A.I

Junji Ito thinks the world has gotten scarier, but not as scary as his manga

Less than a day after adding two more Eisners to his gallery of awards — Best Writer/Artist and Best US Edition of International Material: Asia — iconic horror mangaka Junji Ito was back at San Diego Comic-Con. In a pre-taped Q&A with Viz Media marketing manager, Urian Brown, Ito chatted about his latest work, the cosmic horror comic Sensor, coming Aug. 17 from Viz’s Signature imprint.

The new book, Ito explained, was inspired by his childhood fascination with UFOs. “When I was reading a book on UFOs, there was a thing called angel hair and there was an accompanying photo. It’s a phenomenon where a bundle of golden hair rains down from the sky. The theory was that it was dropped by a UFO and I thought it was interesting. It appears the real identity of angel hair is Pele’s hair, which occurs when a volcano erupts and the lava in the air cools rapidly and solidifies into a hair-like substance and rains down. So I wanted to create a manga based on that, including the volcano, and that’s where it started.”

Brown pointed out that one of Sensor’s characters, Yukio Kurodera, believes he has discovered life’s purpose. “Do you agree with his conclusion?” he asked Ito. “If not, what do you think the purpose of life is?”

“I can say his viewpoint is mine,” Ito replied. “But as to whether it’s right or not, well, I don’t think it’s right, but I thought it was an interesting take, so let’s just say it’s my viewpoint. It started when I was younger and watching TV. Someone on the program said life is, for instance, being moved by seeing a pretty sunset at dusk and thinking, ‘Oh, that’s pretty. Isn’t that the point of life?’ I heard that and thought, ‘That’s an interesting thought,’ so I developed that in my way and came up with this.”

When Brown dryly pointed out that this was somewhat ironic given Ito’s long history scary, frightening images (the legged fish of Gyo, the haunting spirals of Uzumaki and the singular horror icon that is Tomie), Ito countered with his belief that “[Sensor] may be a story that brings hope.”

Things got a little more on brand when Brown, pointing out that there’s a chapter involving a broken mirror and the traditional “seven years bad luck” superstition surrounding that, asked if Ito believes in any superstitions.

“I don’t believe in superstitions now,” Ito replied, “but when I was little, I was a very superstitious child […] For instance, in the morning, there’s a food called ‘ochazuke.’ You pour tea on your rice and eat it. If I ate ochazuke in the morning and went to school, I would always get in trouble with the teacher. I believed I was jinxed like that. And also when I was little, I was oddly obsessed with the number three. If I was walking in the classroom or the highway, if I didn’t see something that was grouped in three, I felt like it was bad luck.”

A panel from Sensor.
Image: Junji Ito/Viz Media

“Why did you think eating a certain food would make your teacher mad at you?” Brown asked. “I didn’t eat ochazuke very often in the morning,” Ito replied, “and it just happened that the morning I did, I got in trouble with my teacher. That happened once and it turned into a jinx.”

When Brown asked if he was worried the world has become so scary that it’s hard for his manga to compete, Ito responded “Yes, there have been some horrible incidents lately that make me think real life is scarier than manga. But my manga is far removed from reality and many of them couldn’t happen in real life. So I don’t think it really competes with reality. But eventually, if science develops to a point where we enter a period where things begin to happen that you couldn’t imagine, then I have wondered if that’s maybe the end of my manga. But I hope such a day will not come.”

Finally, Brown closed by reminding Ito that he’d asked him at last year’s panel if he preferred Freddy or Jason (Ito said Freddy because of his claws) and followed that up by asking who he preferred: Michael Myers or Leatherface. Ito, ruefully admitting that he hasn’t seen Halloween (although he likes John Carpenter’s films a lot), went with Leatherface.

When asked if he had a message for his fans before the panel’s end, Ito responded, “I’m sure with no end in sight for the coronavirus, everyone is having a hard time. I may have said something similar last year, but I hope for a speedy end to the coronavirus and I look forward to seeing everyone in person. I’m a little short on ideas for manga at the moment, but I’m squeezing it out and working. I look forward to the day I can share it with everyone.”

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