Deserter is a collection of Junji Ito horror stories, told in manga form. Both art and writing are by Ito. Originally published in 2011 as Ito Junji Kessakushu 5: Dassouhei no iru ie. The 2021 English translation is by Jocelyn Allen.
I’m not crazy about Ito’s art, but even at its most awkward, it suits his relentlessly grim narratives.
If internet scuttlebutt is to be believed, Ito is in some ways the mirror image of Hayao Miyazaki. Where Miyazaki responds to his discontent with the state of the real world by devising ambiguously cheerful, numinous fictional worlds, Ito appears to be a pretty cheerful guy who provides his audience with unpleasant stories about people whose lives go very, very wrong. Probably best not to think about how Spirited Awaywould have played out with Ito as the writer.
This particular assortment of Ito works is a hefty tome, clocking in at 391 pages. Contained within are a dozen stories, none of which end happily. No matter how bad your day is, you are almost certainly having more fun than any given Ito protagonist … unless it happens that someone recently stole your face, delivered a lethally convincing argument, or telepathically induced you to commit suicide. That said, the collection isn’t repetitive: it turns out there are a lot of ways in which things can go very wrong.
If readers are new to Ito and their lives too full of joy, this would an excellent first exposure to Ito’s work.
In the interest of limiting word count I will try to keep story descriptions short.
A young gourmet is treated to a meal of unspeakable horror.
A face-copying monster haunts a school under what turns out to be the extremely incorrect assumption that there is nothing the students can do to end her activities.
“Where the Sandman Lives”
A young woman’s attempt to defend a friend against his inner demons ends very badly.
“The Devil’s Logic”
A voyeur struggles to understand why a fellow student, happy just hours before, killed herself. Unfortunately for him, he finds out.
“The Long Hair in the Attic”
A schoolgirl’s heartbroken decision to cut her hair yields horrific results.
Wooing and then abandoning woman after woman, a relentless Lothario discovers to his astonishment that he can easily be replaced.
“The Reanimator’s Sword”
A young man discovers his potential to bring the dead back to life, a gift he regards with good reason as an abomination.
“A Father’s Love”
A domineering father takes close interest in the lives of his inexplicably short-lived children.
Venturing into a secretive sect’s domain, hikers receive an unforgettable education.
“Village of the Siren”
Abandoned by its young, a village finds salvation in ancient knowledge.
A boy’s tormentor is astonished when as an adult her former victim woos her. However, the romance is not the happy ending she believed it would be.
A family and their friends go to enormous lengths to conceal (from a deserter they are hiding) that WWII ended ten years earlier. They do not suspect the deserter is concealing a secret of his own.