The world of horror fiction is a fascinating place, especially when there are opportunities to create a fabulous collaboration between artists and writers around the globe. Thanks to a review copy provided by VIZ Media, I was able to give my thoughts on Betwixt: A Horror Manga Anthology.
This collection is presented in a lovely hardcover illustrated by none other than Junji Ito, who also supplies a fascinating foreword. Therein he talks about spaces between, be they enclosed spaces, alternate realities, the abyss, or even awkward silences, and how they can provoke our intrusive thoughts and anxiety in ways we don’t expect, foreshadowing the contents inside.
A Clever Collection of Stories More Similar Than You Expect
Junji Ito gave away some of the most interesting twists of the book in his foreword, so I’ll clarify it here. Betwixt, upon review, is a book you can read left-to-right and right-to-left, where their respective cultural collections end in the middle. The result of this innovative experiment is a clever collection of stories more similar than you expect.
Even though art styles differ drastically such as in ‘Never Left’, by Michael Conrad and Becky Cloonan and ‘The Window’ by Shima Shinya, there are common elements, namely the different ways in which they stare into the abyss. Sometimes you find a murderous doppelganger, while other times, you find something that’s somehow more ominous, uncanny, and deeply terrifying just wanting to stare right back at you. It also becomes interesting when you find out this group of authors has worked on great Western fandoms like the Batgirls / Wonder Woman series, and Star Wars series respectively.
A Book That Ends in the Middle: Does the Novelty Wear Off?
I’m not a huge fan of gimmicks in my reading, finding things like ‘choose your adventure’ to be hokey and oftentimes sloppy. With Betwixt, while it largely only converges on the innermost stories in a meaningful way, it makes for a fun way to read and to feel like you’ve completed it twice.
Its presentation is meant to feel like a literary palindrome, but it feels almost more like a mix of jumbled outer layers that lead to the same eerie, dread-soaked center. The novelty doesn’t wear off entirely because it’s a collection of short stories, but at times it can be easily forgotten. But it’s also an excellent way to encourage collaboration between Western artists and their traditional left-to-right formatting, with creators following a more Japanese-style manga layout. It eliminates compromise and creates something unique in and of itself, a cultural collab that sits decently on your shelf.
The Best Stories Are in the Middle
Appropriately, the best is saved for the last when you read its recommended front and back ends to the middle. ‘The Window’ is an interesting, creepy amalgam of urban legends involving staring into the abyss, letting your imagination get the better of you. ‘Shadow’ is a story where the abyss is the protagonist’s nightmares and guilt seemingly seep into reality. Part of the creepiest twists of that story is the idea that the story itself is aware of you seeking a devil or nightmarish twist, creeping into the darkness to give you a scare before the middle page shared with ‘The Window.’
While I’ll argue that the best stories are in the middle, you shouldn’t overlook many of the other fascinating tales. ‘Kamei’ was a surprisingly macabre bridge between the living and the dead that left me with a burning curiosity about why kappa like cucumbers. ‘Mirror, Mirror’ hit decently close to home, while ‘Film Ephemera’ felt the closest to a traditionally modern ghost story. They don’t always blow your mind, but many are loaded with style and leave a lasting impression.
Betwixt is a horror novelty experience for sure, but it has some pretty fun ideas and is a wonderful intersection of creative minds. The idea of horrors concealed in the abstract notion of ‘in-between’ as it’s presented in its varieties in this collection is a neat one, and the writer/artist duos ran with this prompt, even if it’s over all too quickly.
This review was made possible by VIZ Media, along with a complimentary copy of Betwixt, available physically and digitally as of October 10, 2023.
- This article was updated on October 30th, 2023