Junji Ito is such a gifted creator that even when he disappoints, the work can still make you gasp, tremble, shudder, and brood.
Take the world of Gyo Vol 2, where germs and worse are loose. Bloated, boil-covered human carcasses scuttle across a ruined Tokyo on the back of spider-like gurneys, their endlessly gassy bodies powering these machines via tubes shoved down (and up!) their orifices. Empty vessels seek out new "batteries," as one character calls them, snapping shut on them like Venus flytraps. This is one of the most savage visions of dehumanization anywhere in comics, and later scenes in Gyo pile on apocalyptic dread.
Although astonishing images pop up regularly, the story feels somewhat padded. Unusual for Ito, he meanders through a lackluster set-piece or two. I was more disappointed, though, by the intrusion of campy supernaturalism that edged out the intriguing backstory from Vol 1. The plot usually recovers. But Gyo isn't in the same class as the near-perfect Uzumaki.
That said, who is doing work in manga or comics to rival this? Ito is one of the most compelling horror storytellers alive. His stories feel of this moment in the 21st century, grounded in our time and refreshingly freed from the banal subjects and tired conventions that make much current Western work (for the page or the screen) so clunky and predictable. The Lovecraft influence is there, deeply and beautifully, yet it is a trace element in something new--a fresh alchemy of the terrible and disturbing.
The high point in this volume, by the way, isn't Gyo. It's the short story, "The Enigma of the Amigara Fault," a 30-page claustrophobic masterpiece which shows the master at his best: his horror sweeps over you like nausea, and forces you to turn the page just to breathe.