Written by Jonathan Wojcik

October 20: Bogleech.com's Top Ten Junji Ito Monsters!

   One of Japan's most popular horror manga artists, Junji Ito is well known outside his country - especially on the internet - for his ingeniously surreal and outlandish stories, inventing entirely new terrors the genre has rarely if ever seen before. Summarize his ideas and they'll often sound too silly to be frightening; a boy with bad pimples. A tree that squashes people. Babies that talk. The execution of these ideas, however, even with an intentional twinge of humor, are nightmarishly effective and really show the potential for just about anything to be terrifying.

My following picks for Ito's coolest and most disturbing monsters (or monster-like phenomena?) are impossible to explain without SPOILERS, though I'll try to hide some of the really good stuff under links.

#10: The Tomie Worm

   Tomie was Ito's first and longest ongoing series, revolving around a mysterious young girl who drives everyone she meets to such obsession with her that they almost inevitably cause her death, which she's grown rather accustomed to over centuries of always growing back. Tomie returns to life in a variety of disturbing and gruesome ways, but perhaps her eeriest manifestation is what appears to be a tremendous, Tomie-infected earthworm in the basement of an old laboratory, where Tomie's regenerative processes have been subjected to many strange experiments. I think the creepiest part of this thing is the noseless, mouthless upper head, itself bigger than an entire human body! We never find out exactly how or why the Tomie worm was created, which would only ruin the mystique anyway.

#9: The Dreamer

   Also adapted into a very faithful made-for-tv film, Ito's Long Dream is the story of a man who experiences more time in his dreams than actually passes in reality, the length increasing exponentially until every time he sleeps, he's living out decades or even centuries in an imagined reality. As expected, his mind doesn't fare so well through all this, but even stranger things happen to his body, as he seems to "evolve" along some bizarrely accelerated path...a symptom of the strange way his mind is functioning, or vice versa? He ultimately takes on an entirely alien form that never awakens again, and leaves behind something else very strange.

#8: The Snail People

   Here we have the first of several monsters from Ito's amazing Uzumaki, a series in which a town is besieged by all manner of abnormalities, all of them pertaining to a theme of spirals. Yes, the real monster of Uzumaki is a geometric pattern, and the many ways in which it seems to corrupt reality grow increasingly insane. Among its first truly unnatural products are a number of people slowly transformed into gigantic snails, losing their minds and even mating with one another regardless of their human sex. The mollusks are more or less peaceful, but it's never entirely certain how the transformation is "spread," and a few individuals turn to eating them later in the series, finding the once-human meat maddeningly delicious. Some monsters aren't just scary for their threat, but for their plight.

#7: Hell Star Remina

   In this sci-fi horror series, a wandering "planet" invades our solar system and guns straight for Earth...eating other planets and moons along the way, or at least tasting them. Most of the action focuses on an unfortunate girl whose father discovered the astral terror and how humans respond to their impending doom (poorly), but the Hell Star itself is a fascinating and horrific being, even moreso when a group of humans hatch a desperate plan to colonize the monster's nightmarish surface, finding less than hospital conditions.

#6: The Warty Man

   In one stand-alone chapter of Uzumaki, a family trapped at home begins to suffer painful, spiral-patterned warts and hear many strange noises from the apartment next door. Eventually, their mystery neighbor breaks through the wall, apparently the source of their affliction and no longer human physically or mentally.

#5: The Doll Children

   Hell O' Dollies is a six page short in which a bizarre illness has been affecting children world wide, hardening their skin until they resemble living, porcelain dolls complete with joints. Victims eventually cease moving, but they don't necessarily die. We find out in the end what happens when nobody puts them out of their misery...or at least, what starts to happen. As usual, the real source of horror here is the complete lack of a logical explanation for what we're seeing.

#4: The Mosquito Babies

   Our last Uzumaki example is definitely the strangest, and technically several "monsters" rolled into one. Under the sometimes nonsensical influence of the spiral, several pregnant women at the same hospital develop a thirst for blood, and like the female mosquito, this diet provides exceptional nourishment for their offspring. So exceptional, the babies are born highly intelligent and capable of speech, calmly demanding they be put back into their mother's wombs. Weirder still, their placentas and umbilical cords just keep growing back. Not just from the babies themselves, but everywhere. All this is merely the set-up to far more gruesome twists in the "Umbilical Cord" and "Mosquito" chapters.

#3: The Death Stench

   Alright, if you're not yet familiar with Gyo (soon to be the coolest anime since...probably Digimon Adventure.), let's see how well I can explain this and how well you keep up: it all begins with sea creatures climbing out of the ocean on what appear to be spider-like legs, sea creatures who positively stink to high heaven because most of them are already dead. The source of the odor is an infectious disease, and the legs, unbelievably, are revealed to be inorganic machines, their seemingly deliberate movements the result of noxious gases rhythmically puffing from every orifice of the corpses they carry. Somehow, more mechanized legs meet up with new infectees, and things just keep getting worse from there. The stench is implied several times to be a living, intelligent force, and terrifying questions are raised when the gas is ignited to reveal its full details. Whatever we're looking at, it's a lot more than an infection.

#2: The Fault Victim

   The Enigma of Amigara Fault is one of the most beloved Ito stories, having spawned more than one internet meme with its absurd, yet absurdly terrifying premise and conclusion. After an earthquake, the exposed rocky wall along a fault line is found to be peppered with tunnels shaped perfectly like specific people around Japan, who find themselves tormented by strange dreams and compelled even from miles away to find and enter their respective holes. In the final iconic scene, after hundreds of people have disappeared into the tunnels, a new earthquake exposes the exit holes...and they aren't shaped the same. The "Drr...drr...drr" sound effect, seemingly an Ito invention for this scene alone, is now recognized as the only appropriate sound of whatever the hell you want to call that.

#1: The Hanging Balloons

  We've gone over some pretty damn weird ideas here, but I honestly think this one takes the cake, which is probably a spiral cake that melts eyeballs or something. The Hanging Balloons from the short story of the same name are huge, floating human heads with steel cables dangling from their necks, each one matching a particular person and hell-bent on killing their human lookalike, usually by hanging. We're once again given no clue where these preposterous beings came from, but eventually, there's a balloon head for every single person in Tokyo, perhaps even the world. If anyone tries to injure or destroy one, the exact same thing will magically happen to the matching human's head...including an instance where a Balloon head is punctured and deflates. As people dwindle in number, the rest are trapped indoors, while their own massive heads beg and plead for them them to come outside.

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