Story and Art by Jun Abe
Originally Published by Shogakukan (2006, 1 volume)
Portus follows the 17-year-old high school student Asami Kawakami, who’s friend, Chiharu, has, effectively, disappeared. She no longer answers her phone calls, or even comes to school. She has become obsessed with Portus, an old video game she found under mysterious circumstances. There is an urban legend that a secret level resides within the game. In it, a boy will appears and ask if you want to go to the other side. If you say yes, you will die. When Chiharu commits suicide, slicing her own throat Asami and the arts club teacher, Keigo Sawa, set out to find out the truth behind the legend and the destruction it’s caused.
Portus was the first horror manga I ever read, and going in, I had already made assumptions about the entire genre. I believed that manga would be the least effective medium for the horror genre; without the accompaniment of sound or uncontrolled pacing, the reader would not have the feeling of dread that comes with experiencing frightening situations you have no control over. While not the best horror manga out there, Portus was good enough to dispel those beliefs I had, proving that the manga art style suits horror, and that a well paced piece can result in many sleepless nights.
Portus uses a common theme in its attempt to establish the “monster” of the piece; the utilisation of multi-media. “The Ring” is a well known example of this technique, with its ghoulish character crawling out of the TV when a certain video is played. The same idea is used in Portus, though the short film is replaced with a video game. While some may find this idea tacky, it was what originally interested me in this piece. Due to a video game’s unrestricted possibilities, with an infinite amount fictitious universes to choose from, the reader has no idea what creatures may reside within it, and therefore enter, our world. I felt a build up of tension within myself, and much like the characters, slowly felt a break down of reality. I was unable to separate what was real, what had come from the game, and what their normal life had felt like. The fact that these supernatural characters came from within a video game also made a bit more logical sense, and also played with most of the reader’s fears (as it wouldn’t be surprising that most own some form of video game console).
The art in Portus is what immediately changed my perception on horror manga. The horrifically detailed images left me shocked on my first read. The vivid imagery in this manga is as intriguing as it is graphic, accomplishing more terrifying scenes than a digitised movie monster ever could. You have been warned; there are some incredibly unsettling and gory moments in this piece, depicting suicide, lacerations, stabbings and sexual assault. It became apparent at times that Abe opted to fill plot points with gore instead of content, a pretty harmful technique that’s utilised primarily by below average horror stories. While Abe should be commended for his outstanding artistry, sometimes he does rest on his laurels.
Unfortunately, there’s a reason that this manga looks so good on pen and paper; all tropes of the horror genre are weaved into this one-shot throughout the course of its story. Possessed children, haunted burial grounds, creepy rural towns, crazy old men, the cliches go on and on. The author clearly has an affinity for groundbreaking horror creations, however he didn’t use these ideas to create new and challenging pieces; he just recycles them in a clumsy highlight reel. The disappointing ending embodies the direction of this piece. The inclusion of an out of date, pop-psychology monologue as a solution to a mystery that resulted in the death of many people seems more ridiculous than profound.
For the most part, Portus was a highlight reel of all horror cliches that have surfaced over the last 30 years. It’s a love letter from Abe to all those pieces that inspired him to create Portus, however, he responded to his inspirations by recycling their effective parts, ruining his own manga in the process, as the reader could have predicted the plot line of the story 10 years ago. It’s a shame, if he had created an original piece that challenged the horror genre, it would have been as fondly remembered as its predecessors.
Art – 8
Writing – 6
Overall – 6.5/10