Manga Review: Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection

Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection is a horror manga anthology by Junji Ito that includes five stories.

Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection
Written by: Junji Ito
Publisher: Asahi Shimbun Publications Inc.
English Publisher: VIZ Media
Release Date: April 20, 2021

When I started reading this manga, I was surprised to discover that a little over half of it focuses on one story. Even though I had seen the table of contents, it hadn’t hit me just how few stories were ultimately going to be include in this collection.

The first story is “Lovesickness,” the title story for the anthology, which is told over the first five chapters of this manga. It’s set in a foggy town, where there’s almost an obsession of people asking for crossroad fortunes. The idea is that you wait at a crossroads in the fog for the first person to come by. When they do, you ask them to give you a fortune about a topic of your choice. In this story, the main theme seems to be love, since it’s primarily middle schoolers who seem to be into the tradition at the point the story takes place at.

A boy named Ryusuke is moving back to this town after being gone for several years. He harbors a secret: when he was six years old, around the time his family moved, he had gotten upset and stormed out of the house. A pregnant woman stops him and asks for a crossroads fortune about her love life because she was pregnant with her lover’s baby (and her lover was a married man). Because he was angry, he said something mean… and the woman ended up committing suicide at that crossroads. This event haunts Ryusuke to this day, so he’s not eager about the crossroads fortunes even though many of his classmates are. This especially becomes problematic when stories of a beautiful, tall boy dressed in black and has piercings tells negative fortunes about girls’ love lives and they end up committing suicide.

At school, Ryusuke is reunited with Midori, a girl he knew in kindergarten who was his first love. He’s still in love with her, but he learns something awful: that the woman he had given the crossroad fortune to before he left was Midori’s aunt. He makes it his goal for her to not find out about this connection. Things are complicated when Midori’s best friend, Suzue, falls for Ryusuke while Midori and Ryusuke are having a rough patch because of Ryusuke trying to hide his secret from Midori. Suzue she asks for a crossroads fortune about this situation, and she gets an answer from the “beautiful boy”: “Worry about your own heart first.” She takes this to mean that she should go after Ryusuke, and she becomes obsessed. It gets to the point that she annoys Ryusuke and he tells her to back off… which leads her to committing suicide.

“Lovesickness” continues on from here, and it’s both a psychological and a gory thriller. As I saw with Remina, this story builds and gets more and more outlandish. Ryusuke becomes obsessed with finding the “beautiful boy,” and he eventually admits the truth to Midori. His only ally turns on him, just as things get worse. People start believing that Ryusuke is the “beautiful boy,” which causes him nothing but trouble. It culminates with the real “beautiful boy” telling all of these girls to commit suicide, and their ghosts haunt the crossroads. Ryusuke seems to become a “beacon of hope” by going around and giving good fortunes to anyone who asks him for one. At the end of the story, we see three other people following his example. While this city is still a mess, especially with the ghosts haunting the crossroads, this ending at least gives the reader a slight glimmer of hope that maybe someday, things can change. But the overall story gets weirder and weirder, with the “over the top” moment of the mass suicide and the despair it brings about the town. But from what I’ve read from Junji Ito at this point, this seems to be something he does for his stories that are a longer length.

This is followed by two stories that I lump together into one, since they follow the same characters: the strange Hikizuri siblings. One of the siblings, a middle schooler named Narumi, looks normal. The rest of her siblings, however, look like they could have stepped right out of the Addams Family. The first story sees her calling a classmate named Kotani and threatening to kill herself. He rescues her, but she doesn’t want to go back home. Narumi is a pain, but Kotani can’t kick her out because she threatens to kill herself if she does. One of Narumi’s siblings finds her and drags her back home. At first, she fights it, but then she participates in a prank to make Kotani think that she died. It ultimately ends with Kotani dying. The way this was done, even the reader was led to believe that Narumi was really dead… and the truth isn’t revealed until after Kotani dies.

The other story about the siblings sees the oldest, Kazuya, encountering a beautiful woman named Sachiyo who is a spirit photographer. Kazuya becomes interested in her and invites her to his house because there should be spirits for her to photograph there. While she’s at the house, it’s obvious that Shigoro, another one of the brothers, becomes interested in her, and Kazuya becomes jealous and takes it out on Shigoro. But when one of the younger sisters throws a fit about wanting to see their dead parents, Kazuya comes up with an idea of having a séance in order for the sister to see their parents. He invites Sachiyo, who brings her boyfriend along. It appears that the séance is successful when Shigoro spits out ectoplasm and seems to channel the spirit of their father. But after some investigation, Sachiyo and her boyfriend discover the ectoplasm is fake.

To be honest, I really didn’t care for the stories about the Hikizuri siblings. These siblings were downright spooky, and I found nothing redeemable about any of them. Their behavior was just so bizarre and off-putting to me as a reader. On the bright side, at least there were only two chapters focusing on these characters.

This is followed by “The Mansion of Phantom Pain,” which sees a young man named Kozeki taking on a live-in job with a wealthy family. It turns out that the young son of the house has “phantom pain,” which has expanded to the point of him feeling it throughout the whole house. The windows have been bricked up to keep the pain from escaping out of the house. Kozeki is part of a team that responds to wherever the boy says the pain is and they rub the area until the boy says the pain is gone. Over time, the employees get hurt but do nothing to treat their wounds, not even seeing a doctor. The head of the house dies of sepsis, and others start dying from their untreated wounds. But when the wife says if something happens and the family falls into arrears, she will leave the entire estate to the person who will stay forever. As you can guess, some of the crew become greedy and attack the wife and the boy, especially after it’s discovered that the doors to the outside have been locked and the phone lines have been cut. The ending is rather tragic, especially for Kozeki. While there is some of the physical horror with the untreated wounds, this one falls more in the psychological thriller designation. This was better than the stories about the Hikizuri siblings, but it wasn’t quite as strong as the main “Lovesickness” story.

Next is a one-chapter story titled, “The Rib Woman.” A woman named Yuki hates how she looks because of the shape of her ribs. Her brother’s girlfriend starts hearing strange music and it freaks her out. The three of them find a strange woman playing a harp made from a rib, which freaks the girlfriend out. After that, the girlfriend goes missing and is later found dead. When Yuki goes in for an operation to remove one of her ribs, she learns a previous patient was her brother’s girlfriend, who also had a rib removed. She also learns that the strange woman they discovered was another patient who was unhappy with her surgery and wanted more removed. This story culminates with Yuki having her own run-in with the strange woman and her accomplice. This story does a good job in depicting its horror theme in this single chapter. This is a story that just wouldn’t have been as strong if it had been split over multiple chapters.

The final story is “Memories of Real Poop,” which is a four-page story about a kid buying a realistic-looking rubber poop from a vendor at a fall festival. To be honest, I didn’t understand why this was even included. It wasn’t really a horror story, and it felt rather anti-climactic and pointless after the previous stories that were included in this anthology. This was my least favorite of the stories. While the Hikizuri siblings were annoying, at least the inclusion of their chapters felt like they fit with the overall feel of the anthology.

Of the three Junji Ito releases I’ve read from VIZ Media, I have to say that Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection is the weakest one. I much preferred the Venus in the Blind Spot anthology over this one. The “Lovesickness” story in this volume was riveting and interesting, but the other stories here were either OK or not that enjoyable. While I may not have enjoyed Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection as much as I hoped I would, fans of Junji Ito and of horror manga might have a greater appreciation for this release than me.

The reviewer was provided a review copy by VIZ Media

Additional reviews of Junji Ito’s work:

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