Here’s a full disclaimer, I am both a fan of and a critic of Japanese media. I love Kurosawa, Toho is my lifeblood, I enjoy samurai and ninja in books, comics and movies. But at the same time, I mostly strongly dislike anime and most jrpgs. Manga is always a mixed bag. I’ve had an easier time finding horror and cool things I like in Manga form, though a lot of what I have enjoyed actually came out of Korea. So understand that there are aspects of Japanese media and culture that I love and fanboy out over, and aspects that I just straight up cannot stand.
Junji Ito’s Smashed straddles the line between the two things fantastically. I picked it up because I had just finished the PS4 game Ghost of Tsushima. I wanted more samurai stuff, I wanted Kurosawa. I wanted samurai, but I also wanted it to be frightening, I wanted horror and weird fiction to creep into my gritty samurai shit. Most of what I found was American made, which didn’t interest me at all, until a certain publisher approached me, but I’ll save that for next week…
I bought Smashed on Halloween and began reading. The first thing I have to state, emphatically, is that there is a beautiful display of different cultural ideals here. Some of these stories were extremely lame to me. They had no bite, they had no fear or interesting build-up. They had no tension. Other stories were fantastically horrifying. But you had to understand how they wove in and out of Japanese culture and the Japanese understanding of fear and creepiness.
At the end of the day, I have to recommend Smashed, not because it was particularly amazing, it wasn’t. But because the stories grow on you. At first glance they may seem boring or devoid of creepiness. But they evoke a fantastic otherness, a normalizing of supernatural elements that seep into your mind and make you realize that these small terrors are in the end, the things that creep you out.