Sensor by Junji ItoSensor by Junji Ito

Junji Ito is, in the United States, the best-known creator of horror manga (Japanese comics). So far, seventeen volumes have been translated into English (some are as long as 750 pages). Most of what has been published are collections of short stories like Shiver and Fragments of Horror. However, there are graphic novels by Ito that tell one long story, like Gyo, Tomie, and his masterpiece, Uzumaki. These are all quite long volumes. Sensor is yet another single-story graphic novel, but, at less than 250 pages, it is much shorter than his longer graphic novels. It is also perhaps his strangest, including science fiction elements in the storytelling.

Sensor is also different in that graphic novels like Tomie and Uzumaki are made up of mainly standalone stories that can be read individually outside the context of the overall graphic novel. Sensor, with its seven chapters, tells a much more unified story. The story opens with a young woman encountering golden hair floating in the breeze. She sees a man who explains that those in the town call it “amagami, heavenly hair.”

The young woman, Miss Byakua, is shown to lodgings by the man, Mr. Aizawa, and she stays in the town and begins to learn about the history of the place. A Christian minister during the Edo era was hidden by the villagers and when they were captured they were thrown into the volcano, “the moth of Mount Sengoku.” From that moment on, the heavenly hair has come to the town and rests on everything, covering the houses and the landscape. The townspeople come to believe it is the missionary’s hair. They worship the Missionary Miguel’s hair and believe he left it behind for them when he ascended into space. At a night viewing, Miss Byakua witnesses some strange events and survives in a cocoon of hair. When rescuers get her out of the cocoon, she now has long golden hair like Miguel’s hair.

The story then switches to the perspective of a reporter who seeks out information about this town, the golden hair, and the now mysterious Miss Byakua, who is now a legend in Japan. He encounters her and is, along with her, captured by a cult led by the enigmatic and charismatic Kagero Aido “leader of Indigo Shadow, a supra-mysticism group.” Aido leads his group to meditate with Byakua as their focal point, and when they do, strange, supernatural events occur with the reporter and Byakua escaping just barely with their lives.

The reporter eventually goes out looking for Byakua again after he loses track of her, and he encounters scientists who are studying her as well as some other people interested in her. The mysticism in this book is quite intriguing, as Byakua becomes imbued with certain mystical powers and insight. As one man exclaims: “Why didn’t I see it before? She herself is the universe. All life in the entire universe should gaze upon Kyoko Byakuya!” The reporter, too, is pulled into this vision and almost loses his life.

The rest of the book involves the reporter continuing his pursuit, encountering Aido again, and meeting people who have met the mysterious Byakua. One chapter does deal with suicide and “suicide bugs,” so this is perhaps the place for a trigger warning, but the whole book is horror to begin with, so those who are already drawn to such a book will not necessarily find that aspect of the book any more disturbing than the rest of the events in the graphic novel.

One of the best chapters in the book deals with traffic mirrors getting bent to reveal in their reflections certain people that, in the case of the reporter, he does not want to see. In his case, it is a woman from his past who used to stalk him. She joins up with Aido and again captures the reporter. The ending involves time travel and brings together all the main characters of the book. It is quite stunning.

I have read the book three times now, and I like it better each time I read it. The first time I read it, I think I read it so fast; I did not take the time to really take it all in. The scope of the book is quite large for a volume that takes less than two hours to read. So, I encourage readers to take their time with it and read it a few times. It rewards multiple readings, as a second reading while knowing where the events are going, is quite interesting. It is unique among the works of Junji Ito since it includes time travel and mysticism that is never fully explained. I rate it as one of his best works and thus give it a full five stars.


  • Brad Hawley

    BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia.