Frankenstein has always been one of my favourite stories of any medium - I know, kind of ironic considering, I still haven't finished the original book by Mary Shelley.
Then again, just like the titular character, who wouldn't have things some other person's or force's way, I saw the films, read and researched on things and somehow patched together a plot summary of my own over the years. The general idea of the story was always really compelling to me: a man wanting to surpass god, as well as the sympathetic attempts of the monster, who was shunned out of society for being different always
spoke to me on a personal level, so the first moment I noticed on Book Depository, that an english translation of Junji Ito's Frankenstein manga was available, I immediately grabbed my credit card and ordered it.
So what's there to say about Ito's Frankenstein?
Well for starters it's Frankenstein alright. Ito took minimal freedom in re-telling the Frankenstein story. You can go step by step through the Wikipedia article on Shelley's Frankenstein and it'll match up 90% of the time.
If you're not familiar with the classic novel, the story is about Victor Frankenstein, who inspired by alchemy throughout his childhood sets out to create life, where there is none. Blinded by ambition, he eventually finds himself succeeding, but creating a creature too repulsive to let out walking in the sunlight alone. The story, that's often considered a horror classic, ultimately diverts into a double character-drama; one, who is guilt-tripping over the pandora's box he just opnened and another, who being the content of said box, is struggling to find his place in a world, that clearly doesn't welcome him.
Like I said, the story mostly aligns with the original Shelley novel, however diverts in some places. Most notably the climax; Ito seemingly took more inspiration from the 1932's Bride of Frankenstein movie rather than the source material. Thinking things through I doubt, that effectively benefited the story or characters, but it doesn't really ruin them or take the overall narrative in a different direction.
Given those minor changes and probably some details the artist couldn't bring onto just 200 pages of comic panels, Ito still does a pretty good job at adapting the story. The story is still coherent and the two lead characters are pretty decently presented - even if I do find, there was a bit of that lacking.
Artwork was good, but I did feel like the author was page-limited to a degree, where panels just weren't placed as strategically as they could be. Take the first facial reveal of the monster we see. The art is good, but the full reveal is on an uneven page number. You turn the page and get this build-up of the monster getting up, but the suspense gets lost, when the facial reveal is right there to the right. In the manga's defense, I'm not sure whether this is just a flaw of the edition I bought or whether it was in every printing of the manga.
Another thing on the artwork. Every panel with the monster looks pretty detailed and good, but it is giving me vibes, that Ito's interpretation of the monster is cosmetically very derivative of his otherwise recurring Fashion Model character of his short stories.
So to summarize: it's a fine book and I'm sure glad Ito had interest in re-adapting a favourite story of mine into a different medium. It's faithful to the source material, so if you're only familiar with the general idea of Frankenstein, but want to know the original story and are not much of a novel reader and more into manga/comics than this is quite the recommendation for you. On the other hand Ito doesn't do much to make the story his own, even the schocker artwork is mostly derivative of his other work, so he isn't pushing himself to new levels with this book either. It's a good read, but there are probably better ways to experience Frankenstein and Ito.
Frankenstein was one of the first books I ever tried reading. So, picture a young turtle in Second grade trying to read a horrific and philosophical narrative (let alone reading it in the car out loud. I remember this memory very vividly!) Suffice to say, I only remember THAT memory of Frankenstein and not much else. That said, I have such a strange affinity for this sort of horror, the 'ancient' tech of the 1700's. The idea of anyone being able to revive a body is so otherworldly to think about when we live in a world where tech seems so advanced, yet even now
we struggle to comprehend the idea of life and how it's created. So, that ever-pervasive question paired with the elements of horror within Frankenstein make for an interesting story. But, is it told well?
I think so. I think Junji Ito does a great job of telling Frankenstein in manga form, and I would say that his vision of Frankenstein's monster is now my go-to for the standard look, despite the classic Boris Karloff look being so iconic, so intimidating, and just downright petrifying. I'd say these are both neck and neck, where Boris Karloff brings out the overpowering nature and fear of creating something so strong, so powerful that even the creator himself cannot stop it from wreaking havoc. Meanwhile, Ito shows off the disgusting nature of reviving a dead body built from multiple corpses. And, while there's always potential for translation to fall short, I felt the dialogue helped in creating an incredible tension between creature and creator in Ito's Frankenstein.
But, as a horror, is this narrative scary? I don't think it's scary in the sense that I was afraid to turn the page, but the very narrative itself is grotesque, horrid, and downright grimy. The setting, the subject matter, the existential conflict, everything is set so well. Of course, that's not Ito's doing, that's Mary Shelley's doing, but Ito does a fantastic job translating her narrative to manga form. Any fan of his work, or fan of Frankenstein, should definitely check this out.
As Ito grows, so does his artwork. The level of detail here is as disgusting as it is mesmerizing. His distinct character design paired with brilliant 'animation' adds for an immersive read, and I can't stress that enough. He has a tasteful way of making the most horrid things seem pleasing, even appetizing, I daresay. It's crazy. The guys crazy.
Really great characters, although I feel this is the weakest part. Since this is only one volume, things move really fast. If there was slightly better pacing in character motives and stuff, I think I would have enjoyed this a little more, but I still feel things go about as well as they could have. Still great, nonetheless.
Super enjoyable. Just a fun story, no matter how it's told. I can see why this story has held so long, it translates mediums so well. Near flawless. Although, I'm sure that also has to do with who adapts it, and this particular adaption is very good.
As for the other 2 chapters, very short, and they show off the artistic talent of Ito as both a horror mangaka and comedian. Don't pass up anything in this volume.
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