Yami no Koe (Voices in the Dark)
Story and Art by Junji Itou
Original Publication: Asahi Sonorama (2002)
Length: One Volume (7 Chapters)
To leave Junji Ito’s skills unacknowledged is a slap in the face to all fans of horror manga. He is considered the heir of the genre, passed down from the likes of Kazuo Umezu (The Drifting Classroom) and Hideshi Hino (Panorama of Hell). Despite his often gruesome portrayal of creatures within horror (bio-organic fish in Gyo), his depiction of psychosis within humans is what sets him apart from his contemporaries. It’s one thing to depict a character suffering internally, but Ito is able to manifest these feelings physically, resulting in a series of bizarre shapes, colours and patterns. When no monster is needed to convey unsettlement, you know you’ve found something special.
Even when you can identify elements of dark humour, the author’s ability to leave the reader in a constant state of anxiety is terrifying. No one should have that power. He does this by dangling the reader’s ability to control the situation slightly above their head. If the reader sees a normal suburban town, they immediately attach all of the (sensical) knowledge about areas similar to these, in order to find themselves comfortable in the environment. Then Junji adds horrifying acts, sometimes real enough to be true, leaving that reader in a state of panic, even after they put the book down. A good creator can make evoke emotions within their audience. Junji Ito is a master manipulator.
However, there are still flaws within Ito’s work. Consistency is one of them. I feel like I can read one outstanding Ito work and a completely average one within a matter of minutes. And unfortunately, Voices in the Dark finds itself within the latter.
This wasn’t necessarily a bad horror anthology, but it wasn’t great. Length was a real issue. Not to say that Ito isn’t able to create short horror stories, as his work “The Enigma of Amigara Fault” is my favourite. However, with the type of stories Itou was trying to create, it would have been better to flesh them out over 10-15 chapters, or revise the ideas so there wasn’t as much to discuss. Due to this, the compilation characterisation that never felt natural, more a tool for plot progression, which made me feel nothing towards the characters. Due to how small this piece is I’ll briefly go through each piece while trying not to be too repetitive, although most pieces suffer from the same issues.
Story 1: Blood Slupring Surprise
A classic horror story; creating unreal monsters that represents complex adolescent issues. I wasn’t particularly blown away with this story – despite powerful imagery the plot was furthered by a lot of telling and not a lot of showing. If the imagery wasn’t so good, this piece would have been quite generic, but I physically felt sick reading it (I was on a bus which may have contributed) and had to pause my reading due to nausea. So if that was from the manga, that should be a testament to the piece.
Story 2: The Ghost of Golden Time
A better executed story. I felt genuinely uneasy about the situation the characters were placed in, and it made coexisting with spirits seem plausible based on how realistically they interacting with each other. Again, and I feel like I’ll be saying the art is a standout alot, but it was in this piece. The story is quite linear, and we’re guided throughout most of what happens in this piece. It makes sense that the author would have to narrate some aspects, particularly due to length, but not this much in a horror comic, which needs to be erratic and unpredictable. I never felt like I lost control while reading, which made it less gripping. Characterisation was non-existent and characters looked slightly similar to last story. The art’s ability to create uneasiness was the piece’s only saviour.
Story 3: Roar of Ages
This was the weakest story in my opinion. It started off better than the first two, with little explanation as to where the characters were or what they were seeing. Unfortunately, as if to make up for the time it wasn’t explaining everything, the rest of the story is just other characters telling our protagonists, and as a result, the reader, what is going on. Worse, all the plot points seemed to coincidental, to mechanic. There was no extra characters in this piece to add depth, only people immediately involved with the situation. Their traits were handpicked, and instead of development the limited time was used to progress the plot. This results in a bunch of characters who you know nothing about, but you can relay why they should exist (if they didn’t there’d by no plot.) Unfortunately, the piece is so lacklustre that most readers wouldn’t even be able to remember that.
Story 4: Secret of the Haunted Mansion
Despite its generic title, this story held the most elements of a horror story, and did it relatively well. While the story is very linear, a mystery man bringing his horrifying-in-the-worst-way haunted house to a suburban village, it gave Ito more situations where he can show off his terrifying art style. In this way, it was evident that the story was taking a back seat to the visuals, and made the piece far more enjoyable than the rest. It felt less calculated, and there was far less guidance for the reader. Truly unsettling.
Story 5: Glyceride
Up until this point, I wouldn’t have called any of these short stories “great”. Somewhere good, but most were not. Glyceride, on the other hand, is a truly exceptional piece. This is a great example of Junji Ito’s ability to blur the lines between reality and fictitious terror. The characters all have issues they must deal with, but their solutions are… very unorthodox. This led to both startling and stunning imagery, but more importantly more balanced with the story. Each frame felt far more symbolic than, and the story itself seemed to stem from something more unique than “vampires, ghosts, haunted houses”. I found myself re-reading it immediately after my first one, consciously thinking as I went along “what is really going on here?” As there was no rushed backstory with convenient relevancy mashed in, there was a real element of unpredictability. The plot was rarely discussed, rather how the characters were feeling, attempting to breakdown these psychotic breakdowns while still giving space for the reader to ponder. Reading this piece was an incredibly uneasy experience, where I was actually conscious about my fears for the protagonist and myself.Story 6: The Earthbound
Another story that began both vague and startling simultaneously, the Earthbound depicts a Japanese city in which people find themselves stuck in various poses around the place, unable to move (even when they find themselves dying). This piece was another Junji Classic, providing physical ailments that are rooted internally, which are protagonist must discover. Much like “The Enigma of Amigara Fault”, the inability for the characters to control themselves left the reader feeling a similar lack of control. Unfortunately, and after reading this anthology another facet to the phrase “classic Itou”, the story falls victim to the previously mentioned fallacies – rushed characterisation, relationships/backstories that were too convenient and an ending so succinct it felt completely linear. A horror story that has a definitive ending must be ended very powerfully, or the reader is less likely to have things to think about afterwards. All I was thinking about after this piece was how to execute a great idea more effectively.
Story 7: Dead Man Calling
The last story in this collection, and one of the better ones in regards to pacing and characterisation, in the sense that there were actual characters. Many of these stories had people in place to execute a specific scenario, whereas “Dead Man Calling” had the reader follow an actual cast of people. This attachment may be why this piece seemed the scariest out of the bunch to me, and why the spirits physical and mental rampage actually felt meaningful. This story did utilise flashbacks, but in a productive way that felt like a natural aspect of the story. Its ending was effective in its vagueness – there are one hundred different ways to interpret the ending, and while it doesn’t seem like much happens in this piece, it leaves you spending more time unravelling what did.
Junji Ito’s “Voices in the Dark” is not his finest work. There is a lack of consistency in quality, which leaves the reader more curious how good the next story will be rather than the story itself. While the first three stories felt incredibly generic, this compilation picks up from there, and provides a more stable collection of decent works. It definitely felt like the more unique the story was to Itou, the better it was. While the more common storylines weren’t all bad, it would have helped to expand on them more, so that something new or fresh could happen within them. It would have broken up the monotony, and given Itou some breathing space to explore all his ideas in a more balanced environment. This piece as a whole is not worth reading if you aren’t a Junji Itou fan, as it won’t make you fall in love with him. But, in saying that, I highly recommend you check out stories 5,6 and 7. They are definitely worth your time, and redeem what is otherwise a disappointing piece from a horror visionary.
Art – 9
Story – 6
Writing – 5
Overall – 6.5/10