Story and art by Haruto Ryou
Original Publisher: Square Enix (2004)
Length: 2 Volumes (15 Chapters)
In recent months I’ve found myself on a horror binge. The medium is surprisingly packed with scary, well paced series that effectively combine horror elements with the implicit structure of manga. In my opinion, Haruto Ryou’s “Ibitsu” does the best job of converting horror elements into proponents of a successful manga. The reader’s feeling of control is utterly drained thanks to dynamic pacing, meaning someone who is sucked into this manga will have a hard time getting out. Unfortunately, Ibitsu may follow the general horror formula too well; certain plot holes and cardboard characters can hinder this manga in creating an overall horrifying experience.
Ibitsu’s main strength is its immersion. IF you are able to switch off slightly. I read Ibitsu at a football game. Whether that was a wise decision or not is not to be explored in this article. Despite my inability to pick appropriate times to read, not even loud chants and angry screams could bring me out of this story. Much like the urban legend passed around Japanese schools, high schooler Kazuki Itou finds a young girl dressed in gothic clothing resting beside a garbage dump. The legend states that anyone who answers her fatal question will fall to an inevitably twisted death. Our story chronicles Kazuki’s journey, and his ultimate envelopment in horror.
The element of control is key in Ibitsu. The inability to manage situations can leave readers with a deep underlying sense of anxiety. The ‘creature’s’ inhuman and erratic behaviour is so unsettling that its hard not to dread reading on. Her appearance also plays on the reader’s fear; she looks human, but slightly disfigured, emphasising our helplessness in predicting/preventing her behaviour. The manga was like putting on a Chinese finger trap. The decision to put the trap on your middle fingers was voluntary, however, you can’t choose to escape. As the story progresses, the scenes become more intense, and a lack of control makes many readers attempt to break away. But, the more you pull on the finger trap, the tighter it becomes. In saying that, Ibitsu was not the perfect horror experience. There were times where the predictability of the story made it hard for the reader to attach feelings to it, as they had experienced these plot points at other times before.
Another interesting facet of Ibitsu was the emotions (aside from fear) it tried to convey. Through the creature antagonist, fear was gradually met with disgust, and disgust was gradually met with utter repulsiveness. When we first meet the lead antagonist, the reader is meant to feel a mix of caution and empathy. While strange, she seems lonely more than anything. However, throughout the manga, her skewed morality leads to some incredibly twisted actions, something that becomes increasingly difficult to read. As opposed to supernatural powers, Lolita’s mental instability is the driving force of her actions, something arguably more frightening. It was enjoyable gradually learning more and more about this deluded figure, and the mental trauma she experienced to end up in this state. It added extra substance to the piece, attaching a semblance of plot to what I felt half way through was a gore-fest.
While it may not seem like this on pen and paper, it is much more frightening (in my opinion) dealing with an unhinged character than a character with quantifiable powers. The scene in which the protagonist’s sister is locked in the high school with the antagonist was very memorable, and left me highly anxious. The other characters in this manga, however, were forgettable. There were only three (other than our antagonist) to care about, and I never really did. In short, I didn’t really care about anyone in this manga, or their wellbeing. What made this manga scary was envisioning your self as the characters in these situations. I wasn’t watching “Kazuki Itou” running away from the “Lolita monster”. I didn’t even know his name until I looked it up for this review. Instead, I was running away from this unhinged monster, and it was this vivid experiences that added any stakes to Ibitsu. While they weren’t characters, there was one thing they had going on for them: they were not dumb. There was never moment where I was frustrated by someone flinging themselves into danger. This also added to the fear of the antagonist – no matter how smart those fleeing from her were, they were never smart enough. From a purely character-driven opinion, they were the weakest past of this manga. In saying that, weak characters are synonymous with horror-related content, and shorter manga also have to sacrifice some aspects of development for their concise length, so I’m not that heartbroken about it.
The standard of art in this manga was a doubled-edged sword. It was so clean and sharp that it made reading Ibitsu a smooth experience. However, its quality also allowed the author to play with extremely gory scenes, which was unpleasant to say the least. This is probably the only instance where I’ll say the art was too good at times. The ecchi moments in this manga weren’t really necessary, and while there were only a few instances of it, they took up the rare moments we had non-creature characters interacting. The length of Ibitsu was ideal for the type of horror experience it was trying to convey. It felt like “pure horror” – any longer and it would have had to incorporate other genres (action, comedy) in order to prevent series from dulling. It was a story that was able to build tension the entire time, and then try and end on a shocking conclusion. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, as my lack of empathy for the people in this universe meant nothing really mattered.
Ibitsu by Haruto Ryou is a suspenseful, yet formulaic horror manga that manages to incorporate key horror elements successfully into the manga medium. If you’re able to switch off and drift away, this-hour long read will provide you with an unpleasant and highly angsty experience. But be careful; if you blink too hard, it can be easy to disconnect from this piece forever.
Art – 9/10
Story – 7/10
Writing – 7/10
Overall – 7.5/10