Keeping it Ghastly: Searching for Japanese Horror in America

“Keeping It Ghastly” is a bi weekly article on Japanese horror comics which have English print editions. Some are from famous authors, others are from unknowns and underground artist circles. Either way, it’s going to be to a terrifying/awesome ride to keep horror manga on our bookshelves!


Before Rokudenashiko got in trouble with the police, Junji Ito already had an innate understanding that lady parts are up to no good.

Or more specifically one lady’s parts. Tomie, a woman so irresistible that people are driven to kill for her. So desirable that her flirtation can drive even the most vehement Men’s Rights Activist to drop his plans to shoot up the local sorority in order to instead turn against his fellow MRAs who want the ultimate prize, Tomie, all to themselves. But as all Men’s Rights Activists know, killing one bitch isn’t enough. Better to kill her again and again and again. If you can’t own her, you can at least own her death.


Much more easily planned than done since Tomie simply refuses to die! Junji Ito, best known in America for his crowning work regarding the hypnosis of an entire town by the power of spirals, has a knack for unnerving his audience. Are the men (and occasional women) Tomie drives into homicidal rages her victims? Is Tomie their victim since she is usually stalked and often murdered by these same people who later turn against their fellow humans when their well planned murders fall apart in the face of an unkillable target?

Junji Ito takes the opportunity in his Tomie stories to really stretch his sticky, crazy brain in order to find the real horror behind human behavior. This book is a real jewel for all horror hounds as well as fans of Junji Ito’s other works. Museum of Terror vol 1 includes the original Tomie stories published in the shojo (girls’ comics) magazine “Monthly Halloween” way back in the 1987 glory days of Iran-Contra and the final years of Fist of the North Star’s release in Japan. The art and writing can seem a little rushed at times, but with its sparse scenes of intense violence and carefully placed scenes of supernatural body horror the reader is treated to what ultimately boils down to be a very intriguing tale of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.


(SPOILERS AHEAD) Even when torn apart by her school mates (in the first chapter BTW!), Tomie returns soon after to exact passive-aggression revenge via cold indifference and emotional manipulation. She is the ultimate archetype of a classic female villain in that she is desirable but unattainable, and conforms to the image of a sympathetic victim with a hidden narcissistic and opportunistic personality. This boogeyman that is Tomie embodies that which is both irresistible in its promise of both sexual and ideological female perfection, yet time and again proves inhuman and frightening because of that very same impossible conception of female perfection.

Ito is one writer who, like Joss Whedon, doesn’t believe in main character immunity. At all. Like Kurt Russell’s character in The Thing (1982), our protagonists in the first volume of Museum of Terror are completely unaware of who and what this creature is that looks like a high school girl and calls itself Tomie, yet oozes more sex appeal than any airbrushed rippling pecks on any poster advertising any pre-teen supernatural romance summer blockbuster in the history of the world. As the loosely tied episodic tales unfold we become more aware of what her very infectious blood can do when it comes into contact with a normal human. Ultimately, like the Thing, it isn’t whether the monster is scientist or dog, an ethereal beauty or an average girl, the ultimate distinctions between a human and Tomie comes down to the cryptic unnatural biology that the chameleon utilizes so that it can lure and kill its next victims.


With the powerless and utterly human way that his characters scramble to stay ahead of their mortality, there is an ever present atmosphere of dread and good, old fashioned American Horror Story futility in Ito’s writing. Character redemptions, revivals and deaths are drawn out and beautifully interwoven with numerous miniature plots. The characters actively struggle and evolve as they try to make sense of the otherworldly horror unfolding around them. With his artistic style incorporating fine lines and intense detail and texture, Ito manages to create a comic that is aesthetically pleasing to look at without any of the departures into bloody and cartoonish violence that permeate many other horror manga from the 80s.

There were a total of 10 volumes of Museum of Terror, but unfortunately only the first 3 volumes were ever made available to English speaking audiences (still, thank you Dark Horse Comics!). All three of the Museum of Terror volumes have become very difficult to track down at a reasonable price. What’s wrong with you America? Why are you not giving this man movie deals, hiring him to write original comics for Image and Vertigo, and you Dark Horse Comics… why did you release his work in such a limited printing run!? Thankfully there are enough people on the internet who feel the same and have taken it upon themselves to provide scanlations of Ito’s body of psychological body horror thrill rides. If you actually have a copy of all 3 volumes of Dark Horse’s Museum of Terror and didn’t have to pay the outrageous prices, then I hate you and am going to rob your house the next time you’re out watching the newest installment of the “Paranormal Activity” franchise.


Comments are closed.

RSS for Posts RSS for Comments
%d bloggers like this: