It is going to be quite difficult to say much about Gyo without peppering this review in spoilers and ruining the surprises for prospective readers, but I’ll do my best.
Right off the bat, I have to say that reading this manga will definitely make you wonder whether creator Junji Ito is a complete psychopath, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. I was first introduced to Junji through another manga of his – Uzumaki – which I devoured and found myself wondering what kind of lunatic could come up with such a twisted tale. Upon adding Gyo to bookshelf as well, I’m now convinced that Junji either has the most horrifying night terrors in the history of mankind, or he is communicating with some other Lovecraftian dimension that I want to stay as far away from as humanly possible.
Gyo opens with a young couple on vacation, and as they experience a bit of a frustrating time, arguing with one another, they are beset upon by a disgusting and frightening creature that followed them home from the ocean: a fish with strange, sharp, insect-like legs that allow it to skitter around horrifically. On top of the cringe-worthy creepiness of the creature itself wafts a disgusting rotten smell – the smell of death.
From the moment the “Walking Fish” first arrives, you’ll feel chills going up and down your spine, because Junji’s artwork is beautiful and horrifying in equal measure, and he does an amazing job of portraying a disgusting, deadly monstrosity that just screams “unnatural horror”. And it only gets better from there, as more Walking Fish begin to crawl out onto the beaches of Japan, followed by more, and more, and more, until it seems that the entire ocean is emptying of its inhabitants, who are now crawling over every inch of Japan, terrorizing the population.
If such an image isn’t nightmare-inducing enough for you, believe me when I say that it gets worse. Much, much worse. I refuse to give anything away, because the continual build of more and more horror is part of what makes the story so amazing, so please just trust me when I say that if you’re a fan of horror – and in particular a fan of Japanese horror – you’ll be delighted (in a terrifying way) by this story and the accompanying gorgeous artwork.
The single complaint that I have about Gyo is that the story did not come to any kind of a logical, satisfying conclusion. Given the nature of the story this could be a personal preference kind of a situation, but while some people prefer the unknown, I myself prefer some kind of an explanation – or even an attempt at one – as to what has actually occurred. While Junji’s Uzumaki was filled with weird, strange, unexplained insanity, there was also just enough of background and revelation for you to have a vague idea of what had caused the events, and they came to a kind of conclusion in the end. Gyo, however, ends much like a zombie movie that stops just as the outbreak begins to overtake the planet. There are bits and pieces of information that attempt to explain how a single Walking Fish may have come to exist, but zero explanation as to how millions of them would have come to exist. On top of that, there are strange characters introduced to further the plot, but their presence and purposes are completely glossed over, and we are additionally shown a strange supernatural phenomenon that may be responsible for how the Walking Fish are able to walk, but that’s all we actually get…an image with no further correlation or information as to what this phenomenon actually is. One could definitely make some educated guesses, but this is a story that leaves so much so open, that a reader such as myself can’t help but sit back and think, “GIVE ME MORE INFORMATION!” Again, this could be a personal preference, but I can honestly say that I finished the story with a twitch in my eye, wanting nothing more than to have some kind of link into Junji’s thought process so that I could understand where some of this had come from.
The particular version of Gyo that I have – the 2-in-1 Deluxe edition – also includes a couple of short stories tacked onto the end as a bonus. The first – The Sad Tale of the Principle Post – is a very short that makes your mind go blank as it struggles to comprehend how the subject of the tale could have ever possibly occurred. The second – The Enigma of the Amigara Fault – might give me nightmares for the rest of my life. It’s another tale with little-to-no explanation, but given the nature of the story and the outcome for the characters involved, this is a tale in which you may actually want to know less. In particular, if you have even the slightest form of claustrophobia, this short story might send you into fits of hyperventilation just thinking about it.
Long story short: Junji Ito is a master of the freaky, the disgusting, and the downright disturbing, and brings it all to you wrapped in a package of beautiful, exceptionally-detailed artwork that leaves little to the imagination. Gyo – and it’s accompanying bonus stories – is terrifying, chill-inducing horror that you won’t be able to put down until you reach the end, and is creative in a way that makes you shudder for the sanity of the mind that thought it up. From a horror fan who has found herself fairly desensitized at this point in life, I can honestly say that it creeped me the hell out, and that is high, high praise.