The latest of Junji Ito’s stories combines elements of Christianity and natural disasters, as well as his trademark body horror.
It begins sixty years ago with a woman named Kyoko Byakuya walking around the bottom of the dormant volcano, Mount Sengoku. The volcano produces golden hair-like glass fibres that surround the nearby countryside. She comes across a man who guides her to the local village whose inhabitants have been using the golden fibres to make their buildings. The hair is also able to heighten their senses, giving them extra powers.
Kyoko learns of the local legend of the villagers who once sheltered a blonde-haired Christian missionary named Father Miguel during the Edo period, but who were all caught and executed by being thrown into Mount Sengoku, since when the volcano has produced these golden fibres. Kyoko is then invited to a regular viewing of the night sky, but during this viewing the locals are all terrified when they see a sinister black-haired figure appear in the sky.
Cut to the present day, where the volcano has erupted once more, and local rescuers are examining the site of the former village that was destroyed by another eruption sixty years earlier. However, these people come across a golden cocoon, out of which emerges an unharmed but now golden-haired Kyoko. Her body seems normal except her hair, but she has memory loss and doesn’t remember much before entering the cocoon.
After this, we follow a journalist called Wataru Tsuchiyado, who is visiting Mount Sengoku to investigate a mysterious black cloud hanging low in the area. There, he sees a fleeing Kyoko, but both she and Wataru are captured by members of a sinister cult called Indigo Shadow. Their leader, Kagero Aido, is trying to use Kyoko and the power of mediation to access the Akashic Records, a library of all the knowledge in the universe. What follows is the start of a battle to control Kyoko, with Wataru trying to understand the truth about her and the past events surrounding her.
As with all of Junji Ito’s work, the grotesque body horror is always going to be one of the main draws, and in Sensor this is no exception. In one flashback sequence we see Kyoko undergoing hypnotherapy in order to try and remember her past, before she was in the cocoon. This results in a nightmarish transformation for her hypnotherapist as his sensory organs become gigantic and elongated. The large spiralling cochleas that bulge out of his ears put you in mind of one of Ito’s most famous works, Uzumaki.
The elements of religion, with Christianity and cults both playing a major role in the story, feel less interesting in comparison. While they do indeed give more background to the tale, and lead to some more interesting art work with Kyoko often seen being tied to a cross like Jesus, it often feels innocuous in relation to other elements of the story. One can however see a relation with the golden-haired Kyoko being a light in the darkness spread by the black-haired Kagero.
The manga is very nicely presented by VIZ Media in a hardback edition, with golden lettering used on the book itself as well as the outside of the false cover, created by Adam Grano. The inside of this cover includes a full colour illustration of the series, which is the only colour work in this collection. Credit also deserves to be given to letterer Eric Erbes, especially in a scene when Kyoko encounters a girl who is haunted by suicidal talking bugs. There also appear to be no major issues regarding Jocelyne Allen’s translation.
It has to be said that Sensor is perhaps a bit below par in comparison to some of Ito’s other works, but even then Ito’s work is still clearly creation that stand out from the crowd.