The Dark Side of Love in Junji Ito’s Lovesickness (Analysis)

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Source: VIZ Mediahttps://www.viz.com/junji-ito

By: Beata Garrett  | @zhongxia246

Disclaimer: This post contains content that we at The Anime View do not think is suitable for everyone. The genre of the work being discussed is Horror. Possible triggers or subjects could include severe mental illness, murder, and suicide. By clicking “Keep Reading,” you understand that you may encounter such content. Viewer/reader discretion is advised.

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, I wanted to write about love–and who better to teach readers about the dark side of it than Junji Ito? (By the way, The Anime View already has a few articles up on him that you can find here.)

“Lovesickness” is the title story in the Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection anthology. The story was originally printed in 1997 and received an official English translation last April (2021). 

It follows a boy named Ryusuke who reluctantly returns to his hometown, a perpetually foggy place where people ask for advice at the intersections. This form of fortune telling is also known as tsuji-ura and crossroads themselves are seen as boundaries between reality and the supernatural in many cultures

As with his other stories like Uzumaki, Ito excels in twisting everyday objects and events into the macabre and horrific. 

The town is being haunted by a beautiful boy dressed in black who causes girls and women to commit suicide at the crossroads. The story stars as a fun urban legend you might tell your friends to spook them and quickly turns much more gruesome as the bodies pile up. 

As Ryusuke is pulled deeper into the mystery, he’s forced to consider whether the beautiful boy is real, a figment of the town’s collective subconscious, or of his own personal trauma. 

In Chapter 1, the reader is immediately introduced to the horror of the beautiful boy. The boy’s advice isn’t always bad advice by itself but his words have a finality to them as if they’re an indisputable truth and lead to terrible consequences. 

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Chapter 1, Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection

After the beautiful boy tells a girl that she’ll never find love, the girl commits suicide at the intersection. It mirrors the suicide of a pregnant woman who died eight years prior, an event that’s of personal interest to Ryusuke, who gave the woman a bad fortune at the crossroads. The woman was also Midori’s aunt, a girl Ryusuke has a crush on. 

These events in Chapter 1 create several layers of possibility and different horror. There’s a supernatural element to the story as the beautiful boy is clearly inhuman, but there’s also the horror of personal trauma for Ryusuke and Midori, and the collective horror of the town as the death eight years ago keeps echoing in present-day suicides. 

The Shadow Self and Other Interpretations of the Boy

One of the most interesting elements of “Lovesickness” is interpreting who the beautiful boy could be and what he wants from this town.

As the story progresses, Ryusuke becomes obsessed with the beautiful boy and whether the tragic deaths are his fault. The boy is definitely connected to the woman eight years ago like Ryusuke, shown by the way his route creates a perfect circle around the place of her death (Chapter 1). 

In Chapter 3, Ryusuke’s friend has an encounter with one of the ghosts, who screams that she loves “Ryusuke with his black clothes and his pierced ears, so beautiful like the dead.” 

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Chapter 3, Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection

This connects the beautiful boy and Ryusuke even more intimately. It also brings up several intriguing questions, like whether the beautiful boy is Ryusuke’s shadow or some alter ego. Is he part of Ryusuke’s subconscious, a doppelgänger as his friend proposes, or an echo of the pain he caused the woman eight years ago? It’s something left up to the imagination.

As the beautiful boy gains power by consuming the lives of the girls and women who come to the crossroads, Ryusuke is consumed by the mystery of him. After years of avoiding the trauma of the crossroads incident, he’s forced to face it and is punished for running away by the beautiful boy.

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Chapter 4, Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection

From this, another interpretation arises. Perhaps the beautiful boy is the spirit of the woman’s unborn child. In Chapter 4, Midori finds out that Ryusuke inadvertently caused her aunt’s death. She is ambivalent about forgiving him and the beautiful boy makes the choice for her, telling her to never forgive Ryusuke.

When Midori returns from this interaction, she tells Ryusuke about the encounter. The two shared a connection as if they weren’t strangers and it was as if the boy passed his hatred of Ryusuke to Midori. Unlike his other victims, Midori doesn’t immediately die but decides to torture Ryusuke to help her “cousin.” She later commits suicide, dying in Ryusuke’s arms because she doesn’t want to hate Ryusuke for the rest of her life.

Society’s Dismissal of Female Pain and Feelings

Ryusuke and the beautiful boy are at the center of the story and the tragedies that occur, but the depiction of girls and women really stood out to me too. I find it interesting that the beautiful boy only encounters girls and women, and the issues they have are usually ones concerning love. Their desire to receive fortune telling implies that these girls and women were unable to confide in anyone else and were anxious about making the wrong choice. 

In the work, Ito accurately depicts the horror of how love and desire can be manipulated against girls and women. They’re told that they’re incomplete without it, that they need it, and that they should change ourselves to receive it from men. The message isn’t that men are monsters, but that society’s treatment of the feelings and pain that girls and women have is often dehumanizing.

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Chapter 2, Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection

In Chapter 2, a woman is told by the beautiful boy that her problem “wasn’t worth his time.” This dismissal of her concern considering an affair and pregnancy shows how the apathy of one stranger can be incredibly damaging, especially if you feel cornered. 

Even after Midori and her mom try to help the woman, the damage has already been done and she follows the rest of the victims in death. 

Chapter 4 is titled “Screams in the Night” and depicts the ways in which normal men dismiss the girls and women around them. By this point, more than 200 girls and women have committed suicide and their ghosts begin screaming in pain. 

Two men hear the screams but dismiss it as them screaming “over some pop star. No respect for the late hour.” In the more literal sense, even the physical pain of girls is dismissed and attributed to something silly. It reminded me of the real life gender bias in how people, including doctors, treat women’s pain as lesser than men’s.

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Chapter 4, Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection

Ryusuke also encounters the man who was part of the affair eight years ago who wants advice about a current affair he’s having. He tells Ryusuke that the women who’ve committed suicide because he got them pregnant leaves a bad aftertaste in his mouth. He doesn’t care that he caused them pain but wonders if he should divorce his wife or marry his current lover:

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Chapter 4, Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection

Even when they are part of an affair or have hurt women, men typically get off easier than the women involved in the situation because of their privilege. Besides his son disappearing eight years ago, there isn’t any other repercussion for this man.

While Ito tackles the issue of society’s treatment of girls and women well, it’s important to simultaneously criticize the lack of a more meaningful female voice in the story. The focus remains on Ryusuke and how he feels about the horrifying events occurring and while Midori is the most developed female character, she’s relegated to just being the love interest. 

Conclusion

By the end of the story, the Ryusuke we knew is gone. After Midori’s death, he faced the beautiful boy directly but was killed by the surrounding girls before he could destroy the other boy:

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Chapter 4, Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection

Years later, his spirit remains in the town and he gives out good fortunes to offset the beautiful boy’s bad ones. He’s also known as “the boy in white” and eventually saves the rest of the townspeople from his counterpart in black.

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Chapter 5, Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection

It’s a big change from his beginning as the boy who didn’t want to return to this foggy town that held his most traumatic memory. There’s a great tragedy in what happens to him as he’s forced to grow up and lose the girl he loves. It also feels like he’s atoning for the death of Midori’s aunt and hopes to bring balance to the town as a benevolent fortune teller.

In the end, “Lovesickness” is about the ways in which obsessive love can ruin you but it’s also an optimistic vision of how it can make you a better person. If Ryusuke hadn’t loved Midori, felt guilty about his actions eight years ago, or cared for the town by the end, he wouldn’t have made the sacrifice to stay. 

Unlike the beautiful boy, who is an empty void that relishes the pain of girls and women that he hurts, Ryusuke make the choice to care and stop looking away. The town remains foggy, but there’s a sense of peace at the end as some of the wrongs have been righted. 

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Chapter 5, Lovesickness: Junji Ito Story Collection

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