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Junji Ito's "Frankenstein"

A Review of the Graphic Novel Adaptation

By Tom BakerPublished about a month ago 3 min read

Junji Ito is the master of horror manga responsible for Uzumaki and other modern classics. His adaptation of Frankenstein is rather workmanlike and truncated but does feature the requisite grotesque imagery and is as absorbing as his other work. However, coming at the beginning of the book, as might be expected, and comprising the largest section of it, it is rather less impressive than the stories that follow, the first several of which comprise the story of Turo Ichikiri, who lives in a massive stone edifice of haunted and horrifying aspect and supernatural menace.

The beautiful black-and-white artwork perfectly compliments the mindbending and stomach-churning tales involving the diminutive, put-upon loner Ichikiri, who is bullied relentlessly and is introduced to us as the murderer of a friend. The friend's corpse, however, develops some hideous and surrealistic properties, and then we learn the secret of Ichikiri's macabre existence.

Lost in the Arctic Waste: Monster and Creator in Junji Ito's beautiful manga adaptation of Frankenstein.

His home, always vacant, haunted, and absent of his parents, who make their appearance during the final tale of Ichikiri (but not of the book), is akin to a gloomy, boxed-in structure reflecting the boy's troubled mind. The idea that creeping horrors from alternate dimensions invade his glum, anxiety-ridden life, can be read as a metaphor for the compartmentalization of a disturbed psyche--we cannot tell which Ichikiri we're getting, which version of the boy is real, or if any of them are more than alternating illusions, fantasies of existence indulged in by a lonely youth who is trying to come to grips with his loneliness, his immature idealization and grappling with the concept of love, beauty, sin, guilt, and the idea that an invasive force is breathing down his neck, creating the tap-tap of footprints as he struggles to sleep at night. The house itself is the vast, womb-like (a dead womb, albeit) structure that gives birth to these alternate Ichikiri's, to the rotting living slime and the elongated cadavers dripping grue that haunt his existence as much as the doppelganger death-dealer of himself that seems ready, like the woman from the old "Twilight Zone" episode "Mirror Image", wherein a woman in a bus stop is haunted by a ghost of herself, who is trying to "replace" her.

The ghost of Ichikiri is malevolent but we're often not sure if the smoldering, intense visage of the boy is him or his evil, murderous alter. Young friends, paranormal enthusiasts, who come to his "castle" find that they, too, have alters in another dimension, and they find that their fate in this alternate world is a dark and bloody tragedy. In the end, the world in which Ichikiri lives is seen to be throbbing with the unquiet dead, trapped within the walls, and the reader, by this time, has forgotten the rather mediocre adaptation of Frankenstein. (Which, on the whole, does not substantially deviate from the original--although, it should be noted that the Monster and his unfinished Bride are both portrayed as bandaged giants, bringing to mind the quibble of not a few writers on the original text that it is odd to think that Victor Frankenstein created a body over eight feet tall using rifled average-sized body parts.)

Stories that follow--"The Hell of the Doll Funeral" and "Face Firmly in Place," help finish out and round out the collection, although they have an urban legend feel, and are like quick kisses in the dark. The artwork is a beautiful manga, with more of a Western bent to the imagery, which is not stereotypically spiked hair, huge eyes, and tiny mouths and chins atop teardrop-shaped skulls. There is a disintegrating, rotting quality to Ito's monstrosities, and his depiction of death, the dead, and the in-between is spot-on hideous.

Finally, we have a tale of "Boss Non-Non," his late, lamented pet Maltese. Ito shows the humanity beneath the horror artist's veneer, revealing the warm-hearted affection of a boy genius artist who lives with his mother.

Frankenstein is an engrossing graphic novel collection, but not, specifically because of the bulk of the book from which it takes its title. Those seeking superior fright fest comic book thrills will NOT be disappointed, whether they be alive, dead, undead, in-between, from an alternate dimension, or simply a comfortable donut of little white fur, resting beneath the upturned Earth.



About the Creator

Tom Baker

Author of Haunted Indianapolis, Indiana Ghost Folklore, Midwest Maniacs, Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Scary Urban Legends, 50 Famous Fables and Folk Tales, and Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest.:

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    Tom BakerWritten by Tom Baker

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