Sunday, 5 July 2015

Gyo: The Death Stench Creeps

"Wow... it really reeks" - Tadashi

As my one hundreth book covered hoves into view, I have decided to expand outside of just looking at UK and US comics and will be covering manga, which you should already know is the Japanese term for comics.  Japanese manga work on similar principles to 2000AD.  A strip is published in an anthology magazine with several other strips aimed at the same audience.  When enough parts have been published they are collected together in a thick, squarish  volume of around 200 pages called a "tankabon". Manga is almost always written and drawn by the same person and is read from right to left unless the western publisher has "flipped" it to run left to right, though this is rarely done now and frowned upon when it is.  Most of the famous manga's have been running for a very long time and collections are in the thirties-plus with hundreds of chapters, but there are less well known limited series that I will be looking at on this blog.  And the first one I have chosen is a "Seinen" (aimed ostensibly at adult males, as opposed to "Josei" adult females, "Shonen" teen and older kid males and "Shojo" teen and older kid females) manga, Gyo - which means "fish"- by the genius horror writer and artist Junji Ito.  Serialised in the weekly manga magazine Big Comic Spirits from 2001 to 2002, this is a highly detailed, disgustingly gross, wonderfully imaginative series that has been released in the West by Viz Media (translated by Yuji Oniki) as a lavish hardback collection with superior paperstock than is usual for manga collections, and which is what I'll be looking at now.  Just a general warning, I'm a hardened horror nut from my teens onwards, but this story really made my stomach churn as I read it and the second bonus story published at the end truly freaked me out.  If you're faint-hearted or not big on body horror you might want to skip this one (wimp!).
Kaori and Tadashi
The story begins with Tadashi diving off the coast of Okinawa,  He is chased by sharks and swims quickly back to the boat where his girlfriend Kaori is waiting.  He mentions to her that he saw something else out there but it was moving too fast to see properly.  Kaori says can they go back to the house, the smell of the sea is making her sick.  They walk back through a fish market which Kaori says "stinks".  They get back to the house and have a fight about Tadashi having bad breath, Kaori can't take the smell anymore.

Tadashi: "Give me a break! I can't deal with your neuroses!!"

He says she just complains about everything.  She yells that she is going back to Tokyo and walks out.  Tadashi goes after her and finds her sitting amongst some grasss.  He also notices a bad smell in the air.  Something races past them smelling of putrid garbage.  Kaori returns to the house with Tadashi and says he has to get rid of the smell.  He goes to buy some air freshener while she takes a shower.
The first of many....
Something has got into the house and races around too fast to see.  Tadahsi returns to the house and finds Kaori passed out on the floor.  He manages to crush the thing in the house behind a cupboard and discovers it to be a fish with four legs.  He takes it outside, and when it starts twitching he beats it to death with a rock, then seals it inside a rubbish bag.

He returns to the house again and lays a feverish Kaori on the sofa.  She comes around and starts complaining about the smell,  Tadashi goes out to deal with the bagged fish only for it to float into the house and terrify Kaori.  She flees the house and it follows her.  She reaches the rocks on the coastline and she and Tadashi watch as it carrys on floating across the sea.  Tadashi goes to investigate further, much to Kaori's annoyance.

Kaori: "Forget about that stupid fish.  What's more important?  I'm your girlfriend!"

But Tadashi stands on the beach and spots more four legged fish in the water.  The next morning he takes a disbelieving policeman there to show him but they are gone and a sulking Kaori won't confirm his story.  On the way back to the house, Kaori says she is still sick and collapses.  Meanwhile some fishermen out to see, pull in a net full of four legged fish that start running about attacking them.  On the beach someone spots a shark and everyone races to the beach only to be further chased by the shark who also has four legs.
It won't go away.
With a wonderful sound effect, "GASHUNK, GASHUNK", the shark stomps its way to Tadashi and Kaori's house.  It gets inside the house and Tadashi tells Kaori to escape out of the window, but there are more legged fish outside.  The shark kicks down the interior door and squeezes down the corridor after Tadashi.  Outside Okinawa is being swarmed by walking sea creatures and assailed by a stench.  Tadashi finally manages to trick the shark into smashing through a window and falling out of the second story window which temparily disables it.

The action then cuts to a news bulletin saying Okinawa is in chaos and many are dead, but a load of hunters and the Japanese Self Defence Force have mobilised to try and deal with them.  People are also complaining about an overpowering stench.  The news also says fish have been captured and are being studied in the hope to find a way to stop them.

Tadashi and Kaori are back in Tokyo, but Kaori still feels unwell.  Tadashi goes to visit his uncle, Doctor Koyanagi who is a research scientist.  He was so absorbed in his work he hadn't heard about the plague of walking fis.  Tadashi fills him in and Koyanagi tells his assisstant Ms. Yoshiyama to book him a flight to Okinawa.  Tadashi returns to Kaori who is feaking out about the smell again.

Kaori: "It's getting stronger and stronger!!  Even now it's getting closer..."

She freaks out completely and runs out of the house.  Tadashi in hot pursuit.  Suddenly the dead fish they sealed in a bag comes floating after them. "Impossible" says Tadashi but it chases after them then the bag bursts and dumps the rotten fish at their feet, the legs stil moving.  Tadashi seals it in another bag and takes it to his uncle.
Uncle Koyanagi
His uncle decides to stay and examine this specimen and opens the bag releasing a powerfeul stench.  Tadashi returns to Kaori who is saying she can still smell things even though they are in Tokyo.  Tadashi in frustration says "I can't deal with your delusions" and takes her home.  To placate her, he searches the place and finds nothing unusual.  Later that night though, he wakes up and can smell the bad smell himself.

Doctor Koyanagi starts disecting the fish.  He removes the remains of the dead fish from the walking mechanism, which is made up of the four legs and a set of claw like clamps.  He prods it and suddenly it clamps onto his forearm.  He writhes in pain and calls for Ms. Yohsiyama.

We then cut to another news report which says the walking fish have reached the Japanese mainland.  Tadashi's uncle calls him to the lab and Tadashi and Kaori go there to hear what he has to say.  They all sit down to tea and Koyanagi starts to tell them a story abouthis father who was a scientist working for Imperial Japan during World War II.  During that time he and his fellow researchers discovered a germ that would produce a trmendous smell from the lab animals.  It was decided to use the smell as a weapon but the infected animals would die before they reached the enemy, so his father created a gas powered walking mechanism and even made a few before the Americans sank the boat he was on and he was the only survivor.

Koyanagi: "He was dead serious when he told me this story.  But who knows whether it's true?  It's so implausible and I can't find any corroborating records."

Kaori asks to use the bathroom and looks in the mirror and notices boils on her face.  Then another fast moving thing appears and turns out to be Koyanagi's severed forarm attached to the legs mechanism.  Koyanagi then shows them his missing arm and said he had to amputate it to stop the germs spreading to the rest of his body, and the arm is bloated because it is filled with gas.  Koyanagi is fascinated by how it moves via the gas powered pistons in the legs.  He says the fish are dead by the time they reach the shore, it's just the gas keeping them going.  Tadashi asks if the germs can be spread by the smell, his uncle has no reply.

Later, back home, Tadashi contemplates where he was stung by the fish he caught and wonders if he is infected.  He then goes into Kaori's room and is utterly horrified to see her bloated and covered in boils, expelling gas from her mouth and anus.  Shocked he can only wonder what the hell is going on.
Kaori, not looking so good.
Japan is being flooded by the walking fish, including things like whales rising up out of the sea on four legs.  Kaori tries to throw herself off the balcony saying she wants to die.  She screams at Tadashi saying that he wants to leave her for a prettier woman like his uncle's assisstant.  He tries to call his uncle but can't get ahold of him.  He then returns to Kaori's room to find her strung up from the light fitting.  He cuts her down, puts her on his back and starts to take her to his uncle's lab.

On the way they are chased by another shark.  It traps them in a dead end, but gets stuck itself and they manage to squeeze out from under it.  It backs out and pursues them all the way to his uncles.  Koyonagi examines Kaori and says she needs to be taken to hospital and leaves with her, but tells Tadashi to stay.  He decides to go home, but on the way is attacked by a squid and knocked into a storm drain full of fish.  He has a vision of the gas having human faces, and one that looks like Kaori reaches out to him. He passes out and wakes up in hospital one month later.
There is some black humour here as well.
He had been pulled out of the storm drain and brought to the hospital.  The nurse attending says everyone has got used to the stench, and the walking machines have overrun the whole world.  Tadashi enquires after Kaori, but is told they have no record of her.  He wanders into the street and bumps into some soldiers who tell him there is martial law in effect. He goes to his uncle and is told Kaori died.

Tadashi is grief stricken and his uncle tells him he can sleep in a bed at the lab to get his strength back.  But later, ms. Yoshiyama wakes him and tells him she can't lie to him anymore.  She takes him to the main lab and shows him the awful sight of Kaori hooked up to a homemade walking machine.  Outraged Tadashi demands to know why.  His uncle says he created his own walking machine and Kaori is powering it.  He turns it on and it walks round the room.  He says he built the machine to check that the machines were indeed powered by the germ induced gas.  Now he knows for sure his work can continue in earnest.

In a rage Tadashi goes to yank the pipes out of Kaori's mouth, but she knocks him to one side and stabs Koyanagi through the chest with her sharp legs then makes a getaway.  Tadashi goes after her, walking through the smell filled streets.  All the humans he meets are infected and expelling gas.  He then stumbles across a whole crowd of humans attached to the walking machines.  Horrified he sees a gas bloated human stagger over to one of the empty walkers and get hooked up to it.
Kaori in the custom walker.
Shots are then fired by a Self Defence Force soldier trying to kill the walkers.  Tadashi says he shouldn't, that they should try and find a way to save them, but the soldier threatens to shoot him if he interferes.  Suddenly a monstrous sight hoves into view, it's a walker made up of many, many humans.  It kills the soldier and sucks in a nearby infected human and adds it to its bulk.

Tadashi runs away, chased by the faces he can see in the gas.  He finally gets away, but then hears the sound of loud music.  Curious he follows it and it leads to... a circus tent of all things.  Inside the tent are lions and elephants attached to walkers, and walkers on tightropes.  The sinister ringmaster introduces it as the "Citrous Circus". He shows Tadashi the orchestra, playing their instruments using gas.  He says the gas is alive:

Ringmaster: "And it will still be alive when all the humans and animals are gone.  Even our troupe who sought to band together have fallen prey to natural selection".
The living gas.
He then demonstrates the gas powered cannon, firing an infected man across the tent.  Then he introduces the "human flame thrower" who expells a huge amount of flaming gas in which Tadashi sees skull like faces.  Finally they drag out Kaori, because her walking machine is different from the others.  But she attacks the men who pulled her and rips through the tent and makes her getaway.  Tadashi manages to catch her and turns her machine off.  Then he drags her back to his uncle's lab.

Ms. Yoshiyama answers the door.  Tearfully she tells him his uncle died from the stab wound Kaori inflicted on him.  Before he died he asked to be taken to lab number two so he could die peacefully.  Tadashi asks if she can get Kaori out of the walker.  She tries but then tells Tadashi that Kaori is dead.  Tadashi says he knows, but he wants to be able to cremate her body.
Koyanagi: Officially nuts.
Suddenly they hear a noise from the second lab and Tadashi goes to investigate.  He finds his uncle hooked up to a flying, gas powered machine.  It smashes it's way out of the lab and inflates a zeppilin style balloon to keep it airborn.  It starts firing gunk at Tadashi and Yoshiyama.  Forcing them back into the main lab building.  They wonder if it's attacking because they are not infected and are together.

Yoshiyama: "That's absurd.  He can't possibly be conscious.  It's supposed to be the germs and not the doctor that's making the machine move."

They are still holding each other when Kaori proves to be not quite dead and switches her walker on and attacks Yoshiyama forcing her outside where Koyanagi grabs her and flies away.  Kaori is then surrounded by lots of human walkers.  After a pause they all attack her, then swarm away carrying her with them.  Undeterred, Tadashi follows.
Even abominations are prejudiced.
He comes across the gas cannon from the circus and it fires an infected human at Koyanagi's zeppelin, bursting it, but he sporuts wings instead and flies away.  Tadashi then bumps into some more uninfected humans.  They are scientists who theorise that the walkers were created by the gas bacteria in the sea.  They are from Kyoto university and are workng on an antidote to fight back.  They ask if Tadashi wants to join them.  He spots Kaori's burned skeletal corpse and wrecked walker and says he'll join them in a while.  Sadly he sits by her body and says "You're finally free from the smell".  And the story ends.

Gyo is a superb horror story.  It uses the "decompressed" style of manga to slowly build, and build and build piling gross out moment after gross out moment and makes effective use of the claustrophobia inherent in only have four main characters.  The fact that the origins of the apocalyptic disaster are only guessed at adds to the feeling of impotence for the characters trying to fight back and survive.  While there is a small note of hope injected in the end by Tadashi meeting up with other immune characters, the final image of him sat with the burned up, mutated corpse of his girlfriend is what stays with you as the story comes to a close.  There are some fantastically audacious moments, such as the appearance of sharks, squid and even a whale attached to the parasitic legs as well as the pants-on-head lunacy of the "death stench" powered circus.  The whole thing is superbly drawn and paced and well worth seeking out for anyone who enjoys a good, creepy, horror comic.
And he lived unhappily ever after.
Oh But Wait, There's More....!

There are two bonus stories in this volume.  THE SAD TALE OF THE PRINCIPLE POST is an odd little four pager about a man who gets trapped under the concrete post holding up his house and dies, with his body left to decay under it.  But the real spine chiller is the second tale  THE ENIGMA OF THE AMIGARA FAULT.  There was a great earthquake and afterwards a fault was found on the Amigara mountain.  A young man called Owaki and a young woman called Yoshida meet up on their way to see it.

Both have been drawn to the mountain fault without knowing why and when they reach it they find it covered with human shaped holes and a whole crowd of people already there.  The scientists present are investigating how deep they go, but their scops don't go far enough.  They can't figure out if the holes are natural or man made.
The faultline
Yoshida starts searching saying she knows one of the holes that she saw on TV, "it was my shape".  Owaki is dubious but Yoshida insists it is so.  A man called Nagagaki says they are all looking for their holes and he finally found his.  He strips down to his underwear and walks into "his" hole. He disappears, going deeper than the scientists can track.  Later that night, camping nearby, Owaki has a nightmare about being trapped deep in a hole and wakes up in terror. 

He meets up with Yoshida who shows him her hole.  She shouts in fear, saying it was made for her and when she goes in she'll be trapped.  Another man climbs into a hole and another.  Yoshida says the hole is inviting her in:

Yoshida: "I'm going to have to enter that hole.  I'm going to die inside that hole!"

Owaki blocks the entrance to her hole with rocks to calm her down.  Later she confides in him, saying she's always been lonely.  Owaki says that must be why she is so frightened of the hole because nothing could be lonelier than being inside it.
Owaki's nightmare
That night he has another nightmare.  It was a long time ago and he has committed an unforgivable crime and his punishment was to go into the hole which then stretched and distorted his body.  He wakes in fear again and finds Yoshida gone.  He goes to her hole and find the entrance unblocked.  She has gone inside.  He sits and thinks for a moment, then sees his hole.  He strips down and walks inside.

Several months later the scientists find holes on the otherside of the mountain, but they are distorted.  Someone peers inside one of them and sees a horrifically distorted human inside, slowly making it's way to the surface. The End.
Brrrr.  This really is the perfect little one-shot horror story.  The sense of forces beyond human control drawing people to the holes, the dread and claustrophobia it induces in the reader and the incredibly effective twist ending with monstrously mutated humans about to escape the other end of the holes with an image that I am not afraid to say has haunted me ever since I read it.  Junji Ito shows his mastery of both long and short form story telling making this an essential purchase for any lover of the macabre.


  1. that shark on legs is the coolest thing ever! I don't read manga, so i will be interested in what u write about. that last story was horrible to!

  2. Well I do hope you find the manga I cover interesting. And yes, that last story is fantastically creepy, I agree.