Authors We Love: Junji Itō

American horror typically depicts a psycho lurking around in a motel, zombies brought back from the dead, or clowns eating frightened children. Junji Itō has shaped the way viewers define horror forever, bringing stories to life by drawings made from ink and paper. Unlike American horror, he illustrates supernatural events such as mysterious spirals, blood-sucking vampire bats, and much more.

Born on July 31st, 1963 in Nakatsugawa, Gifu, Japan, Junji Itō developed his love for horror at a young age. His older sisters would read him Kazuo Umezu and Shinichi Koga–famous horror manga authors during the 1960s–in Japanese magazines. Other authors such as Hideshi Hino, Yasutaka Tsutsui, Shinichi Koga, H. P. Lovecraft, and Edogawa Ranpo became major influences to his work as well.

Junji Itō’s career as a manga author began around the 1980s, when he won the Kazuo Umezu Prize after entering a short tale to Gekkan Halloween. The submission later turned into a Japanese horror manga series titled Tomie. Afterwards, he quit his previous job and pursued his hobby of writing and drawing as a full career.

Junji Itō’s works were popular in Japan, yet they only gained popularity in the United States late into his career. In 2019, Itō won an Eisner Award for his manga reinterpretation of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Known as the Academy Awards of the comic industry, Itō became one of few foreigners to receive an Eisner Award. This year, he was once again nominated for an Eisner Award under the category of “The Best Writer/Artist” for his horror comic Jigokusei Remina.

Most of Junji Itō’s creations portray a dark, impulsive universe filled with the worst traits in any human, specifically greed, jealousy, and irrationality. There are recurring themes of grotesque horror, inevitable consequences of one’s own actions, seemingly ordinary characters that gradually submit to compulsion, and settings that break down and collapse into a state which reflects our own society. As a result, all of his mangas portray the beauty and underlying horror in every story. Itō’s most popular manga is arguably Uzumaki, a three-volume novel that depicts the journey of a teenager, Kirie Goshima, who witnesses an ordinary town fall under a curse of spirals. Another famous novel is Smashed, consisting of multiple short stories such as addictive honey that flattens those who drink it, a valley of mirrors, and “earthbound” people. These novels may be the most well-known, but Itō has a variety of underrated books, series, and movies to choose from.

As a lover of horror, I’ve grown to admire Junji Itō’s novels for their distinctive illustrations and plots. They truly allow readers to feel more than just fear. The ties between Itō’s fictional and nonfictional factors truly brings out different emotions because it reflects our own world.

Junji Itō is still alive at the age of 57. Although he may not be publishing any novels in the near future, his history of twisted tales that connect our deepest unknown fears to real life truly proves he’s the master of horror.

-Natasha P.

The works of Junji Ito are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Manga Review: Erased by Kei Sanbe

Many of the popular manga we see nowadays center around action and fantasy. Such famous mangas still have amazing reads and obviously attract readers around the globe for a reason, but they fall short of meaning or depth in their plots. Yes, there’s a lengthy plot, lovable characters, and other factors that appeal to minds of all ages. But do these mangas also talk about the reality of our world? Do they bring heart-throbbing events where the main character can’t gain hope from a 30-minute monologue? I admit, Erased may not be the best book to those looking for a light-hearted novel, but it’s definitely worth reading and allows readers to see both the beauty and cruelty of our real world.

Erased is also referred to as Boku dake ga Inai Machi (僕だけがいない街), which is directly translated as “The Town Where Only I Am Missing.” Written by Kei Sanbe, the series is filled with thriller, mystery, and a bit of science fiction. The story entails of a young man named Satoru. He enables the ability to time-travel before a life-threatening event and prevent it from happening, also known as “Revival.” One night, his mother is murdered by an unknown killer; the pain-staking event sends Satoru eighteen years back into his childhood. After discovering that the murderer is tied to his past, Satoru is now given the opportunity to prevent his mother’s death by discovering who the murderer is, as well as solve the case of three missing children in his home town.

To be honest, there are moments where the plot doesn’t make sense—especially since the author never mentions why Satoru is able to time-travel. Regardless, the plot of the book series remains absolutely phenomenal; the author quickens the plot’s pace when necessary and fills it with extreme twists and events that leaves the audience filled with emotions. The characters themselves are either loved or despised, and every character reaches their fullest potential, regardless of being a hero or villain.

But I digress—what is most enjoyable about this book is its uniqueness and how meaningful the story is. Time-travel itself is quite a cheesy plot factor, but the connection between reality and fantasy is what makes the series interesting. Overall, the plot remains realistic; characters often make mistakes and feel lost, some moments seem hopeless, and a glimpse of light that every reader looks for rarely shines. Sanbe weaves the cruel reality of our world into the plot with regards to child abuse and kidnapping. Yet he still gives signs of faith and hope through time-traveling and fiction, giving Satoru another chance at making things right, and a bittersweet ending. Such factors are simply not found in any typical manga.

Overall, the Erased series is truly underrated. Although it does fit those who prefer the gory over glory, Erased does what any manga rarely does—give hope and faith to the hopelessness of our real world.

– Natisha P.

Erased by Kei Sanbe is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers

Cracked Up to Be is yet another example of a book this year that fails to disappoint me. After reading Sadie by the same author, once Cracked Up to Be was re-released in a new edition, I jumped on the chance to read it. (Pro tip: you can find the novel on the Barnes and Noble buy one get one 50% off tables!)

Cracked Up to Be tells the story of a once-perfect high school girl Parker Fadley, who has fallen from grace after witnessing a traumatic event, which you learn more about as you continue on throughout the novel. 

Courtney Summers has a way of fully immersing you in her stories, and making you keep your eyes glued to the pages, wondering what will happen next. There is always something revealed or teased during the end of chapters that make you become completely addicted to the book. The fact that the novel is 214 pages long certainly doesn’t help as well, with short and straight to the point chapters that led me to complete the book in three hours filled with  

The story revolves around the characters more than the plot and was something I in fact, really appreciated. Don’t get too excited by the mystery though, because to be quite frank, it was slightly underwhelming as well as the ending. But I am willing to overlook that for the sole point of my love to hate relationship with Parker Fadley.

There is something so captivating about unlikeable characters that completely captivates you. I very strongly disliked the main character Parker, but at the same time I was obsessed to learn what her deal was, and I believe that was exactly the purpose of her character. Needless to say, I frequently caught myself laughing at the crass jokes she makes, but feel a sense of dislike for the snide remarks she makes afterwards. 

This novel isn’t suited to everyone’s tastes, and a better representation of Courtney Summer’s work in my opinion is Sadie (I have also published a review on this book!), but Cracked Up to Be was an undeniable great read for me that I encourage you all to read!

Trigger Warning: the following topics are discussed and portrayed throughout the book such as rape, suicide, drug abuse, and alcohol abuse.

-Asli B.

Game Review: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (spoiler-free)

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a popular game, primarily revolving around a “killing game” based on trials. It is the first main game of three, originally released in 2014. The goal is to solve the mystery of each trial and to find the killer. The game contains a wide cast of characters, including 16 students and one bear. Overall, Danganronpa is a very interactive game with a unique trial system that makes the user feel engaged while also learning about the large cast. 

One great part of the game is the art style and game design itself. The environment you are in is not only visually intriguing, but contains a wide variety of different areas. Each area is well designed and pleasant to look at. The art style also matches very well with the actual gameplay mechanics and design as the user interface contrasts the background. The art is also very unique compared to other games as the game is effectively a visual novel, making it a fresh experience. The characters in the game are also quite compelling. Every single character is a master of their craft and provides their own unique experiences. Their personalities and the way they interact with each other always brightens up the game. The characters and their designs were by far my favorite part of the game. Each invoked a certain emotion in you regardless of whether or not you liked them, making the game more enjoyable and entertaining as a whole.

In general, I would rate this game a 10/10. The game is absolutely worth the price point and the interactive visual novel is both entertaining and well written. The game may start somewhat slow but the gameplay itself and world overall make up for it. 

-Benjamin L.

Film Review: The Shining

The Shining is a horror movie about a man named Jack Torrance and his wife and son. Jack and his family stay at an isolated, massive hotel called the Overlook Hotel. Jack plans to spend his time at the hotel writing, attempting to cure his writer’s block. The Shining is based on a book written by Stephen King. The story slowly evolves as Stephen King’s character becomes an abusive and manipulative man towards his family. The audience realizes that Jack is mentally ill and his family is not safe with him staying at the hotel. Originally, it is perceived by the audience that Jack had been at the hotel before and he was not mentally ill. Jack’s son played an extremely important role in this movie because he was connected to the hotel through a concept called “shining.” He becomes apart of an alternate universe and communicates with a voice inside of his head. Originally, it was inferred that the son was the one that was mentally ill; however, the voice inside of his head was really trying to protect him and his mom from his father. The hotel was portrayed as a haunted building with no way out. Small clues such as the massive pantry and freezers with locks foreshadowed the scene when the mother locks Jack inside the pantry.

Throughout the movie, Jack plays mind games with his clearly oblivious wife and manipulates her into leaving him alone while he writes. One scene was particularly disturbing in which the wife finds Jack’s book that he had been writing while they were at the hotel. It is revealed that Jack was not actually writing a book and the papers were filled with the same sentence over and over again, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The movie the Shining transformed from a story about a family staying at a hotel by themselves to an alarming and captivating film about Jack Torrance’s disturbing mind and past at the hotel. His wife and son no longer felt safe at the hotel anymore and ran from him and hid from him until they got away. This movie displayed the disturbing effect of mental illness and how you never know who a person really is. The way Jack chased his family around the hotel and kept drifting in and out of the alternate universe kept the audience attentive.

-Sasha B.

The Shining is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, written by the well-known Robert Louis Stevenson, is a dark story that has a very intelligent meaning behind it. 

The story begins with a respected lawyer named Mr. Utterson, listening to his friend Enfield tell a chilling story of assault. The story describes a figure named Mr. Hyde, who tramples a young girl, and disappears into a door on the street, only to make an appearance when the onlookers call him out to pay his respects to the girl and her relatives. They agree not to discuss the situation further because they do not approve of gossip. However, it happens that one of Mr. Utterson’s clients, Dr. Jekyll, has a written will transferring all of his property to the same Mr. Hyde. Out of curiosity, Utterson does his own research by first making a visit to Dr. Lanyon. Lanyon reports that he no longer sees much of Jekyll ever since their dispute over Jekyll’s research, which Lanyon refers to as “unscientific balderdash”.

Then, Utterson encounters Mr. Hyde at the home in which he trampled the young girl, and he is amazed at how ugly and deformed the man seems. A year goes by with not much commotion over the situation until a servant girl witnesses Hyde brutally beat a member of Parliament and a client of Utterson to death. The police contact Utterson, and he immediately suspects Hyde and leads the police to Hyde’s personal address. However, upon arrival at the apartment, the murderer has vanished, and the police search proves futile. Shortly thereafter, Utterson again visits Jekyll, who now claims to have ended all relations with Hyde. He shows Utterson a note, allegedly written by Hyde, apologizing for the trouble he caused and saying goodbye. That night, however, Utterson’s clerk points out that Hyde’s handwriting bears a remarkable similarity to Jekyll’s own. Over the next few months, Jekyll acts very sociably and friendly until he abruptly cuts off ties with all people after the suspicious death of Lanyon. Then, one day, Jekyll’s butler, Poole, storms into Utterson’s house, pleading for help with his master. The two travel to Jekyll’s laboratory where they are shocked to find the body of Hyde, wearing Jekyll’s clothes and dead by suicide, and a letter from Jekyll to Utterson promising to explain everything. Jekyll opens the letter from Lanyon at home to find a chilling message that his death was caused by the shock of seeing Mr. Hyde metamorphose into Dr. Jekyll. The rest of the story dives into Jekyll’s dilemma about metamorphosis and his cry for help. As much as he tries to control it, Jekyll starts to subconsciously turn into Hyde. Jekyll understands that his other persona, Hyde, is a danger to society, and he debates committing suicide, and the novel closes with the end of Jekyll’s letter. 

This story, by Robert Louis Stevenson, can be very chilling and mysterious. Behind the complicated story that Stevenson wrote, there is actually a deeper meaning behind it. The author was trying to get into the concept of brain duality, which is why he emphasized the contrast between Jekyll and Hyde so heavily. Overall, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a very entertaining and mysterious story, which has a deeper meaning behind it.

-Karis K, 9th grade

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde can be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

TV Review: Criminal Minds

If you enjoy crime shows like NCIS, then you will also enjoy Criminal Minds.

The show is about a group of FBI agents with the Behavioral Analysis Unit. Every episode there is a new crime to solve. Whether it is a murder on the loose or a crazy person reeking havoc. The agents try to get into the unsubs’ (unknown criminal) mind by traveling to the crime scenes and talking to witnesses as well as locals. Garcia is the girl behind the magic. She is the one to call when you need police reports, hospital records, and other important documents. With her help the agents are able to find out more about the unsubs’ criminal record as well as the back story so they know what caused the crime.

Criminal Minds does a great job of allowing you to also pick up clues, this makes you feel like you are apart of the crime scene and the FBI. You will never be bored with this show. It walks you through what the FBI does and introduces you to criminal psychology.

I am still relatively new to this show but I am now binging it when I have the time. Just a warning, I do not recommend this show if you are iffy with blood or death in general.

– Giovanna S.

From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming

From Russia, with Love (novel) - Wikipedia

SMERSH, the Soviet counterintelligence agency, plans to commit a grand act of terrorism in the intelligence field, one that will completely and utterly smash any remains of respect left in that particular organization. Their chosen target – MI6 agent James Bond.

Oblivious to their coming destruction, MI6 receives word that a beautiful Russian agent, Tatiana Romanova, is willing to defect to the British intelligence along with a crucial piece of Soviet technology – a Spektor. There is, however, one catch – James Bond, the man she claims she loves, must come out to meet her at Istanbul.

However, as revealed in the first half of the book, this “love story” is a mere set up for the greatest scandal the intelligence community has ever seen – and Bond and Romanova have fallen right into the trap for their own destruction. Unless Bond can find a way to extricate himself and his organization from their impending doom, SMERSH will have free reign over all of Europe, and potentially the world.

Through a masterful use of dramatic irony and the usual Bond action scenes, Ian Fleming crafts a 007 masterpiece in From Russia With Love. Readers will be on the edge of their seats as they devour the novel, only to reach the cliffhanger conclusion. From Russia With Love is a brilliant James Bond adventure that is definitely not to be missed.

-Mahak M.

From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Moonraker by Ian Fleming

Moonraker (novel) - Wikipedia

Sir Hugo Drax – war veteran, multi-millionaire, primary donor for Britain’s newest defense project, and…card cheater? When M requests the legendary 007, James Bond, to investigate this strange discrepancy, Bond thinks nothing of it but a lesson to teach an otherwise spotless man. But there is more to the ex-amnesiac turned benefactor than simply cheating at cards. 

As Bond delves deeper into the activities at the base of the praised Project Moonraker, Britain’s state-of-the-art defense system capable of targeting any European capital, scheduled to launch in less than a week, he realizes that some things are not as they seem. From the unusual German workers employed for construction to the mysterious death of the previous investigator, Bond must determine the truth behind both the Moonraker and its creator, Sir Hugo Drax…

Bond, however, is not alone in his endeavor. With the support of an undercover agent, Gala Brand, and, of course, MI6, he must race against time to discover the truth, which may be much, much darker than even 007 could have ever predicted…

Ian Fleming’s Moonraker, the third in the James Bond series, will not disappoint fans of 007. With plot twists and action sequences galore, Fleming manages to glorify every aspect of Bond’s newest case, from a brilliant game of bridge to the saving of millions of lives. Arguably the best Bond novel (definitely my favorite), Moonraker is a book that will be near impossible to put down.

-Mahak M.

Moonraker by Ian Fleming is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Return to Fear Street: You May Now Kill The Bride by R. L. Stine

Return to Fear Street: You May Now Kill The Bride is the perfect balance of mystery and horror. Two sisters separated by decades, will they all come to the same terrible fate or will the curse be lifted?

I am not an avid reader when it comes to thriller/horror mystery, but this was an exceptional case. The different pockets of time threw me off from time to time, but there was always a plot twist that would grab me back in. This book oddly shows extreme forms of family problems and toxic relationships, which sadly seems to apply more now than ever in a society.
As you venture further into the story, you realize how much sorrow and anger there is in the world, and how the stories between the sisters paint an ugly picture. This story made me think about if such a horrid tale happened in my family, it gave me chills and a reality check. The tragic truth is jealous and acrimony weaved throughout this tale is what some people experience every day. The poor decisions we make based on an unjust prejudice make me gag.
Aside from that, I highly recommend this book. It was a thrilling adventure that taught me a small lesson along the way. Reading some parts of the book aloud assisted my understanding of the character’s thoughts and emotions throughout the book.
There is no true main character because the baton is passed off between two similar girls almost a hundred years apart. However, the issues and emotions they faced were extremely related, and it relates to most of us today. Even though the extremity is not on the same level, we all have had our shares of lethal relationships and moments of inflamed passion, that lead to disastrous events.
Long story short, an electrifying drama that will keep you up late reading it.
-Coralie D.
You May Now Kill The Bride by R. L. Stine is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive