Solomon E Explores the Gruesome Side of Growth, Courtesy of Junji Ito’s “Neck Specter”

Greetings peasants!

Solomon G may relish the pleasures found in various expansions of the human form, but today we’ll take a different perspective on such growth. This post will focus on the body horror which would very likely accompany a period of exceedingly rapid, unnatural development. We may even find an increase in size which death itself was powerless to stop!

To being with, we’ll briefly discuss the creator of today’s story, a 58-year old Japanese man named Junji Ito (伊藤 潤二). He first started creating manga while working as a dental technician. (For truly, what could be a more appropriate setting to develop a taste for irrational fear than a dentist’s office? 😉 )

Ito at Lucca Comics & Games 2018. Photo taken by Niccolò Caranti and published under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

In the decades since his first work “Tomie” was released in 1987, Ito went on to produce many other scary stories like “Gyo,” “Remina,” and “Spiral.” In the process a few of those, such as Gyo, Spiral (うずまき or Uzumaki in Japanese), and Tomie, were adapted into anime or live-action films. Additionally, Ito’s likeness was the basis for “The Engineer” in the 2019 video game “Death Stranding.”

Furthermore, Ito won Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards (commonly shortened to just Eisner Awards) as Best Writer/Artist for “Remina” in 2021 and Best Adaptation from Another Medium for “Frankenstein” in 2019. (SIDE NOTE: Ito also penned a semi-autobiographical cat-focused manga called “Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu.”)

Ito is a master of body horror, but his tales are often left unresolved and those wanting happy endings should look elsewhere. Personally, I suggest horror fans who live near the ocean read Ito’s “The Thing That Drifted Ashore.” It features a sea monster and its victims who suffer a fate worse than death.

The concept may resonate in particular with those who spent a summer during their teenage years working as a commercial salmon fisherman off the coast of Alaska, living for long periods on a seine boat floating over dark waters. Periodically, large cold-water jellyfish, such as lion’s mane jellyfish, would be caught in his net and squids would occasionally also become entangled. The unanticipated appearance of those creatures caused that young fisherman to wonder what other unseen mysteries dwelt directly underneath his small vessel.

Image taken from The Thing That Drifted Ashore.

However, let’s now examine “Neck Specter.” This short tale is part of the “Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection.” This anthology has been translated into several European languages such as English, Italian, and Spanish. Right off the bat, know that this book is great!

The plot of Neck Specter is centered on a high school boy, named Oshikiri, who jealously killed his best friend Nakajima. Nakajima was previously short and small, like Oshikiri, but then Nakajima began to grow. Nakajima became significantly taller, over five feet ten inches in height. This impressive stature brought him attention from girls in their high school, including a mutual friend named Hotta.

After strangling his friend, Oshikiri begins to see unreal things, presumably caused by his guilt. In this aspect, Neck Specter reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The narrator in Poe’s story imagined that the heart of their victim was still beating, even after death. Believing that everyone else must also hear the loud thumping, the character eventually confesses to the crime. However, readers learn that the heartbeats are likely only in the narrator’s head, and the killer could have escaped punishment if not for the audio hallucination.

Perhaps this was inspired by Rokurokubi yokai? Click here for the Wikipedia article on those long-necked spirits.

Similar to the narrator in The Tell-Tale Heart, Oshikiri also experiences hallucinations. In his case he sees people with super-long necks and other elongated limbs.

Eventually, he cannot bear to carry his dark secret any longer! Thus, Oshikiri spills the beans:

However, it is during the conclusion that the story diverges from The Tell-Tale Heart. Unlike Poe’s story, there is clearly a supernatural aspect as the detectives do uncover the body, but what they find shocks them!

This was an enjoyable tale and should be sought out by those who enjoy the macabre. The setting was a familiar environment because most people have experienced public schooling. Additionally, while Oshikiri’s reaction to his friend’s growth spurt was monstrous and beyond the pale, it nonetheless reflected feelings we have all experienced when a peer suddenly advanced and left us behind. Thus, the supernatural events were more impactful given that they happened within familiar situations.

Overall, I give Junji Ito’s Neck Specter five spiral faces out of five! I recommend it to those who can stomach the thought of growth gone wrong.

The Frankenstein: Junji Ito Story Collection, as previously stated, is strongly recommended. Neck Specter was not the only story in that anthology to show height increase gone awry, as is evident in the following images taken from “The Strange Tale of Oshikiri.” (NOTE: Many, but not all, of the anthology’s short stories involved Oshikiri, but several of those characters were from alternate dimensions and thus were not the same person. Also, there’s no proper ending for Oshikiri’s narrative. The anthology merely switches to other unrelated tales.)

That’s it for now. No more Halloween reviews this year. However, while the reviews may have concluded there will still be a little something special shared during All Hallows’ Eve. Until then, don’t forget to keep screaming!

This review is protected under Fair Use copyright law.

All Rights Reserved.

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