Deserter is another short story collection from the maestro of Horror himself, Junji Ito. With 12 chapters and nearly 400 pages worth of content, you’ll certainly get your fill of terror with this collection.
It was originally published in 1991, so this book is filled with Junji Ito’s old stories. But I believe none of them has ever officially translated to English before. So in a sense, you still get to read some new material.
As for this article, though the title is “Best to Worst”, it is actually more “Super scary to least scary”. Granted, what I consider scary is definitely different than yours. So our ranking will definitely be different. Feel free to share your list in the comment section below.
Alright then, let us begin!
!!!Mild Spoiler Ahead!!!
We begin with the titular story. Deserter is actually the last chapter in the book and it is by far the scariest. It is about Furukawa, a man who deserts the military and hides in Adera’s house, his best friend. He lives alone in fear in Adera’s storage room behind their house.
Unbeknownst to Furukawa, Adera and his sisters have been tricking him into thinking that world war 2 is still ongoing, eight years after he first came into the house. The siblings certainly have a fun time duping the deserter. That is until they come into the storage room and find the truth about who’s been living with them all this time.
Deserter wins due to its excellent build up and well executed twist. It manages to establish the characters and play around with our expectations within such a small number of pages. It is definitely the best and scariest story in this collection.
2. Face Thief
Face thief is a story about a girl who can take the face of anybody she wants after spending some time with them. There’s little explanation as to who or what she is or how she has that bizarre ability. One thing for certain, whenever she sees someone beautiful, she will do whatever it takes to steal their face.
There’s no blood, violence, or ghosts in this story. In a way, it is more akin to body horror combined with psychological horror than the straightforward gore and violence that we’ve come to love from Junji Ito. But what makes it so terrifying is the concept of the story itself. Imagine someone who can take your face and assume your identity. How terrifying that would be!
3. A Father’s Love
Contrary to the title, A father’s love is actually the story of an obsessed and selfish father who never hesitates to sacrifice his children in order to get what he wants. The motivation behind his action is quite flimsy, but the way he goes about it is scary as hell.
The father can temporarily control his children’s body and use it as if it is his own body. It’s something like a mind-hack. So imagine if somebody assumes control over your body and does whatever they want while in your body and you have no control over it. That is true horror right there.
4. Scripted Love
Scripted Love is a story about revenge and obsessive love. A woman falls in love with a man who likes to play around with women. She gives everything she has for him only for the man to dump him when he finds a new girl.
But the interesting part about it is what comes after that. The man records hours of videos of himself talking to scripted lines and leaves the script itself to the girl. If the girl follows every line in the script, it becomes something like a virtual conversation between them.
And what do you know, the girl falls in love with the man on the screen. The man who always says sweet things to her, the man who will talk to her for hours whenever she wants, and the man who won’t cheat on her. She loves the recorded footage so much that she no longer feels the need for the real one to exist.
Bullied is another beautifully-crafted revenge story. A girl bullied a boy because she was feeling bored. She hit him with a stick, pushed him into the sewer, and even went as far as leaving him alone with a raging dog.
But now that she’s grown up, she looks back on those experiences as a dark spot in her life. She’s about to get married now but that regret keeps weighing her down. And suddenly a dashing man appeared in front of her. The boy has grown up into a handsome and dependable man.
What’s even better, he said that he never hated the girl for all the bad things that she’s done. She falls in love with him and gladly leaves her fiance. She falls into his warm embrace and eagerly steps into their new life together. Little did she know that his revenge had only just begun.
6. Where The Sandman Lives
What would you do if you knew that a bad thing will happen to you if you fall asleep? What would you do if you would lose yourself whenever you doze off? That is the question that the main character in this story struggles against.
There is something else inside of him. A sinister version of himself that has been wanting to break free. And he knows that alter ego, that reverses him, will come out violently when he falls asleep.
So he tries to stay awake for as long as he can. But the reverse version of himself is a patient man and he knows that the allure of sleep is not something a mere human can withstand. So begin the battle of endurance between the two parts of the same man.
7. The Long Hair in the Attic
He said he loves her smooth and glowing hair. He said it would be nice if she could let it grow longer. He said it would make her look so pretty. More beautiful than any other women out there. So she did just that.
She refused to cut her hair for months. She doesn’t really like having long hair, but she knows longer hair would please him, so she endured. And yet he dumps her. He leaves her for a girl with shorter hair.
This damn hair is nothing but a curse. Now that he is no longer in the picture, it’s time to cut this pesky hair. But she ends up getting decapitated instead.
8. Village of the Siren
Junji Ito rarely makes devil stories. He usually creates his own evil from scratch. But Village of the Siren is one of those rare moments when Junji Ito actually uses devils from hell as the main source of evil in his stories.
As it happens, a village is being controlled by a devil worshiper who brainwashed the citizens through an ear-piercing siren that goes off every evening.
The men are forced to do some heavy manual labor while the women are tasked to steal babies from across the nation. It is a bleak, strange, and rather terrifying story at the same time.
9. Unendurable Labyrinth
Deep inside a forest on top of a mountain that is located far from any human settlement, exists a mysterious Buddhist sect who seek to purify your sins by pushing the body to the absolute limit. Troubled people will feel a strange pull that will guide them into the hidden temple.
Our main characters are highschool girls who get lost in the forest during hiking and stumble upon the seemingly peaceful temple. But as they spend days following the life of the monks there, they accidentally find out just how far those devoted monks are willing to go in order to achieve the promised enlightenment.
10. The Devil’s Logic
The concept of this story is actually a bit strange and unsettling. It is about a boy who listens to an audio recording of his friend who talks to a girl who seems to be a devil incarnate.
She talks about death and how it is actually a good thing to embrace death and kill oneself as quickly as possible. Not long after that, his friend killed herself.
Unlike other stories from Junji Ito, this one doesn’t have any grotesque illustration in it. It is just a story of someone who accidentally hears something like the secret of the universe and comes to a realization that death is the key to everything.
It is arguably one of Junji Ito’s most unique story concepts and I like it for that. Unfortunately, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. This story ends up becoming a boring mess of text and pictures. It is honestly such a wasted opportunity.
11. The Reanimator’s Sword
The Reanimator’s sword is the story about a man who wields the sword that can suck the souls of dead people and channel them into a recently deceased man and essentially bring him back to life. And once again, it is the case of an interesting concept ruined by a mediocre execution.
I am aware that Junji Ito likes to write a story where something just simply happens. There’s no clear reason as to why it happens or what will happen next. There’s also no deeper character development or even motivation to speak of. I get it, this is a short story with such a limited amount of pages, but just imagine how much better it could be if the story had been fleshed out a bit more.
12. Bio House
Bio House is easily one of the weakest stories in this collection. It tried to combine the concept of grotesque insects with mindless vampires. The end result is something that is not scary in the slightest. Not only that, it doesn’t even make sense most of the time.
The characters made so many unreasonable choices, things escalated extremely quickly without any reason, and everything ended as fast as it began. The previous two titles suffered from a good concept that was badly executed. This one, however, has both a bad concept and poor execution.
Deserter is actually quite a decent short story collection. There are certainly some excess fats that can be trimmed, but considering that these were Junji Ito’s early works, it is understandable that the story won’t be as polished as some of his recent ones.
There are some pretty interesting concepts here, such as The Devil’s Logic or The Reanimator’s Sword, but unfortunately the execution was not that great. I really wish Junji Ito would consider revisiting this idea and craft a new story using these concepts.
Anyway, there you have it folks. Have you read Deserter? If you have, which one is your favorite story? Let me know in the comment section below.