Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection is the latest collection of Ito horror stories to be translated into English from Viz Media. The book collects two series: Lovesickness and The Strange Hikizuri Siblings, plus three shorter stories: The Mansion of Phantom Pain, The Rib Woman and Memories of Real Poop, a mini-memoir.
Fans of Junji Ito will find plenty to love here, as the horror master delivers with both art and spooks -- especially with Lovesickness, the real draw of the book. However, aside from Ito's usual town-destroying, mounting terror shenanigans, the collection packs a real surprise: a genuinely funny comedy tucked away near the end.
Lovesickness, the collection's main story, is the main reason to pick up this book. One of Junji Ito's lesser-known stories (overseas, at least), it has all the hallmarks of some of his greatest hits, like Uzumaki and Remina. The series takes place in a town where the latest fad is "crossroads fortune-telling," where you stand at an intersection and ask the first passerby to tell your fortune. Things quickly escalate when a beautiful, black-clad boy begins appearing to girls at intersections and maliciously giving them bad fortunes. These girls become obsessed not only with fulfilling the boy's predictions -- to a self-destructive degree.
Caught in the middle of all this is Ryusuke Fukada, a young boy wracked with guilt over a woman's suicide that happened when he was six. Ryusuke believes that his giving her a bad fortune is what lead her to it, and so now he walks the crossroads, giving out good predictions as part of an obsession of his own. Not helping matters is the fact that the woman was the beloved aunt of his crush, Midori.
Lovesickness has all the hallmarks of a classic Junji Ito story: an ominous town, an escalation of creepiness, an uneasy hero and a cataclysmic ending. Like Uzumaki and others before it, the characters of Lovesickness are compelled to obsession in ways beyond their control, over both the fortunes they are given and the entity that gave them. The result is a steadily-paced, anxious story about celebrity and the unwarranted influence given to those who have it. But, more interestingly, Lovesickness also posits that the cycle of celebrity is an otherworldly one that can come for anyone, for any reason -- and it never ends well. It's not the direction you'd expect from a story that starts off with fortune-telling, but the way it plays out is well-tread ground for Ito.
The next series, The Strange Hikizuri Siblings, follows a creepy family of siblings as they walk all over their would-be friends and each other. The dark, but lighthearted stories are a decent break before the bleak Mansion of Phantom Pain, where a man takes a job with a rich family to "manage the pain" of their son, and the somewhat basic Rib Woman, which is essentially a monster story. Of the latter two, Mansion gets off to the strongest start -- telling the tale of a pain that spreads and numbs and traps -- but doesn't quite stick the landing with its ending.
The biggest surprise of Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection, though, is -- seriously -- Memories of Real Poop. It feels strange to say that, in a collection of stories warning about the dangers of celebrity and obsession and musing on the toxic infectiousness of pain and unexpressed feelings that the second-best story is one about...poop. The story follows a young Ito as he makes an amazing discovery at a Fall festival: a booth selling hyper-realistic poop.
Though Memories is comparatively less absurd than the likes of Lovesickness, it still feels pretty ridiculous -- but it's honestly the most fun part of the whole book. Ito's struggles with whether and how to buy the poop are both funny and understandable, and the way his art captures the Autumn atmosphere in just a few panels is a level of mastery just slightly out of place in this poop story. Memories manages to keep Ito's typical tone without having much of his typical darkness -- it's just great.
Junji Ito fans will know exactly what to expect from Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection: good, strong horror. In terms of Ito, it doesn't really break new ground or hold anything particularly iconic, but it's hard to recommend skipping it entirely, especially if you've never read an Ito story before. Lovesickness is one of those books that's great to read, but not exactly great enough to own if you're not an Ito completionist. If you get the chance, maybe check it out from your local library, but otherwise, just know that Lovesickness is more of that Ito horror goodness his fans know and love.