Manga Review: Junji Ito’s “Frankenstein” (Festival of Dread Special)
Welcome back to The Splintering‘s Festival of Dread, our celebration of all things monstrous and macabre!
Today we’re going to take a look at Mary Shelley’s classic horror tale Frankenstein as retold by celebrated manga creator, Junji Ito.
Originally published in 2013, Junji Ito’s Frankenstein includes not just an illustrated retelling of the classic tale, but it includes several backup stories, as well. Most of these center around a young boy named Oshikiri who lives alone in a mysterious home. But let us not anticipate! Top billing goes to Frankenstein, and that is precisely where we shall begin.
For those who may not be familiar with Frankenstein, the story follows a young scientist named Victor Frankenstein wh successfully uses science to bridge the gap between life and death. Unfortunately, his reanimated creation proves to be violent, unpredictable and vindictive, and he wreaks deadly havoc across Europe, all the while tormenting his creator with threats and demands. The chain of events sets both creator and creation on a collision course that ends in tragedy for both, and leaves the reader questioning nature, science, and what it is that truly makes a monster.
Ito opted to adapt the novel fairly faithfully, but he’s also made a few changes along the way. If I were to roughly estimate, I’d guess about 75% of the major story beats Shelley’s original have survived intact, with the rest of the pieces being stitched together by Ito. The result may disappoint purists, and it also may not be different enough for those hoping for a wholly unique take, but one thing is for sure: if you read the manga version instead of the novel before taking a high school quiz, you’ll probably fail it.
Despite the changes, the Frankenstein story remains as gripping and haunting as ever. Like the novel, the manga moves along very briskly, resulting in an exciting and engaging page-turner that I very much enjoyed. However, as mentioned above, there is quite a bit of additional content in the remaining pages of the book…
Aside from Frankenstein, there are ten short stories that follow, and while they may not be the “headliner,” they really steal the show. Among these are The Strange Tale of Oshikiri, six stories which follows a high school student living by himself in a large house that seems to be connected to multiple, horrific worlds. The barriers between these dimensions break down from time to time, allowing all manner of reflections to cross over, and the results are freakishly awesome.
Another standout story is The Hell of the Doll Funeral, which shows how a mother and father are forced to react as their daughter is slowly taken away from them. This is a particularly gut-wrenching tale if you are a parent of young kids, as I am. Fortunately, the whole package ends with two lighthearted short stories featuring “Boss Non-Non,” Ito’s once-upon-a-time, real-world pet dog. While very quick reads, these Non-Non shorts are welcome palate cleansers, particularly if you have spent extended amounts of uninterrupted time with the book’s other stories.
Despite discussing the variety of narratives, we’ve yet to examine the artwork in Frankenstein. Ito is a noted master of chiaroscuro, and Frankenstein is no exception, as the images attached to this review will attest. On many pages, his obsessively detailed use of blacks is nothing short of astonishing, and he wields his brush like a tactical, targeted weapon, destroying the reader’s sense of comfort with every strike and stroke. From a storytelling standpoint, the artwork flows well and is appropriately gruesome when it’s called for, which is pretty often.
Overall, the entire Frankenstein package is a no-brainer for horror aficionados. There may be some question about whether the main Frankenstein story is different enough to justify its existence, but the excellent backup stories more than make up for that shortfall, if it is indeed a shortfall at all. And at $22.99 for a 400-page hardcover edition? Like I said: no-brainer. Highly recommended.
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