Junji Ito is a name that commands reverence from horror and manga fans alike. His art style is disturbing, and detailed, conveying a potent contrast between the dull ordinary folks and those twisted by the mechanisms of their given story’s plot. Sometimes this can result in revolting, intensely detailed body horror visuals; other times, it manifests in deranged featured characters, teetering on the abyss. In the case of Soichi by Junji Ito (with a complimentary copy courtesy of VIZ Media), we’re introduced to the darkly comedic antics of the horrible titular child in my review.
A Happy Horror Vacation
Junji Ito has produced a lot of work featuring twisted visuals and/or mutilated bodies, but Soichi primarily focuses on Soichi Tsuji, one of his most iconic characters featured in this review. The imagery in these stories is decidedly tamer than other works such as Whispering Woman or Uzumaki, resulting in a happy horror vacation from the usual stomach-churning visuals. Instead, we’re treated to a series of short stories characterizing a young boy whose antics and quirks do the work to make your skin crawl.
Soichi is an unrepentant, self-centered, and spoiled child but with a twist: he has a knack for the occult and a penchant for sucking on nails. His reputation for the latter precedes him to the point of it being a way to address an iron deficiency, but when confronted about it, he misdirects them and claims he needs to suck human blood for that, instead.
When anybody crosses Soichi, no matter how petty the offense, he will curse them, although with the occasional backfire. If not for the ironic twists where his schemes fail, he’d seemingly be content with traumatizing or outright killing people. But it never quite goes that far here.
Soichi’s Many Petty Curses
Soichi’s stock and trade are in curses, often using Japanese occult techniques making him the worst Onmyōji candidate ever. Did you correct his spelling? That’s a curse. You suspect (correctly) that he’s replacing your faculty with full-sized cloth doll replicas that shoot nails? You better believe that’s a curse too. He’s perfectly content with causing you to hallucinate a giant spider trapping you, helplessly, and he’s quite good at it, too.
The Shoichi collection features 10 short stories that showcase his twisted priorities and intense self-centeredness. Characters around him including his siblings often resent how much he gets away with what he does, but the way Soichi sees it, people still get in his way. Any time his schemes are interfered with or thwarted, it’s an affront to what he believes to be ordained, and they must be humiliated in turn. His selfish desires even result in manipulating his family to dangerous extremes, resulting in the most compelling, disturbing story in the entire collection:
Coffin: A Horrifying Showcase of Soichi’s Worst Qualities (Spoilers Ahead)
Along with Soichi’s many projects where he curses others and hammers dolls to trees in the woods, he also has admittedly silly lifelong desires. One such desire is for a coffin like the ones where vampires slept, something he admired while watching foreign films. Soichi’s grandfather was able to build coffins and heard Soichi out on this dream, and was happy to make one for him in a strangely macabre-yet-wholesome moment. Grandpa was just trying to make his grandson happy.
But a combined disjointed narrative and continuous dark turns make this story a more twisted affair than the others in this collection. The story starts with them mourning said grandfather’s loss and Soichi being uncharacteristically devastated. But this is deceptive: Soichi was manipulative and laughed at his grandfather’s constant failures to make the right coffin, and when he ultimately passed away, Soichi saw this as a loss of his chance to get his dream coffin. But what he does next is more impressive and horrible than any other curse of his.
He brings him back to life, specifically to keep building coffins. It’s here you see a dramatic shift in how the grandfather is drawn to render an eerie undead visage and the mood shifts. People are shocked to see him. He is seemingly impossible to cremate and even shows up at his funeral, stuck in a loop of rising from his resting place to build coffins for Soichi until he gets it right.
But Soichi is never satisfied. It’s despicable and perfectly on-brand with his level of selfishness and a great showpiece for the book.
Curses and Occult Horror Make the Ordinary Seem Dull
One of the great strengths of this collection by Junji Ito is in how it renders ordinary characters. They’re too ordinary, and boring, even, without any discernible features to help them stand out, and that’s the point. It’s when these characters are either pushed up to the abyss or swapped out with Soichi’s creepy doll clones, that we see them twisted beyond belief and Ito’s greatest strengths.
It’s especially nice seeing them in black-and-white, seeing the shading and line weight add depth and personality to these characters. Soichi has beady little eyes, and messy hair, and is drawn to behave in a way that makes you go “What if Gollum was a childish schoolboy who knew a bit too much about black magic?” But it’s not just Soichi, as you see this with people he interacts with over a prolonged period, such as teachers, and even other Ito-verse characters like Tagaisu in Four-Layered Room. The eerie potential of Ito’s characters is immediate and clear, especially in late cases like Rumors.
Soichi, upon review, is an excellent showcase of Junji Ito short stories that flesh out the titular main character and is a potent reminder that excessive gore is not the only horror form out there. You can be repulsed by a character’s personality and actions just as much as you can by a 2-page body horror spread. It also doesn’t hurt that the physical copy is a beautiful hardcover featuring Ito’s artwork that’d make a fine addition to any horror fan’s collection.
But it’s also an excellent showcase of purposeful visual detail and strong writing. It’s a great way to introduce newcomers to the Ito-verse, and especially at the end, it can promise even more intense thrills and chills in his other collections. Having just gotten back from a Junji Ito exhibit showcasing the broad, macabre variety of his work, and even meeting him in person at that event, this is the tip of the iceberg, and there’s plenty more to enjoy from his brilliant mind.
This review was made possible by VIZ Media, along with a complimentary copy of Soichi, available physically and digitally as of July 25, 2023, either online or via your local retailer.
- This article was updated on September 7th, 2023