and Tadashi successfully catches and pops the balloon, where they find the fish has completely rotted, yet somehow the legs still twitch. Tadashi takes the sample back to his uncle, who examines it and offers up an explanation that ties the fish mutants back to his father, and leads one to believe that perhaps humans can also be affected by the stench disease...
Somehow, the idea of a disease that makes your body emit poison gas from your mouth and anus struck a chord with me. It's one of my favorite premises for any manga ever, and the slow way the disease take effect and the hold it slowly generates on the population makes it a psychological thriller, a horror comic, and also very specifically body horror. I absolutely adore gross mutations of any kind in any manga, and somehow the effect of seeing a truly repulsive force wreaking havoc is infinitely more scary to me than the invisible threat, the satanic influence, or the typical blood-and-guts serial killer/slasher horror themes that one would expect. As I've said, Junji Ito renders the horrors of the disease on the body with extreme detail and grotesqueness, which is what really makes this series great for me. There's many other elements to it that make it good other than the premise, however. It's obviously played entirely for drama, and there's not a joke to be found, which is typically how I like my serious manga... usually when a manga tries to break up the mood and make it less heavy, the mix of comedy and drama isn't one that sits well with me. This one does subtle things that have a certain tinge of black humor, however. The best example of that in this volume is the shark attack that occurs early on. The scene begins with a lifeguard warning everyone out of the ocean when he sees a shark fin, and when everyone sits on the beach relieved and assured of their safety, the shark runs up on its legs and eats them. Immediately following this, it runs into Tadashi and Kaori's house and proceeds to chase them through their halls in a chase scene that, while entirely serious within the context of the manga, is so absurd that you have to laugh. The pacing is also extremely well-done, the way the threat builds from a single fish to a sordid infestation that begins to pose serious health hazards is really well-done, and every twist and transition is done in the most effective way possible. The only problem really with the plot is that sometimes the logic is flawed within the story itself. While the sharks are clearly alive and eating people, later they introduce an explanation that makes this somehow impossible despite the fact that it happened. I forgive this, however, since the story behind the disease is so good and I really loved the shark attack. There's a couple other narrative lapses where there are a few things that are either completely improbable or are never explained, but again, I forgive them in favor of suspending my disbelief and going along with the vicious stinky fish. I hesitate to compare this series to Uzumaki since I've just read this one and Uzumaki I haven't seen in two years, but I think I preferred Gyo. They're both horror comics, and both body horror comics, but they differ from each other thematically. Uzumaki is a bit more surreal and fanciful, while this one roots itself in reality and ties into history somewhat. I prefer that, but both this and Uzumaki are quite good as far as horror comics go.
I tend to also like strong characters in my stories, but in this one it's really not necessary. There's really only four characters that ever come up in the series, including Tadashi, Kaori, Doctor Koyanagi, and Doctor Koyanagi's assistant. I think part of the strength is keeping the reactions and effects of what's going on contained within this tight group of characters, especially since the events affect each one very differently in the end. They are all one-dimensional past the role they play in the story, however. Tadashi is the main character who we sort of discover things through, he seems to have a rational view and both feet firmly planted on the ground, so he takes the fish disaster as it comes at him. One of his only distinguishing characteristics is his fondness for Kaori. Kaori is a rather loud, annoying, and naggy girlfriend character who everything bad in the story seems to happen to. We never know really why Tadashi is so devoted to her, but it's nice that he sticks with her all the same. Doctor Koyanagi is there to offer a scientific and historical explanation of what's going on, and it's good to see things from a somewhat scientific perspective, but he degenerates into something else weird and surreal by next volume. The assistant is there to create conflict between both Kaori and Tadashi and to some extent Tadashi and his uncle, but she's also a somewhat more sound scientific mind. And, as I said, past their roles, there's really not much else to them.
If you're looking for manga of the horror variety (or even if you're not), the strictly horror selection in English at the moment is somewhat slim. Even so, this one is definitely worth picking up for the premise alone. Killer fish winds up being only part of what this story's about, and it gets much more horrific and monumental later on. It is an adult title, and the imagery isn't for the squeamish, but for anyone looking for a really good serious-themed manga, this is definitely worth a look, even with the higher price.
Mania Grade: A
Art Rating: A
Packaging Rating: C
Text/Translatin Rating: B
Age Rating: 18 & Up
Released By: Viz Media
Orientation: Right to Left