For several years now Viz has been the go-to publisher for all things Junji Ito in English, from short story collections like Smashed to longer works like Remina. This week the company is releasing its latest localization of Ito’s work, Sensor. Originally published under the title “Travelogue of the Succubus”, Sensor follows reporter Wataru Tsuchiyado as he tries to uncover the truth behind the mysterious village Kiyokami and the even more mysterious Kyoko Byakuya. Kyoko is the sole survivor of a volcanic eruption that decimated Kiyokami, and various characters believe she’s the key to uncovering the truth. Besides this, the story also incorporates Christian missionaries, time travel, and a hell of a lot of hair as horror. So, is Sensor good?
Sensor’s most recurring visual motif is also its most successful: mysterious strands called the Divine Amigami that Kiyokami’s residents view as proof of their having been blessed by God. The Divine Amigami is a great focal point largely because of how well it straddles the line between natural and fantastical elements. Modeled after volcanic hair, it is rooted in a real world phenomenon that is rare enough to inspire awe and an air of the unknown despite being a natural occurrence. It’s the perfect amount of plausibility for an Ito plot point. Sure, the end results are far beyond the boundaries of rational thought, but it still plants a core seed within the grounds of real world mystique.
As far as the characters go, Kyoko and Wataru are very standard Ito protagonists: the fleeing supernatural beauty and the more average man who’s always in pursuit of her. Neither character gets deeply fleshed out, which isn’t surprising given the degree to which the manga rushes just to cram in all its plot. Wataru sufficiently serves his role as a point-of-view character that readers can explore the manga’s strange mystery alongside, but there’s not much else to him. Kyoko meanwhile undergoes a massive transformation but there is no on-panel depiction of her own reactions to said transformation. As the manga progresses she seems less like a character and more like a simple tool of the plot.
In terms of plot and theme, Sensor is a bit of a mixed bag. No part of it is bad, but it doesn’t fully live up to the potential of its premise. The most interesting concerns raised involve the concept of perception as it relates to the universe: a lens that creates the very image being looked at, and vice versa. Unfortunately the more events turn explicitly supernatural and over-the-top, the less impactful they become. Overdramatic Ito work is seldom a bad thing of course, but Sensor doesn’t successfully imbue the theatrics with meaningful commentary the way other series like Tomie do. With that said, the heavy use of Christian imagery throughout is an interesting choice and Ito puts a fresh spin on it as opposed to falling back on common interpretations.
Of course, Ito’s visuals always warrant discussion. The characters look great; they’re all very emotive and have distinct personalities that show in their expressions and body language. The background art is also lovely; anytime Ito draws characters walking through a forest or up a mountain there’s a real organic feel to the nature imagery. This contrasts with and thus heightens the horror elements of the manga’s more supernatural moments. The mysterious black cloud in chapter two is a particular highlight, as is some of what Ito does with hair as a material for cocoons and piercing through skin. The less human the fantasy visuals get the more enjoyable they become, as in the case of an inspired neuron creature.
All in all, Sensor is yet another enjoyably over-the-top horror work from Ito. The artwork is strong as per usual and there are a number of successful threads running throughout, chief among them the volcanic hair motif and Christian missionary themes. On the downside the characters are flat and the buildup of anticipation for the mystery fizzles out significantly in the latter half. Nonetheless, this is still a fun read with impressive visuals that most Ito fans will likely enjoy.
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