It’s been an interesting year for fans of Junji Ito. 2023 will be bookended by animated adaptations of the famed horror master’s work; it started with Netflix’s anthology in January, while Adult Swim’s take on Uzumaki is expected by the end of the year. And right in the middle is a new collection of his work in English with Mimi’s Tales of Terror. It’s a series of short stories inspired by urban legends — just the thing for dark, cold October nights.
The book is actually an adaptation itself, taking nine stories from Shin Mimibukuro — a collection of Japanese urban legends written by Hirokatsu Kihara and Ichiro Nakayama — and turning them into Ito’s particular brand of horror manga. They follow the story of a university student named Mimi who, for reasons that are never really made clear, keeps getting caught up in all kinds of supernatural shenanigans.
It starts out very simple: Mimi is driving down the street and sees something weird on a utility pole, and then, the phantom vanishes. That’s it. The opening tale is only four pages long, but it sets the tone for the rest of the book. Like a lot of Ito’s work, Mimi’s Tales of Terror is about the blurry lines between life and death and witnessing the ways the dead are able to slip through the cracks into our modern world.
That can manifest itself in a surprising number of ways here. There’s a red dot in a hidden room that has a disturbing kind of hunger to it and tombstones that seem to turn themselves around each night. At one point, the mystery is why a little girl’s face keeps getting dirty. Each story starts out normal enough — a trip to the beach with friends, say, or Mimi heading back home to visit her family — but very quickly, someone or something starts to lose their mind when confronted with terrors from the other side. The collection even introduces one of Ito’s most terrifying monsters yet: a next-door neighbor (or possibly neighbors) with extendable, mechanical limbs. If that thing chased me in a video game, I would have to put down the controller and walk away.
What makes it all work, as ever, is Ito’s meticulous style. His urban landscapes are so precise and detailed that it really makes the otherworldly horrors pop out, adding to the scares. And Mimi’s Tales of Terror is a great chance for him to flex those muscles in different directions, with everything from crazed bodybuilders to long-limbed, ethereal ghosts. One of the scares is literally just a shadow — and yet, it might be the most startling part of the collection because it’s so relatable.
This English reissue adds one new story that doesn’t feature Mimi as well as a delightful illustrated afterword from Ito in which he talks about how he changed and expanded on the source material. “When I think about it now, I realize this was the height of rudeness to Kihara and Nakayama,” he writes. “I basically did whatever I wanted. I am profoundly grateful to both authors for being so kind as to allow me that freedom.”
I, for one, am grateful as well because it’s Ito’s horrifying imagination that has always made his work stand out. And in a year full of adaptations, it’s nice to be reminded how much scarier it is on the page.