Updated on 16 October, 2021
Over the past year and in part completed, Junji Ito has enjoyed many of the Junji Ito manga volumes that have been released in English. His stories set in Japan are some of the most compelling, as in his "Beneath the Fall" series. In fact, at one point, I wondered if it might be a better known title than "Beneath the Fall". However, over the past year, the bar has been raised pretty high for the young artist. One story in particular caught my eye, "The Taste."
The first arc of "The Taste" takes place in the year 2021, in the sleepy countryside town of Muro Rei. A series of unfortunate events leads a young man to meet and fall in love with a local girl, Yomi. But when she becomes infected with a deadly virus, turning her immune to everything, Junji Ito must use all of his strength to protect her life and stop the virus from spreading. It is at this point that the series starts to take a serious tone. Some of the action takes place in the hospital, but it is brief, save for Junji Ito's death.
From the first arc, I could tell that "The Taste" was going to be nothing like the rest of Junji Ito's manga series. For starters, I wasn't familiar with the protagonist, Yomi. From the beginning, I could tell that this was going to be more of a psychological thriller type story. So when I say at first, I didn't think that this series would be anything special. And it wasn't. I suppose that is part of the beauty of Junji Ito's work.
The plot is gripping and graphic novel in a way that is rare. There isn't a lot of action, but there is enough to keep you hooked from cover to cover. I've never seen a comic book that was this intricate, this well written, and this driven. The story seems so real, even the most outlandish events seem to happen right in front of your eyes.
The story is centered around a high school student named Junji Ito. He comes from a wealthy family and goes to a prestigious university called Tokyo University. He majored in psychology, which seems pretty cut and dry, but we quickly find out that this is not the case. This is a man who seemingly has no problem with what most people would consider the darkest of activities, such as the consumption of human flesh, or the experimentation of such things as mind control and telepathy.
From the start it is revealed that Junji Ito has a difficult time with his mental health. His parents are continually trying to get him to seek help, but he refuses. He has developed a relationship with a girl who is the spitting image of his mother, but the girl has made a decision to end the relationship. This upsets Junji immensely. After all, he is so attached to the love of his life, he does not want to lose her; however, he cannot stop thinking about her and is about to go crazy if he does not do something about it.
With the assistance of his friend Tatsuo, Junji is able to take a much needed rest and recover from his stress. Shortly after recovering, he runs into a street hustler who is twice his age. The two fight, and it is quickly apparent that Junji the comic is very much a fan of martial arts. The two come to blows, with Junji winning the fight, and Tatsuo running away in shame. The next day, Junji's friend Miki tells him that he can't read his comics due to his blood clot, but he still decides to read it today.
Junji Ito has a hard time reading comics because he wants to focus on the plot of each one of them and not have it so heavily entwined with his personality. When you read any Ito comic, you will immediately understand what he's talking about. Even though he may not be able to fully comprehend the plot of each one of the pages, he will enjoy every single page of his graphic novel.