I’ve mentioned before how much I love a good spine-tingling tale. I have to say, though, few stories have as tight a grip on the macabre and the uncomfortable as Junji Ito, for whom the ordinary is only fodder for nightmares. I got my introduction to the manga writer through Uzumaki and have shuddered every time I’ve seen a snail since.
Naturally, his latest, Sensor, went straight on the TBR. Now that I’ve finally read it, I can say I’ll never look at a traffic mirror the same way again. Which is weird, because the traffic mirror plays such a short, though memorable, part in this unsettling set of tales.
Sensor begins with a lone traveler, Kyoko, passing through the strange town beneath Mount Sengoku, a volcano known for spouting out a golden version of volcanic hair. Although she didn’t intend to stay long in the town, the residents have been expecting her and consider her a fulfillment of a prophecy. The golden “angel hair” gives them a psychic connection to something greater, they tell her, and her coming was foretold in that bright source of knowledge. Kyoko resists, but you can’t fight fate. When the volcano erupts again, the town is destroyed—but years later, she emerges from a cocoon of angel hair, still youthful and now bearing an entire head of golden angel hair. But her memory is gone.
A journalist, Wataru, notices a strange black cloud, and eventually traces it back to the place the town once stood. As he travels there, he crosses paths with a strange young woman with shining golden hair. This chance encounter is the start of a fixation with Wataru as he tries to find, lose, and find again the changed Kyoko. His dogged searching for her takes him to cults, cliffsides, and accidentally back into the arms of his old stalker. As he travels, he finds others who have also been touched by Kyoko in one way or another. So many people searching for the girl with golden hair. So many people willing to go to extreme lengths to find her.
Ito plays with the idea of fixation and obsession a lot in his work, and Sensor is no exception. So, too, does he work in the sort of conspiracy or eldrich-like mass misbehavior present in many of his past books. There are real shades of Uzumaki and Lovesickness here, and others. Rather than feel derivative of his own work, it feels like a particular flavor that is a Junji Ito story. You would not expect cherry-flavored Starbursts to not taste like fake cherry; why would you assume strange and disturbing things wouldn’t happen in a Junji Ito manga? The other elements of the stories are fresh enough to keep those pages a-turning.
There’s not so much else to say without giving away the whole story, and most of the fun is seeing it unfold with those eerie, eerie pictures. (Side note: I’ve also developed a fear of my tongue swelling.) (The tongue swelling isn’t done in a vacuum and it’s not the end-all; the real fear is turning into an enormous neuron creature.) It’s a strange journey, but one worth taking.
One very important note: one of these chapters deals extensively with suicide, suicidal ideation, and blame/guilt for suicide. There’s an ongoing debate in the publishing community about whether to put content warnings or labels on books; I’m not sure what the right answer is about that, but Sensor is pretty explicit in suicide in that chapter, so heads up if you’re interested but triggered about that.