The Human Chair (Ningen Isu)
Originally story by Edogawa Rampo, Art and adaptation by Junji Itou
Publisher: Shogakukan (2007)
Length: Oneshot (One Chapter)
Despite my bumpy relationship with Junji Itou, works like Human Chair prove to me that the mangaka can create short, frightening stories when he wants to. The bizarre plot of this piece, when explained, may seem like anything but scary. But when coupled with creepy writing and Itou’s trademark distributing imagery, this one-shot is an effective and enjoyable read.
Human Chair is based on a short story of the same name, written by Japanese author Edogawa Rampo. Though I don’t know much about the original story, and interesting fact about this author is his name. Supposedly it’s the sound made when trying to say “Edgar Allen Poe” in an accent. The story focuses on a female writer, who enters a furniture shop one day in the hopes of killing some time. While there, she is introduced to a chair which once belonged to the famous female author Togawa Toshiro. The writer is told about Togawa’s strange happenstance regarding the “human chair”, and its tragic ending.
Whenever talking about Itou, the first thing that must be discussed is his art. If there was one statement I could make with certainty, it’s that a scary series relies on effective artwork. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the conventional “good” artwork that plagues mainstream manga. As long as it compliments the story, it doesn’t really matter which direction or form the art takes. Itou tends to focus on realism with his art, but uses darker inking to create a sense of disconnect between our world. Scenes that are relatively normal tend to have white, or at least lighter backgrounds. When supernatural events are occurring, it’s only darkness that surrounds the characters in the forefront of the panel. While there are no supernatural occurrences in this manga, it still relies heavily on dark sketches to convey uncertainty within readers.
Itou takes the theme of obsession, an inherently human emotion, and attaches it to physical objects. We begin to ascribe human traits to our couches and wardrobes, but not in the sense you might believe. The mangaka masterfully combines obsession with another dangerous feeling, paranoia. It isn’t a magical tale where spirits inhabit objects and go on adventures with human characters; it’s the fear of other people, and the lengths the will go to in order to satisfy their own desires. The creepiness from this manga wasn’t based on supernatural entities; all events are possible by a human with enough drive, or a better phrase would be a human driven by obsession. It’s unrealistic enough to roll your eyes after your first read, but possible enough that you may start questioning whether you are truly alone after reading. It takes a simple idea, couples it with bizarre imagery and is able to instil even the most logical reader with a sense of doubt about their reality.
The main issue I have with this manga is the title, namely that it spoils the entire story! As I was writing this review, I was mindful about keeping the climax hidden, but realised that it’s hard to do when a potential reader has to search the biggest spook of this piece in order to locate it in the first place. This must have been the creator’s intention, but the ending of the manga acts as if this grandiose discovery, something that came out of nowhere. If this had been names “The Author” or something more vague, the ending would have been so much more potent, and would have led to me enjoying it more. In saying that, would I have read the manga if its name wasn’t as attractive as “Human Chair”? I can’t answer that, but from this experience reading it, it definitely detracted from the story. The characters were also essentially cardboard, only vessels for story progression, but they were drawn so well they almost felt human. Itou’s ability to frame faces, particularly with fear and terror added the only semblance of humanity to these beings.
Human Chair is definitely something that should be on everyone’s reading list. For one, it’s one chapter long, so it will take ten minutes to read. While it may be a subtler way of enforcing paranoia than his other works, I found these elements more effective and enjoyable to read. Itou does nothing more than place a seed of doubt in his readers, and its their mind that takes them to more frightening places. I’d feel bad about spoiling the manga for you, but considering the author did it himself, I think I’ll be able to live on.
Art – 9
Story – 7
Writing – 7
Overall – 7.5/10