Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection is a horror manga anthology by Junji Ito that includes 12 stories.

Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection
Written by: Junji Ito
Publisher: Asahi Shimbun Publications Inc.
English Publisher: VIZ Media
Release Date: December 21, 2021

The first story is “Bio House,” which sees a young woman visiting her boss’ home, because they share a similar interest: eating repulsive fare (such as live insects). But when her boss wants her to drink his blood, she refuses… and he goes berserk. This evolves into a chase through the house. The story has a bloody end, although I’m not going to say for which character. The collection starts off on a very odd footing, and this story basically sets the tone for the remainder of the volume.

Next is “Face Thief,” which sees a girl named Yumi Machida transferring to a new school. In her class, a girl named Kamei insists on sitting next to her and then starts following her around everywhere. Yumi, a delinquent who was kicked out of her previous school, doesn’t like this one bit and begins attacking Kamei. It turns out that Kamei has a secret: she steals the looks of beautiful girls because she wants to catch the attention of their classmate, Hibino. When things come to a head, Yumi comes up with an idea to prevent Kamei from stealing anyone else’s face. It turns out there’s a secret about Kamei that nobody knows until it’s revealed right at the end of the story, which helps to explain why she’s able to steal faces. In the end, the tables are turned on Kamei. While the concept of this story was a little on the strange side, it was one of the more enjoyable stories for me in this volume.

This is followed by “Where the Sandman Lives,” which sees a young male writer named Yuji not being able to sleep because the other him that lives in his dreamworld is trying to come out. The other him wants to drag him into the dream and become the real one. When he confides in his friend Mari, she thinks it can’t be true. But when Yuji asks her to watch him to make sure he doesn’t fall asleep, she says she will. She goes into this still thinking it’s something Yuji made up, until she sees it happen for herself. The end of the story has a twist that involves both Yuji and Mari. It’s a strange story, but it doesn’t have all the blood that “Bio House” had.

“The Devil’s Logic” sees a girl, who had just been very happy over a romantic development, suddenly jump to her death from the top of a school building. Her classmate, Okamori, had slipped a tape recorder into her bag in order to get the details on the date she’s trying to set up. Okamori gets a hold of the tape recorder after the girl falls, and he listens to what’s on it. After setting up her date, the girl encounters a girl from another class, who shares with her the logic of death. It appears the girl had jumped after talking to this girl from another class. Okamori, who listened to the whole thing on the recording, is persuaded to jump to his death as well. This was definitely a creepy story focusing on the concept of suggestion. Even though the story was creepy, it was still interesting.

Next is “The Long Hair in the Attic,” where a young woman named Chiemi is dumped by her boyfriend. Her most distinctive feature is her long hair, which she grew out because her boyfriend convinced her to. When she gets home, she and her sister hear a rat running around in the attic. Chiemi tries to poke at it through the ceiling with a stick. Later, when she wakes up, she finds a rat caught in her long hair. When her sister goes to get scissors, Chiemi’s head is somehow cut off, and of course she dies. The story includes finding Chiemi’s head in an unexpected place, and how Chiemi’s hair seems to have a life of its own. And Chiemi’s ex-boyfriend gets quite the awkward surprise right at the end. This story has a little more in the way of blood, and it’s just rather odd. This, like “Bio House,” is not among my favorite stories in Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection.

This is followed by “Scripted Love,” which sees a young woman named Kaori being dumped by her boyfriend, Takahashi. They met at an amateur theater group, where she was acting and he was an up-and-coming writer. Apparently, Takahashi had a reputation for dating and dumping girls in the group and giving them a videotape of him when he breaks up. Kaori’s friend, Yoko, tried to warn her, but she was attracted to Takahashi. However, when Kaori sees Takahashi making moves on a new girl, she’s determined to keep Takahashi for herself. She stabs him with a knife, and then finds a script that Takahashi wrote for Kaori and himself. When she puts in the tape, she realizes that her lines are to respond to what the Takahashi on the screen is saying. After interacting with the script and the video for a while, Kaori finds herself attracted to the Takahashi on the screen, to the point that the real Takahashi (who isn’t dead) is ignored by Kaori. I thought this was an interesting idea, and it isn’t nearly as odd as a lot of the stories included in this anthology.

“The Reanimator’s Sword” sees a young man named Keiji out hunting for human souls with his friend while his grandfather is on his deathbed. Keiji sees a lot of souls heading toward a shrine and follows after them. He encounters a mysterious man who says that Keiji can’t continue to live because of what he witnessed. Keiji falls off the edge of a cliff but manages to survive. However, his grandfather passed away while he was out. It turns out Keiji’s grandfather is a major politician, so his death is being withheld from the public for the time being. Keiji gets a surprise when the mysterious man is summoned to his house, and it turns out he’s a reanimator of the dead. This reanimator brings Keiji’s grandfather back to life. Later, when Keiji encounters the mysterious man at the shrine again, he learns a shocking truth about this man’s history with his family. This was another odd story, but I thought it was interesting and the twist at the end was something I hadn’t predicted.

Next is “A Father’s Love,” which tells the story of a man, his wife, and their three children (two sons and a daughter). The three children would suffer from headaches. One of them would have one at least once a week, but they lasted less than a minute. When the two sons discover the truth behind the headaches, they commit suicide. The story follows the daughter and her story of how she discovers the truth behind the mysterious headaches. Let’s just say that the truth is quite twisted and also rather creepy. This is one of the longer stories included in this volume, so Ito was able to more fully develop both the story and the characters. While there can never truly be a happy ending for the daughter, at least she was able to get away from her horror.

This is followed by “Unendurable Labyrinth,” which sees two girls getting lost while on a hike on a mountain. They are found by a monk, and they are told to stay at a temple since they are unable to leave the mountain that night. The two girls befriend a boy named Aya, who has slipped into the order because he is looking for his lost brother. The three stumble onto a secret when they overhear about a group of 100 followers who will be entering nirvana. This was a really strange story, and it succeeds at creeping out the reader. However, I don’t consider this to be one of my favorite stories in Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection.

“Village of the Siren” sees a mayoral candidate in a small, rural town freeing a prisoner from the church basement, which leads to strange things happening. A young man named Kyoichi, who has moved out the town and into the city, receives a letter from his mother that concerns him. On the bus ride to the town, he encounters Shoko, a girl he grew up with. Her father, the current mayor, is sick, and she’s worried about him. When the two arrive in the town, they notice right away that something isn’t right. Kyoichi discovers that his childhood friend, Yukari, is holed up in her room reading books on the occult. As Kyoichi and Shoko discover that the strangeness in town is caused by the prisoner freed from the church basement, things come to a head. In the end, only Kyoichi and Yukari are safe. This was another one of the longer stories in this volume, and I thought the situation was well-developed before the climax. It’s kind of odd, but it was still a riveting story.

Next is “Bullied,” where a woman named Kuriko tells her fiancé, Yutaro, about how, when she went to the park to be around him when they were kids because she hasda crush on him, was forced to play with a new kid who moved into the area. At first, she was nice to Nao, but when she was being forced to play with Nao while trying to get close to Yutaro, she started bullying Nao. The bullying got worse to the point where Nao was seriously hurt, and he moved away shortly after. However, Nao has returned and Kuriko has fallen in love with him. She breaks her engagement to Yutaro, marries Nao, and the two have a son together. But not long after their son is born, Nao disappears. As their son gets older, he looks like his father when he was a kid. Kuriko starts calling him Nao and bullying him like she did Nao all those years ago. This story started out decently, but I got so uncomfortable once Kuriko started looking at her son as Nao and treating him so badly. Even though there wasn’t any blood or gore in this story, this is the one that actually made me feel the most repulsed out of all the stories in Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection.

The final story in the volume is “Deserter,” and is set a few years after the end of World War II. A young man named Adera has been harboring a man named Furukawa at his home. Furukawa was a deserter from the military during World War II. Nine years before this story stars, one of Adera’s sisters was tasked with making sure Furukawa was fed. One day, she decides to stay with him and hear his stories. When Adera finds them, he accuses Furukawa of flirting with his sister and gets upset, and Kimie runs off upset. She is killed when an American plane flies overhead and shoots. Adera blames Furukawa for her death, and Adera plays practical jokes on Furukawa. Since Furukawa hasn’t been told that the war has ended, Adera and one of his two remaining sisters keep telling him false information to make him think the war is still going on. But when they go to the storehouse where Furukawa is hiding while pulling one of their jokes, they discover a skeleton that is hung from one of the rafters. They find a suicide note that’s dated from 1945, that shows Furukawa blaming himself for Kimie’s death. They realize he died eight years ago… and now are left wondering who or what they were interacting with all this time. I really disliked Adera for what he was doing to Furukawa. Yes, Adera was upset about Kimie’s death and blamed it on Furukawa but trying to trick Furukawa into believing an alternate history was insane and over the top. I liked the twist at the end, and it was something I had not expected.

It seems that I have read enough of Junji Ito’s works now to pick up on the fact that a lot of the characters that appear in Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection have similar looks to characters in other works by Ito. He’s got a great art style, but it does seem like his character designs are a little on the limited side. But the limited character design makes a work instantly recognizable as being something that Ito has worked on.

Overall, I found the stories in Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection to be a mixed bag. While there were some stories I truly enjoyed, I just didn’t feel a connection with quite a few of them. While I may not have been as impressed with this anthology, I will freely admit that I’m not a fan of the horror genre. I have a feeling that fans of horror and fans of Junji Ito’s work will likely enjoy Deserter: Junji Ito Story Collection more than I did.

The reviewer was provided a review copy by VIZ Media

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