The Liminal Zone is a collection of stories by Junji Ito that were serialized on the LINE manga app during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Liminal Zone
Written by: Junji Ito
Publisher: Asahi Shimbun Publications Inc.
English Publisher: VIZ Media
Release Date: July 26, 2022

The first of the four stories included in this collection is “Weeping Woman Way.” Yuzuru and Mako, a couple about to get married, travel to Tohoku. They make a stop in the country and discover a “weeping woman” at a funeral. Unfortunately, Mako starts crying when she sees the weeping woman, and continues to cry even after going back home. When they go back to Tohoku to try to find a solution, they discover that the people in the village they were at before have no idea about the weeping women. They stumble across “Weeping Woman Way,” where women remember the dead and weep for them. Mako and Yuzuru learn something frightening that changes their lives forever.

The story starts out ordinarily enough, but after Mako sees the weeping woman, everything starts changing. The true horror of the story hits when they learn about “Weeping Woman Way,” and how the women there want Mako to stay with them forever. The twist is an ending that I have come to expect from Junji Ito, but I still found it jarring. It’s very effective, and the imagery from it remains with the reader for some time after finishing the story.

The second story is “Madonna.” A girl named Maria Amano transfers into Tensei Academy, a missionary girls’ boarding school. The principal turns out to be a creepy man with a sordid past. His first wife was the seventh vice chair of the school who believed she was the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary. While married to her, he was having an affair with the woman who is now his second wife after his first wife disappeared. The second wife is the current vice chair and she also believes she is the reincarnation of Mary. The principal is having an affair with one of the teachers as well, and he tells her that he believes that she is the reborn Virgin Mary. The principal takes a creepy interest in Maria, and eventually makes a move on her and claiming she is the true reincarnation of Mary. This story peaks with a chaotic assembly where all the sordid details of this story are revealed, as well as the destruction of the school. There’s only one survivor of the ordeal, but no one believes them when they explain what happened.

This story takes the idea of hypocrisy in religious leaders and cranks it up to 11. The principal of this religious school was such a creeper, going so far as to have affairs and trying to initiate a relationship with a minor. So much for the sanctity of marriage! The man’s obsession with the reborn Virgin Mary also is sickening, as well as his manipulation of people. Most of the main characters in this story are trash, with the main exception being Maria. While the teacher who’s having the affair with the principal isn’t depicted as being a bad person, but the fact that she was willing to participate in an affair with the principal after being fed the line about being the true reborn Virgin Mary makes her less of a sympathetic character. In the end, “Madonna” is more of a psychological horror story, especially in comparison with “Weeping Woman Way.”

The next story is “The Spirit Flow of Aokigahara.” A man named Norio, who has fallen ill with a progressive disease, enters Mt. Fuji’s sea of trees to die on his own terms. He’s accompanied by his girlfriend, Mika. They see a glowing beam of light amongst the trees, and the next day, they find the trees in the vicinity are smooth, like their bark has been peeled off. They find the entrance to a cave, and they believe it is the “Dragon’s Mouth,” which is the exit for the “spirit flow.” That night, when they see the light coming from the cave, Norio jumps into it. The next day, Mika finds him hugging a tree. He says the souls pushed past and licked him, and now he feels better. Norio becomes obsessed with riding the spirit flow and insists on staying. But there’s a twist at the end that reveals the truth of what’s going on.

Of the four stories included in The Liminal Zone, I have to say that this one is my least favorite. This particular one felt more weird than scary. Also, I never really felt as if I ever connected with either Norio or Mika as characters. I was at least able to do that much with the main characters of the other three stories included in this volume. I ended up feeling rather “meh” about this particular story.

The final story is “Slumber.” The main character is Takuya, a young man who wants to become a lawyer but has already failed the bar exam three times. In this story, he wakes up and hears news reports of murders and has what he believes are memories of committing the murders. One night, he sees someone witness one of the murders he believes he’s committed. When his friend Kanami comes over to check on him, he confesses to the crimes. Kanami doesn’t believe he did them, though, and is determined to prove the truth. When she herself is attacked, but survives thanks to using her pepper spray, she sees the perpetrator… and it’s not Takuya. The twist at the end that reveals the truth makes an already strange story stranger.

“Slumber” was another psychological horror story, and I think it actually worked rather well. The way the story was done, the reader was really led to believe that Takuya committed the murders for most of it. The truth was a bit of a head trip, and as we see at the end, even with the amount of time that has passed, Takuya will never be the same as he was before all of this started. Between “Madonna” and “Slumber,” I would have to say “Slumber” was the stronger psychological horror story in this volume.

In the afterword, Ito reveals that the stories that were included here were created from drawing on ideas that he’s left unused in an old notebook of possible topics. To be honest, as I read some of these stories, I was thinking this was the case. The stories in The Liminal Zone aren’t necessarily bad, but for the most part, they’re just not quite as strong as some of Ito’s other horror works. I also find myself wondering if perhaps the pandemic may have also had an effect on how Ito chose to tell these stories.

I would recommend The Liminal Zone to fans of Junji Ito who want to own all of his works in their manga library. If you’re a more casual reader of Ito’s works, it might be an interesting item to read, but you’ll be less likely to want to add the volume to your manga collection. If you’ve never read anything by Junji Ito before, I would recommend holding off on The Liminal Zone until you’ve read some of his earlier works, because this compilation isn’t the best introduction to Ito’s storytelling. From what I’ve read of Ito’s compiled works, I would have to say that Venus in the Blind Spot is the strongest compilation.

The reviewer was provided a review copy by VIZ Media

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